JAMES P. HOFFA
The spark that has fired protests in communities across our great country was actually struck more than a year ago. It wasn't in Wisconsin on Feb. 11, when Gov. Scott Walker filed a bill to strip government workers of their collective bargaining rights, setting off weeks of massive protests in Madison.
The real spark was struck in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2010, when the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. The high court voted to overturn campaign finance law in a decision as shameful as Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson. Citizens United allowed corporations and other special interests to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, and to do it in secret.
Since then, CEOs and billionaires have funneled enormous amounts of cash to the campaigns of pliable stooges who would help them tighten corporate control of government. We don't know exactly how much the CEOs and billionaires spent to win on Nov. 2, but some estimates range from $600 million to $1 billion. Anyone who thinks unions spent anywhere near that much is just crazy.
The corporations are getting a handsome return on their investment. They took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, gained 21 legislative chambers, 700 legislative seats and five governors' offices for a total of 29. And in statehouse after statehouse, governors are proposing more corporate subsidies, more sweetheart deals and more tax cuts for the already wealthy. The middle-class worker shoulders the blame and the sacrifice.
The playbook is the same everywhere, from Wisconsin to Florida. First, announce huge budget problems.
Second, blame government workers. Don't even whisper the truth that Wall Street's recklessness caused the recession and the resulting drop in tax receipts. Or that politicians plundered government workers' pension funds for decades, creating funding liabilities.
Third, rush through anti-worker bills, using dirty tricks if necessary. In Ohio, corporate-backed politicians quickly and quietly swapped out a committee member to move an anti-worker bill to the Senate floor. That was only slightly more outrageous than the decision to lock statehouse doors so Ohio citizens couldn't express their opinions to lawmakers. Only after a judge issued an order were doors opened.
In Michigan, anti-worker politicians are a little more artful than Scott Walker. They're going after workers, not with a union-made Louisville Slugger but with a paring knife.
Michigan politicians want to eliminate collective bargaining rights when two government departments merge. They want emergency financial managers to be able to override collective bargaining agreements.
They want to privatize noninstructional work in public school districts. They want to freeze wages for employees covered by contracts that have expired.
The lesson from Madison is that these corporate-backed politicians have finally pushed the American worker too far. Their divide-and-conquer tactic of pitting government workers against private-sector workers is backfiring.
Instead, they are uniting American workers — and retirees and moms and students — in ways I've not seen in decades. Polls show that a strong majority of Americans support collective bargaining rights. Americans understand, in a profound way, that corporations long ago declared war on workers, and it's time for workers to fight back.