Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Southern Roots of the Battle in Wisconsin

The battle between public workers and union-busting Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states has its roots in a region where union-busters, with few exceptions, have held sway since the Civil War.

The Southern threads to the confrontation now taking place in the Wisconsin capital of Madison are many and complex, but you can start with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker himself. When he says he needs to gut workers' rights to preserve fiscal integrity, he's echoing every rant and rave that came out of Gene Talmadge's mouth in 1930s Georgia. Talmadge was pretty typical of most Southern political demagogues. They hated unions every bit as much as they despised an uppity black.

Helping to finance the current assault on workers' rights in Wisconsin--as well as similar assaults in other states--are behind-the-scenes bigwigs like David and Charles Koch, the anti-union billionaire oil men who've taken the U.S. Supreme Court's pro-corporate Citizens United ruling and run with it. They and their Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity organization have pumped millions of dollars into GOP coffers, and they're at the heart of a so-called "network" that includes enough corporate, media, and judicial powerhouses to entrench the corporate state in this nation for decades to come.

Social gatherings of the network--as reported by national columnist Joe Conason--have included celebrities such as U.S. Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as well as media corporate mouthpieces Glenn Beck and Charles Krauthammer.

As Nation columnist Eric Alterman pointed out recently, this latest wave of right-wingers is simply realizing the corporate takeover of the country that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell (a Virginian) envisioned in his notorious 1971 memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce director. Powell essentially called for the establishment of a bona fide plutocracy.

Workers, however, are taking a strong stand. The world has heard the protests in Madison, Wisconsin. Similar protests in Indiana this week forced Republican legislators to back away from a proposed "right-to-work" law that would have barred unions from requiring all employees to pay dues in exchange for representation.

These so-called "right to work" laws--the result of the GOP-and-Southern Democrat-backed Taft-Hartley Act of 1947--exist in most Southern states today and are a major impediment to union organizing.

Conservative Southern pols aren't just idly tuning into Fox News and watching the goings-on in Wisconsin with detached amusement, however. They know an opportunity when they see one.

Virginia lawmakers are hoping to embed that state's right-to-work law in the state constitution--much like Mississippi did during the administration of arch-segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett.

Earlier this year Alabama banned public employee union dues that might be used in political campaigns. In North Carolina, of course, public employees don't even have the right to bargain collectively, the reason for a rally by labor and civil rights organizations in Raleigh just this week.

Whether people are union members are not, they'd better be aware of the ultimate goals of these right-wing organizations and their leaders. Those goals stretch far beyond unions.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are wanting states to declare bankruptcy so they can nullify existing pension agreements, according to Jane McAlevey of Nation magazine.

As for the Koch brothers, listen to these goals expressed by David Koch when he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket back in 1980:

- Eliminate corporate and personal income taxes
- Eliminate minimum-wage laws
- Eliminate Social Security

In other words, the Koch brothers and their ilk would like to turn the nation into the Old (sometimes called New) South, a place where workers have few rights and earn bottom-level wages with minimal benefits, political decisions come out of the corporate boardrooms, and environmental and other protections are scant or just plain non-existent.

Is this what the nation wants? Is this what was meant by the saying, "The South shall rise again"?

1 comment:

  1. Public Sector Unions to the American Taxpayers:

    Sorry you have to pay out of your own wages each week for your “own retirement" (401k), but brother, could you dig a little deeper in your wallet and keep funding my pension also. I have a second home that needs some work done on it before I retire at 55 years of age! Keep up the good fight and support your local Public Union Worker.....and his benefits!

    How can a Union member get his Union dues refund?

    Right to Work states statistics: