Revolutions everywhere--in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they're protesting against it. I mean, Isn't it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn't it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn't it interesting that some of those who--rightly--protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in the Wisconsin Senate?
An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can't be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter. We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker's basic requests are modest ones--asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions' abilities to negotiate work rules--and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time. When I covered local government in New York 30 years ago, the school janitors (then paid a robust $60,000 plus per year) had negotiated the "right" to mop the cafeteria floors only once a week. And we all know about the near-impossibility of getting criminal and morally questionable--to say nothing of less than competent--teachers fired. The negotiation of such contracts were acts of collusion rather than of mediation. Government officials were, in effect, bribing their most activist constituents.
Public employees unions are an interesting hybrid. Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed...of the public? Despite their questionable provenance, public unions can serve an important social justice role, guaranteeing that a great many underpaid workers--school bus drivers, janitors (outside of New York City), home health care workers--won't be too severely underpaid. That role will be kept intact in Wisconsin. In any given negotiation, I'm rooting for the union to win the highest base rates of pay possible...and for management to win the least restrictive work rules and guidelines governing how much truly creative public employees can be paid.
But we've had far too many state legislatures, of both parties, that have been cowed by the political power of the unions and enacted contracts that force state and city governments to be run for the benefit of their employees, rather than for their citizens. This situation is most egregious in far too many school districts across the nation. The events in Wisconsin are a rebalancing of power that, after decades of flush times and lax negotiating, had become imbalanced. That is also something that, from time to time, happens in a democracy.
Wow - to demonstrate against a governor and a legislature that are dismantling 50+ years of labor rights in one week is anti-democratic!
Oh, and getting criminal teachers fired is the most difficult thing in the world to do - and Klein knows because he once covered local government 30 YEARS AGO!!!
Oh, and industrial unions are fine in Klein's eyes but public employees unions are not because industrial unions fight against the greed of the factory owner while public employees unions exploit the public.
Good god, can you believe somebody as narrow-minded and bigoted as Klein - the man who is sure because janitors supposedly negotiated some contract with ridiculous work rules 30 years ALL public employees unions are evil and should be put out of business or somebody who smears ALL teachers as criminals, incompetents, and morally misfits - has a column in a major American news magazine and gets to go on TV and pontificate about his views?
Here is the TIME Magazine contact page - let's let TIME and the rest of the country know what we think about Joe Klein's libeling of teachers as criminals, moral misfits and incompetents:
Klein has more jive about teachers here after he received some criticism for tarring ALL teachers as moral misfits and criminals.
He says teachers must give up work protections, seniority, and the like in order to be considered "professionals".
You can leave comments about his take on teachers there.
What a vitriolic, clueless, doddering old man.
Unfortunately, he still has a podium to pontificate from.