Saturday, February 19, 2011

Joe Klein: Either Clueless About the Wisconsin Uprising or Simply Shilling for the Union-Busters

Time's Joe Klein has written an offensively dishonest column attacking Wisconsin's public employees. Every paragraph is packed with the kind of knee-jerk contempt for working people that's become endemic in our mainstream discourse -- it's truly eye-opening.

Allow me to begin where Klein proves that he is either wildly ignorant of what's actually at stake in this fight, or is willfully misleading his readers. (I don't pretend to know which.)
... 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.
If you have been led to believe that this is what the battle is about, please check out my piece on AlterNet's front page. Walker's "basic requests" include seizing control of the state's Medicaid funding, stripping state workers of the right to negotiate the details of their benefits package and capping the wages they can gain in negotiations. He offered this bill only after being informed that he didn't have the power to simply decertify the unions outright.

Klein, had he done his homework, would know not only that the state's public employees' unions had already made concessions, but that they're also willing to make more. As State senator Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton -- one of the Dem law-makers who fled the state to block a vote on the bill -- put it, "In the end, what's going to happen is the public employees are going to pay on their pension and pay on their health care. We all know that, they all know that. They're OK with that. The one thing the public employees do not understand is why (Walker) is going after unions."

And it's important to understand that whether or not it's his intent, Joe Klein is serving as a scribe for Scott Walker. When the Governor tried this same mendacious line, Josh Marshall called him out like this:
Gov. Walker is on TV now discussing the situation in the state and everything he's talking about is givebacks from the state's public sector unions. But what he doesn't seem to be saying anything about is ending collective bargaining rights. Which is what the fight is actually about. He won't be candid about the entire battle is about. Just not honest.
"Just not honest" is what one might expect from a far-right lawmaker trying to bust a union. But what, exactly, is "liberal" columnist Joe Klein's excuse?

That's the truly egregious bit, but also note how Klein leads:
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?
A bedrock principle of our democracy is the right to assemble and petition government for redress -- precisely the liberties that Walker's bill would undermine. And, no, it's not "ironic" that a legislative minority uses the rules of procedure to block legislation -- it's SOP in any legislature in the world.
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?
It's only "interesting" if you're a dense, lazy columnist. In the real world, nobody objected to the idea that Senate Republicans might filibuster. We criticized the abuse of the filibuster -- the fact that 60 votes were suddenly needed to pass even uncontroversial legislation. Klein knows it was unprecedented, and that it virtually shut down the chamber at times.
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.
Democracy rests on two principles: majority rule and the protection of minority rights. Also, only 25.9 percent of registered Wisconsin voters cast ballots for Scott Walker last year, compared with 23.1 percent who favored Tom Barrett. Yes, the right loves claiming that a low-turnout midterm election provided some obvious mandate, but only someone with weak critical thinking skills would simply buy that claim.

Finally, consider how Klein pictures the labor movement in general:
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?
Unions, whether public or private, are organized for the interests of their members. It's not about being a bulwark against anything -- collective bargaining simply creates a level playing field between workers and capital. Absent that relative parity, our labor markets are rife with failures.

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