Advertisements
News Ticker

Wisconsin Continues Right-Wing Structural Reforms That Have Transformed the United States


Mark Weisbrot: Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research,  Washington, D.C.
Posted: March 15, 2011 04:15 PM

With the latest turn of events in Wisconsin, Republican state senators have circumvented the need for a quorum vote on Scott Walker’s budget bill by leaving out the fiscal clauses and passing the new laws curbing collective bargaining rights for state and public employees. This dubious tactical maneuver strips away the pretense that Walker and his GOP allies have hitherto maintained that the legislative package was necessary to close the state’s budget deficit: Walker’s objective is, as protesters in Madison have argued all along, to break the last vestige of organized labor strength in the U.S. — the power of public-sector workers to organize and negotiate collectively. Stated or not, Walker’s ambition is to complete what Ronald Reagan began 30 years ago.

But the legislative chicanery in Madison’s Capitol smacks of desperation. It may yet prove that the Right in the U.S. has overreached in its attack on public-sector unions, provoking the left/liberal base of the Democratic party, a popular uprising in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and a backlash among the public. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Wisconsin voters disapproving of Gov. Scott Walker by a margin of 57 to 43 percent, with 48 percent saying they “strongly disapprove.” But there are also some positive lessons that American progressives and liberals could learn from the Right’s political strategy.

It is not just that these right-wing governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich (Ohio) and other Republican leaders are willing to take risks and fight for what they want. It is also that they fight for structural reforms — reforms that change the political terrain so that it will be more favorable for the next battle and for the “long war” to which they are committed.

Undermining and destroying collective bargaining rights is one of the most important structural reforms that any right-wing government in a developed country can win. And it is not just because, as has been widely noted, unions contribute money to the campaigns of Democratic candidates. It is much deeper than that. Organized labor is relatively weak now, but for more than a century it has been the most important force for positive economic reforms in the United States, from the eight-hour work day, to health insurance and Medicare [pdf], social security, pensions and minimum wages. The labor slogan, “Unions: the folks who brought you the weekend,” is a true but vastly understated historical reality in America.

Ronald Reagan understood this very clearly when he fired 12,000 air traffic controllers soon after taking office in 1981 to break their strike and begin a new era of labor suppression in which private sector workers all but lost their rights to organize unions. His agenda was so radical that it scared many conservatives — which was one reason he lost the 1976 Republican nomination. Even after he won the presidency in 1980, much of the business class was not convinced that it was possible to revert to 19th century labor relations – until Reagan did it. Unions were 20 percent of the private sector labor force when Reagan was elected; they are 6.9 percent today.

Crushing organized labor was essential to a number of Reagan’s other historic achievements, including launching the most massive upward redistribution of income and wealth in U.S. history. During the 25 years after he took office, the after-tax real (inflation adjusted) income of the richest one percent would more than triple, while the average American’s income would barely grow at all. But there was so much more that he accomplished in the world of right-wing ideas, foreign policy, tax reform, and elsewhere. Without much of a mandate from the voters, Reagan was nonetheless a president that transformed the world, perhaps more than any single person in the second half of the 20th century. Unfortunately for the world, the changes that he led made most people worse off — and in places like Central America, tens of thousands were killed [pdf] by the dictators, death-squad governments, and “freedom fighters” that he championed.

Contrast the leadership of Reagan and even today’s far less skilled Republicans to their counterparts on the other side. Bill Clinton also fought for structural reforms. His top legislative priority during his first year in office was fighting for NAFTA, which helped to further undermine labor in the United States. By creating the World Trade Organization and implementing welfare reform and financial de-regulation, Clinton continued the right-wing structural changes of the Reagan era — so much that there wasn’t that much left for George W. Bush to do when he took office. Bush tried to go after Social Security, but was defeated. (Clinton had a very similar plan for partial privatization and cuts to Social Security, but backed off under political pressure.)

Now we come to President Obama, who really did have a mandate for change as the majority of the electorate finally rebelled against nearly four decades of right-wing reforms and the pain and anxiety caused by the Great Recession. One structural reform that Obama had promised in his campaign to support was the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have gone a long way toward restoring the collective bargaining rights that Reagan had destroyed. President Obama quickly backed off from this promise.

On health care, Obama also backed off from his pledge to support a public option — which was not so much a structural reform as a possible opening to the structural health care reform that this country needs. Real health care reform would be a vital progressive structural change, not least because it would eliminate the long-term deficit problem in the United States and thereby remove the main pillar of the right-wing conservative/liberal budget agenda.

The list could go on, but my point is not to attack Obama. He is simply representative of Democratic political leadership after nearly four decades of rightward drift helped along by conservative structural reforms. This is something that the pundits get wrong every day: It is not because this is an inherently conservative country that liberal leadership is so weak. Although polling results fluctuate widely with media coverage and the framing of the polling questions, for decades there have been polls showing majorities in favor of real (Medicare for all) health care reform, deep cuts in military spending, an end to U.S. military intervention abroad, increased taxes for the rich, government spending to increase employment (as needed now), and most of the progressive agenda.

The problem is not in the people but in the corridors of power, in the media and the Congress and the many institutions — including liberal ones — that have been moved rightward by strategic efforts over the last 40 years. That is why progressives find themselves fighting defensive battles, as in Wisconsin — while the right, which has neither the presidency nor the Senate — plays offense. It will take some time to get to the point where progressive structural reforms are on the agenda.

But that time will come, and the mass uprisings in support of collective bargaining are a great and inspiring start where new leadership and organizing will emerge — Inshallah (God willing) — as they say in Egypt.

This column was published on March 10, 2011 by The Guardian Unlimited (UK).

Advertisements
About tenthltr2u (1027 Articles)
A child of the 60's I often feel out of place in the world as it exist today. Too much excess, too much materialism, too few people who genuinely care or give a damn. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

4 Comments on Wisconsin Continues Right-Wing Structural Reforms That Have Transformed the United States

  1. it seems quite trivial to expect

    Like

  2. REALITY!!

    ( Gov. Peter Shumlin: Real Healthcare reform — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yFUbkVCsZ4 )

    ( Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator — http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator.html )

    ( Briefing: Dean Baker on Boosting the Economy by Saving Healthcare http://t.co/fmVz8nM )

    START NOW!

    As you all know. Had congress passed a single-payer or government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one, our economy and jobs would have taken off like a rocket. And still will. Single-payer would be best. But a government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! that can lead to a single-payer system is the least you can accept. It’s not about competing with for-profit healthcare and for-profit health insurance. It’s about replacing it with Universal Healthcare Assurance. Everyone knows this now.

    The message from the midterm elections is clear. The American people want real healthcare reform. They want that individual mandate requiring them to buy private health insurance abolished. And they want a government-run robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one. And they want it now.

    They want Drug re-importation, and abolishment, or strong restrictions on patents for biologic and prescription drugs. And government controlled and negotiated drug and medical cost. They want back control of their healthcare system from the Medical Industrial Complex. And they want it NOW!

    THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL NOT, AND MUST NOT, ALLOW AN INDIVIDUAL MANDATE TO STAND WITHOUT A STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE.

    For profit health insurance is extremely unethical, and morally repugnant. It’s as morally repugnant as slavery was. And few if any decent Americans are going to allow them-self to be compelled to support such an unethical and immoral crime against humanity.

    This is a matter of National and Global security. There can be NO MORE EXCUSES.

    Further, we want that corrupt, undemocratic filibuster abolished. Whats the point of an election if one corrupt member of congress can block the will of the people, and any legislation the majority wants. And do it in secret. Give me a break people.

    Also, unemployment healthcare benefits are critically needed. But they should be provided through the Medicare program at cost, less the 65% government premium subsidy provided now to private for profit health insurance.

    Congress should stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on private for profit health insurance subsidies. Subsidies that cost the taxpayer 10x as much or more than Medicare does. Private for profit health insurance plans cost more. But provide dangerous and poorer quality patient care.

    Republicans: GET RID OF THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE.

    Democrats: ADD A ROBUST GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION TO HEALTHCARE REFORM.

    This is what the American people are shouting at you. Both parties have just enough power now to do what the American people want. GET! IT! DONE! NOW!

    If congress does not abolish the individual mandate. And establish a government-run public option CHOICE! before the end of 2011. EVERY! member of congress up for reelection in 2012 will face strong progressive pro public option, and anti-individual mandate replacement candidates.

    Strong progressive pro “PUBLIC OPTION” CHOICE! and anti-individual mandate volunteer candidates should begin now. And start the process of replacing any and all members of congress that obstruct, or fail to add a government-run robust PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! before the end of 2011.

    We need two or three very strong progressive volunteer candidates for every member of congress that will be up for reelection in 2012. You should be fully prepared to politically EVISCERATE EVERY INCUMBENT that fails or obstructs “THE PUBLIC OPTION”. And you should be willing to step aside and support the strongest pro “PUBLIC OPTION” candidate if the need arises.

    ASSUME CONGRESS WILL FAIL and SELLOUT again. So start preparing now to CUT THEIR POLITICAL THROATS. You can always step aside if they succeed. But only if they succeed. We didn’t have much time to prepare before these midterm elections. So the American people had to use a political shotgun approach. But by 2012 you will have a scalpel.

    Congress you could have pass a robust government-run public option during your lame duck session. You knew what the American people wanted. You already had several bills on record. And the house had already passed a public option. Departing members could have left with a truly great accomplishment. And the rest of you could have solidified your job before the 2012 elections.

    President Obama, you promised the American people a strong public option available to everyone. And the American people overwhelmingly supported you for it. Maybe it just wasn’t possible before. But it is now.

    Knock heads. Threaten people. Or do whatever you have to. We will support you. But get us that robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one before the end of 2011. Or We The People Of The United States will make this midterm election look like a cake walk in 2012. And it will include you.

    We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. They have already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

    Spread the word people.

    Progressives, prepare the American peoples scalpels. It’s time to remove some politically diseased tissues.

    God Bless You my fellow human beings. I’m proud to be one of you. You did good.

    See you on the battle field.

    Sincerely

    jacksmith – WorkingClass 🙂

    Like

  3. Thanks for the info

    Like

  4. Beautiful site!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: