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What If Working Class Americans Actually Like Occupy Wall Street?

It’s become an article of faith among some on the right, and even among some neutral commentators, that Obama and Dems risk losing the support of blue collar whites in swing states if they dare to whisper a word of praise for Occupy Wall Street.

But what if the opposite is true — what if working class white voters actually like and agree with Occupy Wall Street’s message, if not always with the cultural and personal instincts of its messengers?

The movement is still very young, and it’s very hard to gauge support for it. But one labor official shares with me a very interesting data point: Working America, the affiliate of the AFL-CIO that organizes workers from non-union workplaces, has signed up approximately 25,000 new recruits in the last week alone, thanks largely to the high visibility of the protests.

Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America, tells me that this actually dwarfs their most successful recruiting during the Wisconsin protests. “In so many ways, Wisconsin was a preview of what we’re now seeing,” Nussbaum says. “We thought it was big when we got 20,000 members in a month during the Wisconsin protests. This shows how much bigger this is.”

The cultural fault line and tensions between blue collar whites and liberal activists is a well established storyline in American history. But  Working America — which organizes in  industrial battlegrounds like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania and other swing states — is having a new burst of success among precisely the sort of working class voters who are supposed to be culturally alienated by the excesses of the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Nussbaum says that her organizers report that new recruits often mention the protests in a positive light, even though they have very little in common in cultural terms.

“These are not the folks who normally wear dreadlocks and participate in drum circles,” Nussbaum says. “They’re working class moderates who work as child care employees or in cafeterias or in construction. They’re people who work in lower middle class suburbs around the country.” Pressed on whether the movement’s excesses and lack of a clear agenda risk alienating such voters, Nussbaum said: “We’re proving every day that that’s not the case.”

I don’t want to overstate the case that can be made off of this kind of anecdotal evidence. And I’m sympathetic to the case made by some conservatives that it’s way too early to place stock in polls showing the movement is well received by the public. But as new polling emerges, it will be very interesting to track how it’s received by working class Americans who conservatives insist will be repulsed by it.

At a minimum, the question of whether Occupy Wall Street can forge any kind of meaningful bond with blue collar whites and moderates will be seen by both sides as a crucial one going forward. Nussbaum acknowledges that conservatives might have some success discrediting the movement “if they can change the subject to what the occupiers are wearing.”

“But if we keep the subject on jobs and democracy, we’ll keep those working class moderates in this fight,” she concludes. “It’s crucial that we not let this moment evaporate, and we can do that if we tie the movement to a working class constituency.”

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line-The Washington Post, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Income Gap, Middle Class, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tens Of Thousands Rally In Wisconsin To Declare: “This Fight Is NOT Over!”

Protest fatigue? Not in Wisconsin.

Three months after Governor Scott Walker proposed to strip state, county and municipal employees and public-school teachers of their collective bargaining rights, the governor’s agenda remains stymied. Legal challenges,moves to recall Republican legislators who have sided with the governor and the fear on the part of legislative leaders of mass protests have prevented implementation.

That fear is well-founded.

The Wisconsin protests have inspired similar demonstrations in states across the country, including state Capitol confrontations in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and, most recently, California and New York.

Yet, the energy in Wisconsin remains unmistakable, and unrelenting.

Three months to the day after the first large demonstration against Walker’s proposal, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites returned to the great square around the state Capitol and to town and village squares across the state to declare: “This Fight is NOT Over!”

“We’ve stopped Governor Walker’s plan to take away workers rights for three months — but he is not done. He has expanded his attack to seniors, college students, local schools and more. And he is still intent on ending collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin,” went the message from the Wisconsin unions and their allies — along with the “This Fight is NOT Over!” battlecry.

Saturday’s mass rally in Madison and other demonstrations came at a time when the Republican-controlled state legislature is weighing Walker’s budget proposal, which seeks to cut more than $1.5 billion from education and local services, while restructuring state government to take power away from elected school boards and local governments.

The fight inside the Capitol over the budget, and the rest of Walker’s economic, social and political  agenda will be intense in coming weeks. Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt warns that Walker and allies are rushing “to ram through their right wing priorities on corporate deregulation, school privatization and voter suppression before recall elections.”

The union leader was referring to special elections, which are expected as soon as July, that will determine the control of the state Senate.

Six Republican state senators face the threat of recall elections that could remove them, while three Democratic senators are similarly threatened.

The political intensity of the moment has kept the state on high alert, as Saturday’s demonstrations illustrated.

Organizers of the Madison demonstration — the We Are Wisconsin and Wisconsin Wave coalitions — estimated that Saturday’s rally drew between 15,000 and 20,000 Wisconsinites. Smaller rallies and events were held over the weekend across the state.

The crowd in Madison extended far beyond the base of public employees and teachers to include farmers, small business owners and students.

The demonstration in Madison took place on the same day as University of Wisconsin graduation ceremonies. A number of new graduates, wearing their caps and gowns, made their way to the Capitol after collecting their degrees.

One young woman stood outside the Capitol with a large sign that read: “UW Graduate — Thanks to Wisconsin Public School Teachers!”

By: John Nichols, Washington Correspondent for The Nation: Editor, Capital Times, Madison, WI.

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May 18, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curbing The Reach Of Unions: More States Pushing Anti-Union Bills

Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Missouri are advancing so-called right-to-work bills that would allow private-sector workers to opt out of joining unions, the latest such efforts to curb labor unions in the legislative season that in many states is now entering the home stretch.

The measures, if successful, would mark the first expansion in a decade of right-to-work laws, which are on the books in 22 states.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire, where Republicans took control of both chambers last fall, passed a right-to-work measure last week. Its success will hinge on whether the state House of Representatives has enough votes to override a promised veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch. If the bill passes, New Hampshire would become the first right-to-work state in the Northeast, historically a union stronghold.

In Missouri, the sponsor of a state Senate right-to-work bill is trying to shape a compromise in the final days of the legislative session.

Right-to-work measures were proposed in 18 states this year, an unusually high number that labor experts attribute to state budget and economic woes, GOP gains in November and influence by tea-party groups that oppose unions’ political clout. Ohio and Wisconsin didn’t pass specific right-to-work legislation but did adopt laws allowing public-sector employees to opt out of paying dues. The laws generally are backed by business groups and Republicans, opposed by Democrats and denounced by labor.

Most of the bills proposed this year likely are not far enough along to pass before legislative sessions end. Others died during negotiations. In Indiana, for instance, where Democrats fled the state in part to protest such a measure, House Republicans abandoned the idea to get them back to the table.

Still, the large number of proposals demonstrate the growing momentum of the idea. Legislators in many states say they will take up similar measures next year.

Right-to-work legislation is typically among the most contentious. A key contributor to the states’ red ink, advocates say, is public-employee benefits and pensions set by generous union contracts. Additionally, advocates say, the slow economy and a desire to create jobs has revived the issue.

“The political equation has changed in a lot of states,” said Michael Eastman, executive director of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Measures that may not have been possible two and four and six years ago now may be.”

But unions view such measures as a political attack, aimed at curbing their influence. The laws threaten unions because they permit workers to opt out of joining or paying dues in unionized workplaces. Dues are a key source of funds for political efforts, and higher numbers of workers give unions more clout during contract talks. Without right-to-work laws, workers covered by union contracts can be required to pay union dues.

The goal of right-to-work measures is to “weaken the labor movement in key states around the country,” said Mark MacKenzie, president of the AFL-CIO’s state federation in New Hampshire. “If you look at the map, it has nothing to do with protecting workers rights but taking over key areas of the country” for the 2012 presidential election.

Right-to-work laws were set by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. They have largely been enacted by states on the Great Plains and in the South. Those states, including Texas and North Carolina, tend to have the lowest unionization rates.

In March, right-to-work states had both the nation’s lowest U.S. unemployment rate, at 3.6% in North Dakota, and the highest, at 13.2% in Nevada, which still has a relatively large percentage of union members.

In Missouri, 9.9% of all workers belong to a union, and in New Hampshire 10.2% of workers do, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Missouri Sen. Luann Ridgeway, who sponsored that state’s right-to-work measure, said schemes to attract jobs with tax breaks haven’t worked. The bill has stalled in the Senate, but Ms. Ridgeway, a Republican, said she and her colleagues were weighing compromises, such as a voter referendum.

In New Hampshire, unions are lobbying the House, where Republicans have a 294-102 majority. The Senate passed the bill with a two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, but the House vote fell short of that mark.

Unions say they are uncertain about their chances. “I would say that we don’t have the votes right now,” said Dennis Caza, political coordinator for International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 633, in Manchester, N.H., which represents workers at United Parcel Service Inc. and Anheuser-Busch Cos., among other companies.

By: Kris Majer and Amy Merrick, The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2011

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Collective Bargaining, Democracy, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Tea Party, Union Busting, Unions | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Martial Law Now A Reality In Michigan:The Voter’s Voice Doesn’t Really Matter Anymore

Last week saw the layoff of every public school teacher in Detroit, and the initial fruition of the highly-contested bill that allows emergency financial managers to have unconditional control over a city in a financial emergency. The city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, declared to be in a financial emergency by Governor Rick Snyder, now knows that, according to Snyder, the voter’s voice doesn’t really matter anymore.
 
Joseph Harris, the city’s new Emergency Financial Manager (EFM), dismantled the entire government, only allowing city boards and commissions to call a meeting to order, approve of meeting minutes and adjourn a meeting.
 
The law that allows Harris to “exercise any power or authority of any office, employee, department, board, commission, or similar entity of the City, whether elected or appointed,” was passed in March after the urging of Gov. Snyder, and despite thousands of protesters who came to the Lansing capitol throughout February and March.
 
Michigan AFL-CIO released a press release in response to Benton Harbor: “This is sad news for democracy in Michigan. It comes after the announcement of Robert Bobb in Detroit ordering layoff of every single public school teacher in the Detroit Public School system,” says Mark Gaffney, President of Michigan AFL-CIO. “With the stripping of all power of duly elected officials in Benton harbor and the attack on Detroit school teachers, we can now see the true nature of the Emergency Manager system.”
 
Earlier in the week, TMP Muckraker reported that the Detroit Public Schools’ EFM, Robert Bobb, sent 5,466 unionized teachers layoff notices “in anticipation of a workforce reduction to match the district’s declining student enrollment.” The notices are a part of the Detroit Teachers Federation collective-bargaining contract. TPM also reported that “Non-Renewal notices have also been sent to 248 administrators, and the layoffs would go into effect by July 29.”

By: Jennifer Page, Center for Media and Democracy, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Education, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vision Of Optimism And Equal Opportunity: What It Means To Be A Democrat

I’m glad I waited for President Obama’s heralded budget speech Wednesday before criticizing it (such a novel idea); there was much to praise in it and little to challenge. The best news: Obama laid out the kind of sweeping “story” of American democracy, and the bold vision of how we grow together, that I thought was too much to ask for even yesterday. He even talked about the scariest fact of American inequality: The dangerous hold the top 1 percent of Americans has on wealth, income and (he didn’t say this) politics. He pushed back on the cruel GOP deficit plan, made his toughest case yet for tax hikes on the richest, and stayed away from the worst ideas floated by his own deficit commission. The devil will be in the deficit-cutting details, and frankly, there weren’t a whole lot of them in the speech. But the president came out fighting with firmness, and with a rhetoric of social justice and equality, that I haven’t seen enough of these last two years.

Obama acknowledged our American history as “rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.” But he quickly identified “another thread running throughout our history”:

A belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries. Each of us has benefited from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

So far, so good. It got even better when Obama took direct aim at Paul Ryan’s cruel and ludicrous budget plan. He laid out its many cuts, and concluded:

These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

Then he attacked the Gilded Age social inequality and tax cuts that have helped create our troubles:

Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Indulge me here, because this is how Democrats should be talking, and rarely do:

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

This is who we are. This is the America I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

That’s the president I voted for.

On the meat of the president’s plan to cut the deficit: He deserves credit for rejecting Medicare vouchers, for turning aside specific talk about Social Security (even though it has nothing to do with the federal deficit, the privatizers and Obama’s friends on his deficit commission wanted it thrown on the table in a grand bargain that can only be bad news for Democrats and working people; Obama seemed not to be willing to do that); for promising that reforms and innovations already part of the Affordable Care Act will bring down the costs of Medicare and Medicaid; and for saying we need bigger defense cuts than so far proposed.

(Small point: I liked the way Obama trashed Ryan without mentioning him — you don’t fight down — but I wish he’d been a tiny bit more confrontational on exactly what Ryan’s “Medicare vouchers” would do; if seniors could afford insurance at all, which is debatable, they’d certainly be at the mercy of privatized “death panels” refusing care over its costs. I say that because I’m sure some GOP prevaricator will bring back the “death panel” lie now that Obama has committed to curbing costs in Medicare. I hope I’m wrong.)

My quibbles? I’m still concerned that Obama has agreed to freeze the 12 percent of the budget that goes to “discretionary spending.” And I’m assuming that freeze includes the cuts made this week. I don’t like his promise of $3 in spending cuts for every dollar raised in revenue via tax hikes. In a statement, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised the speech but added: “President Obama does not yet have the balance right between spending cuts and new revenue.” I also never like it when Obama undermines himself by saying things like:

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.

I know, I know, he thinks it makes him sound reasonable to independents; I worry he sounds weak to Republicans. If Obama thinks the plan he laid out is as far to the left as Ryan’s plan is to the right, and that the answer is to meet in the glorious middle, we’re all in trouble.

But for today, I’ll take him at his word. After the speech, pundits called it the opening salvo of the Obama 2012 reelection campaign, as though there was something wrong with that. If these are the founding principles of the president’s 2012 campaign, Democrats and the country will be better off than we’ve been in a while. 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 13, 2011

April 14, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Independents, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Social Security, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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