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Wisconsin Waterloo: Where The GOP Sees Demons To Attack, Voters See Themselves

Wisconsin Democrats are filing recall petitions that could result in the Wisconsin Senate being controlled by Democrats. Summer 2011 will bring white-hot midterm elections and a potential Wisconsin Waterloo for the GOP that is spreading to other states and could shift the tectonic plate of American politics.

In Wisconsin, Ohio and other states a powerful backlash is brewing from giant swaths of voters who failed to turn out for Democrats or regret their votes for Republicans in 2010. They feel demonized by GOP attacks and financially threatened by GOP policies. They will be highly motivated to vote.

Wisconsin Democrats could win the three state Senate seats necessary to turn control of the Wisconsin Senate to the Dems, because voters do not want political holy wars against teachers, public workers or anyone else. They do not want fanatics in politics, fiats by government, incendiary partisanship or crusades against collective bargaining, which voters widely believe is a valued part of the American system.

Recently the Polish trade union Solidarity, one of the great voices for freedom in modern history, endorsed the Wisconsin workers and condemned the attacks on them by GOP Gov. Scott Walker. More voters agree with Solidarity than with Wisconsin Republicans.

In Ohio, the widely unpopular Republican governor, John Kasich, who was caught on tape verbally abusing a police officer who gave him a ticket, has now added both police and firefighters to the list of enemies he attacked in legislation. Most Americans view firefighters and police as heroes who risk their lives to save their neighbors, not as demons to attack or targets to have their financial security threatened.

In Washington, the GOP has added the venerable AARP to its enemies list. AARP has long represented tens of millions of seniors with honor. For Republicans to launch a Nixonian attack against them is an act of political stupidity that will not be well-received by senior voters.

Republicans wage holy war against National Public Radio, one of the fairest media in the nation, and one that provides vital service to small-town America and includes many Republicans among its fans.

Republicans threaten to shut down the government to pursue their war against Planned Parenthood, which is supported by many Republican women, while they attack a long list of programs important to mainstream American women. Many Republicans oppose efforts to achieve pay equity for women.

House Republicans even want to cut programs that help homeless veterans, cuts that Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) speak eloquently against.

The Texas GOP is likely to attempt to cheat Hispanics out of representation in Congress through a gerrymander similar to that once orchestrated by disgraced former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay. Many Republicans use tactics on immigration that are anathema to many Hispanics.

House Republicans will be widely blamed for any government shutdown or economic collapse from a failure to extend the debt ceiling if they pursue their partisan and ideological vendettas and refuse to accept 50-50 offers from Democrats.

A Wisconsin Waterloo is a real danger to Republicans. Where the GOP sees demons to attack, many voters see themselves. 

By: Brent Budowsky, The Hill, April 4, 2011

April 5, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, States, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Inherent Relationship”: A Primer on Class Struggle

When we study Marx in my graduate social theory course, it never fails that at least one student will say (approximately), “Class struggle didn’t escalate in the way Marx expected. In modern capitalist societies class struggle has disappeared. So isn’t it clear that Marx was wrong and his ideas are of little value today?”

I respond by challenging the premise that class struggle has disappeared. On the contrary, I say that class struggle is going on all the time in every major institution of society. One just has to learn how to recognize it.

One needn’t embrace the labor theory of value to understand that employers try to increase profits by keeping wages down and getting as much work as possible out of their employees. As the saying goes, every successful capitalist knows what a Marxist knows; they just apply the knowledge differently.

Workers’ desire for better pay and benefits, safe working conditions, and control over their own time puts them at odds with employers. Class struggle in this sense hasn’t gone away. In fact, it’s inherent in the relationship between capitalist employer and employee. What varies is how aggressively and overtly each side fights for its interests.

Where else does class struggle occur? We can find class struggle wherever three things are at stake: the balance of power between capitalists and workers, the legitimacy of capitalism, and profits.

The most important arena outside the workplace is government, because it’s here that the rules of the game are made, interpreted, and enforced. When we look at how capitalists try to use government to protect and advance their interests — and at how other groups resist — we are looking at class struggle.

Capitalists want laws that weaken and cheapen labor. This means laws that make it harder for workers to organize unions; laws that make it easier to export production to other countries; laws that make it easier to import workers from other countries; laws and fiscal policies that keep unemployment high, so that workers will feel lucky just to have jobs, even with low pay and poor benefits.

Capitalists want tax codes that allow them to pay as little tax as possible; laws that allow them to externalize the costs of production (e.g., the health damage caused by pollution); laws that allow them to swallow competitors and grow huge and more powerful; and laws that allow them to use their wealth to dominate the political process. Workers, when guided by their economic interests, generally want the opposite.

I should note that by “workers,” I mean everyone who earns a wage or a salary and does not derive wealth from controlling the labor of others. By this definition, most of us are workers, though some are more privileged than others. This definition also implies that whenever we resist the creation and enforcement of laws that give capitalists more power to exploit people and the environment, we are engaged in class struggle, whether we call it that or not.

There are many other things capitalists want from government. They want public subsidy of the infrastructure on which profitability depends; they want wealth transferred to them via military spending; they want militarily-enforced access to foreign markets, raw materials, and labor; and they want suppression of dissent when it becomes economically disruptive. So we can include popular resistance to corporate welfare, military spending, imperialist wars, and government authoritarianism as further instances of class struggle.

Class struggle goes on in other realms. In goes on in K-12 education, for example, when business tries to influence what students are taught about everything from nutrition to the virtues of free enterprise; when U.S. labor history is excluded from the required curriculum; and when teachers’ unions are blamed for problems of student achievement that are in fact consequences of the maldistribution of income and wealth in U.S. society.

It goes on in higher education when corporations lavish funds on commercially viable research; when capitalist-backed pundits attack professors for teaching students to think critically about capitalism; and when they give money in exchange for putting their names on buildings and schools. Class struggle also goes on in higher education when pro-capitalist business schools are exempted from criticism for being ideological and free-market economists are lauded as objective scientists.

In media discourse, class struggle goes on when we’re told that the criminal behavior of capitalist firms is a bad-apple problem rather than a rotten-barrel problem. It goes on when we’re told that the economy is improving when wages are stagnant, unemployment is high, and jobs continue to be moved overseas. It goes on when we’re told that U.S. wars and occupations are motivated by humanitarian rather than economic and geopolitical concerns.

Class struggle goes on in the cultural realm when books, films, and songs vaunt the myth that economic inequality is a result of natural differences in talent and motivation. It goes on when books, films, and songs celebrate militarism and violence. It also goes on when writers, filmmakers, songwriters, and other artists challenge these myths and celebrations.

It goes on, too, in the realm of religion. When economic exploitation is justified as divinely ordained, when the oppressed are appeased by promises of justice in an afterlife, and when human capacities for rational thought are stunted by superstition, capitalism is reinforced. Class struggle is also evident when religious teachings are used, antithetically to capitalism, to affirm values of equality, compassion, and cooperation.

I began with the claim that Marx’s contemporary relevance becomes clear once one learns to see the pervasiveness of class struggle. But apart from courses in social theory, reading Marx is optional. In the real world, the important thing is learning to see the myriad ways that capitalists try to advance their interests at the expense of everyone else. This doesn’t mean that everything in social life can be reduced to class struggle, but that everything in social life should be examined to see if and how it involves a playing-out of class interests.

There is fierce resistance to thinking along these lines, precisely because class analysis threatens to unite the great majority of working people who are otherwise divided in a fight over crumbs. Class analysis also threatens to break down the nationalism upon which capitalists depend to raise armies to help exploit the people and resources of other countries. Even unions, supposed agents of workers, often resist class analysis because it exposes the limits of accommodationism.

Resistance to thinking about class struggle is powerful, but the power of class analysis is hard to resist, once one grasps it. Suddenly, seemingly odd or unrelated capitalist stratagems begin to make sense. To take a current example, why would capitalists bankroll candidates and politicians to destroy public sector unions? Why do capitalists care so much about the public sector?

It’s not because they want to balance budgets, create jobs, improve government efficiency, or achieve any of the goals publicly touted by governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rick Snyder, or John Kasich. It’s because of the profit and power they can gain by destroying the last remaining organizations that fight for the interests of working people in the political sphere, and by making sure that private-sector workers can’t look to the public sector for examples of how to win better pay and benefits.

Other parts of the agenda being pursued by corporate-backed governors and other elected officials also make sense as elements of class struggle.

Selling off utilities, forests, and roads is not about saving taxpayers money. It’s about giving capitalists control of these assets so they can be used to generate profits. Cutting social services is about ensuring that workers depend on low-wage jobs for survival. Capitalists’ goal, as always, is a greater share of wealth for them and a smaller share for the rest of us. Clear away the befogging rhetoric, the rhetoric that masks class struggle, and it becomes clear that the bottom line is the bottom line.

If class struggle is hard to see, it’s not only because of mystifying ideology. It’s because the struggle has been a rout for the last thirty years. But a more visible class struggle could be at hand. The side that’s been losing has begun to fight back more aggressively, as we’ve seen most notably in Wisconsin. To see what’s at stake in this fight and what a real victory might look like, it will help to call the fight by its proper name.

By: Michael Schwalbe, Professor of Sociology, North Carolina State University, Originally Published March 31, 2011, CommonDreams.org

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Class Warfare, Corporations, Education, Governors, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Labor, Media, Minimum Wage, Politics, States, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Midwest’s New Class Politics And The Political Irony Of The GOP

The battle for the Midwest is transforming American politics. Issues of class inequality and union influence, long dormant, have come back to life. And a part of the country that was integral to the Republican surge of 2010 is shifting away from the GOP just a few months later.

Republican governors, particularly in Wisconsin and Ohio, denied themselves political honeymoons by launching frontal assaults on public employee unions and proposing budgets that include deep cuts in popular programs.

Democrats in the region are elated at the quick turn in their fortunes. A few months ago, they worried that a region President Obama dominated in 2008 was turning against him. Republican triumphs in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as in Indiana, Michigan and Iowa, all pointed to trouble for the president.

Now, for reasons having more to do with decisions by GOP governors than with anything the president has done, many voters, particularly in the white working class, are having second thoughts.

“We certainly addressed the issue of Reagan Democrats,” said Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, referring to the blue-collar voters who began drifting Republican in 1980. Barrett lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November by 52 percent to 46 percent, but recent polls suggest he would defeat Walker if the election were rerun. In Ohio, the approval rating of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who won narrowly in 2010, has fallen to as low as 30 percent in one poll.

In telephone interviews last week, Democratic politicians across the Midwest avoided premature victory claims. “I don’t think we’ll know until November of 2012,” Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota replied when asked if the Republican moves against public employee unions would turn out to be a major error.

It’s a political irony that Republicans clearly believed unionized public employees were so unpopular that taking them on would play well with voters.

“It was part of an intentional strategy on the part of the right-wing Republican ideological machine to split private-sector workers from public-sector workers,” said Dayton, a Democrat who beat back the 2010 Republican tide. After decades involving “a giant transfer of wealth to the very top,” Dayton said, the campaign against public unions was “a way to distract attention” by creating “a fight over who is getting a dollar an hour more or less.” The effort, he added, “has not worked as well as they thought it would.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said that even union sympathizers were surprised at the degree to which the Republicans’ approach “blew up in their faces” and that “the poll numbers of support for collective bargaining for public-sector workers are stronger than even most labor supporters expected.”

Another surprise: the extent to which Democrats, long wary of being accused of “class warfare,” are now more eager than ever to cast the GOP as the party of the privileged.

Barrett recounted a parable making the rounds among Wisconsin Democrats, telling of a room in which “a zillionaire, a Tea Party person and a union member” confront a plate of 12 cookies: “The zillionaire takes 11 of the cookies, and says to the other two, ‘That guy is trying to steal your cookie.’ ”

Still, Democrats are aware that the flight from the Republicans is also a reaction against ideology. Dayton saw the GOP’s heavy-handed methods in Wisconsin as playing badly in a region proud of its tradition of consensus-building and good government.

And Brown said that while joblessness was the most important issue in last year’s election, one of the most effective Republican arguments was the claim that “Obama was governing by ideology.” That charge has been turned on its head because “now, they are so overdoing governing by ideology.”

Sen. Al Franken said he saw this reaction against ideology playing out in Washington’s budget battle as well, citing the example of leading Minnesota business people, including Republicans, who have been appalled at cuts in effective job-training programs.

The first electoral tests of the new class politics will come in Wisconsin. David Prosser, a conservative state Supreme Court justice, is facing a surprisingly tough challenge April 5 from JoAnne Kloppenburg, who has strong backing from anti-Walker forces. Later this year, several Republican state senators could face recall elections.

The tests for the longer run will be whether echoes from the heartland’s struggles over economic justice are heard as Congress debates budget cuts — and the extent to which Obama, who has already benefited from fights he did not pick, decides to join the battle.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2011

March 28, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideologues, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Union Battleground Shifts From Wisconsin to Ohio—and Ballot Box

The movement has been set back for now, but the standoff in Madison captured labor’s political imagination. Although the Republicans have cynically used the “nuclear option” to ram through the anti-union bill, the battleground will now just shift to other states.

Ohio lawmakers are mulling a bill similar to Wisconsin’s, which would restrain the collective bargaining rights of some 360,000 state and local employees.

Ohio does not need as many votes for a quorum. This means Democrats cannot hold up the voting process by going AWOL, as they did in Wisconsin and are still doing in Indiana (where unions are fighting proposals to further erode union rights and public education). But in Ohio’s case, Madison-style people power could be deployed in a more concrete way, according to some lawmakers. House minority leader Armond Budish told Bloomberg News that even if the bill initially passes, he and other Democrats will mobilize citizens to thwart the legislation through other channels, through public pressure and perhaps ultimately, the ballot box:

Too few to block Republicans from having a quorum, Ohio Democrats are asking for more public involvement and hearings on the bill in an effort to sway opinion and will seek a ballot issue to repeal it if necessary, Budish said.

“If I have to take the lead on a statewide referendum, we will fight until we win,” Budish, the House minority leader, said in a telephone interview from Columbus….

With Republicans holding a 59-to-40 seat advantage in the House, Democrats should focus on a repeal referendum, said Representative Robert Hagan, a Democrat from Youngstown.

“What we’re doing now is performing a charade,” Hagan said in an interview. “They should get it over with, and we should put this on the ballot as soon as possible.”

With passage in the House all but certain, Ohio could now overtake Wisconsin as a bellwether for the struggle. After the fireworks in Madison, labor activists recognize that the partisan gridlock over collective bargaining rights is merely a proxy battle for a new kind of class antagonism that has emerged from the Great Recession.

Ohio’s referendum process offers a form of direct democracy that Wisconsin Republicans stridently denied to protesters by ignoring, vilifying and shutting out demonstrators at the capitol.

Bloomberg reports that voters can launch a ballot initiative..

if petition forms with more than 231,000 voters’ signatures are filed within 90 days of the law’s approval, according to the secretary of state’s office. The number of signatures is 6 percent of the total vote cast for governor last year.

Gathering that many petitions in three months is no small feat, though the required number of signatures equals just under two-thirds of the number of workers potentially impacted by the bill. More importantly, the spirit of protest across the Midwest has truly gone viral, inspiring parallel demonstrations in Indiana, Ohio and other states, and cheers across the Twitterverse, pizza from Haiti, and picketing from Cairo. And on top of potential court challenges, there are rising calls for a general strike to paralyze Gov. Walker’s administration. In the wake of that outpouring of solidarity, a conventional referendum seems almost too easy.

In many ways, it is. Which is why the temporary defeat in Wisconsin should have a more enduring influence on the campaign to protect union rights than any other tactic. The battle for labor’s integrity won’t be won or lost on the political chessboard of a state legislature.

As activists regroup and take stock of what they’ve gained these past few weeks, they can still claim one victory: they never gave an inch. And by standing their ground, they gave workers across the country the momentum to push ahead to November and beyond.

By: Michelle Chen, In These Times, March 11, 2011

March 13, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Democracy, Economy, Governors, Ideologues, Jobs, Middle Class, State Legislatures, States, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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