Krugman clearly explains what Scott Walker is up to in Wisconsin, and explains why it is in the interests of the average American to take sides with the unions against the oligarchs. But will we?
Paul Krugman, Wisconsin Power Play
Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.
So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.
And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.
There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.
So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.
Krugman is dead on: It’s not about money, it’s about power.
The problem is that most Americans do not find common cause with unions and unionized workers. Many Americans have embraced GOP ideology: these workers are overpaid (untrue), they have benefits that other workers do not have (may be true), and they are paid for with tax dollars and taxes are bad.
I agree with Krugman: we should stand in solidarity with the unions because Walker and the other austerity-spouting Governors are trying to take away our rights to collective bargaining.
But we have no leverage. The unions are relatively weak, compared either to their prime post-WWII years, or compared to the unfettered strengths of the oligarchs. And as individuals, we are less than zero.
Obama is not likely to put aside his centrist, pro-business attitude in this context. His support will be haphazard at best.
No, the only force left to counter the oligarchs is we, the people. Theoretically we are represented by our government, but it is our elected officials that are taking away our rights.
My only hope is that we will see a grassroots surge of local unrest and civil disobedience as state and local governments press forward with the raping of critical social services: which is what busting the public unions will lead to. It will take the people to take our future back.
The form this might take? I foresee the emergence of a grassroots movement, based on what I call ‘trade populism’: an ideology that explicitly identifies a globalized business ecology, made up of wall street bankers, multinational corporations and their leaders, and booming foreign countries (China, India, Brazil, etc.) as the enemy of our freedoms, and channeling the anger of Americans of all political stripes. This movement will not be the Tea Party, although it may attract tea partiers.
And this new populism will also revolve a few other premises, including the idea that we are in a crisis, so special rules apply. For one, they will argue that we need to put aside issues on which we cannot agree for the duration of the emergency. So the leaders of this movement will explicitly defer taking a stand on abortion, foreign aid, or climate change.
Trade populists will argue for the creation of trade barriers, as a support for the American worker, and as a start at dismantling the global business economy of interlocking banks, global business, and state capitalism.
Another bit of ‘trade populism’ will be that foreclosures must stop for the duration of the emergency, pensions must be paid, and elected officials and businesses that don’t meet their obligations to plain folk will face criminal penalties.
Nearly all union members will join this movement, perhaps even some of the police and firefighters. Progressive democrats, tired of being part of the centrist wing of neoliberal capitalism, will break with the national party. Libertarians will join. The Greens will join. Even moderate Republicans, weary of the clamor, might join. The unemployed young and the disheartened old will join. The poor will join. Maybe even some rich people will join.
This new populism will emerge piecemeal, a little here, a little there. But by 2012 it will be the swing force, and with the right charismatic and confident leaders (Elizabeth Warren, Sheila Bair, Will Allen?), it could shake the elections.