Rising of the American People (Or, At Least, Some of Them)
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by John Funiciello
Corporate America has its Hosni Mubarak moment.
Eighty-thousand American workers gathered at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, for several days over the past week is a sure sign that people are waking up to see that there are people among us who are stealing their future.
It's been a long time coming. Perhaps, they have been inspired by those who in recent days have thrown off the yokes of authoritarians and petty dictators in various countries in the Middle East.
Here in America, it has been difficult for rank-and-file Americans to see their own yoke. That's how sophisticated is the hand of the very small elite that has controlled how many jobs we will have, where we will live, whether we will have a house or an apartment, how our children will be educated (or mis-educated?) and, even, what and how much we will eat.
The consolidation of power over the people by that small elite has occurred over several decades, but just now the minions of Corporate America are coming out into the open and trying to administer the coup de grace. The minions are Republicans and, unfortunately, they have had help from many Democrats.
There are some of the latter, however, such as the 14 Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate, who have taken a stand against the depredations of their brand new Republican governor, Scott Walker, who seems to believe that, since the Tea Party put him in office, he has a mandate to adopt their scorched earth philosophy of grinding government down to a size at which it will not be able to do anything.
The Wisconsin Senate Democrats have gone to Illinois, where they plan to stay until Walker, the governor from Corporate America, says he is willing to negotiate with the public worker unions. The one act he is bent on committing is to remove the right to collective bargaining for a majority of public workers. The one thing that the workers will not yield on is their right to collectively bargain. Without the presence of at least one Democratic senator, that body without a quorum cannot act to destroy the unions.
No one should wonder that Walker does not know what it took for millions of American workers to win the right to represent themselves in the workplaces of the nation. He has no clue what it took in blood, sweat, and tears to win child labor legislation, the eight-hour day, the five-day week, and all of the other benefits of a decent society that the workers won. He doesnĂ˘€™t know that not one of these things was given freely by the robber barons or Corporate America. The right to trade union self-representation through U.S. labor laws was a decades-long, hard-fought series of battles.
Being a willing tool of the worst elements of American society, the obscenely rich right wing of American politics (as are most Republicans), Walker is willing through his intentional ignorance of American history to destroy all that workers have won for their families and communities in the hope of impressing his masters among the economic elite. Surely, he does not plan to retire as governor of Wisconsin. If he plays his cards right, he will land in a very lucrative job with a transnational corporation. After all, he said that he went to Marquette University only to get a good job and, once he had the job, he didnĂ˘€™t feel the necessity of completing his degree.
So much for education for educationĂ˘€™s sake, or just for the love of learning (at one time, the principle reason for education). ItĂ˘€™s likely that his attitude about education is what makes him so cavalierly reduce education to the lowest common denominator and to exhibit absolutely no respect for those who teach the children.
Some of his political benefactors have been working diligently since before he was born to destroy the last vestige of dignity for American workers. Koch Industries and the brothers who inherited the multi-billion-dollar company (they didnĂ˘€™t make it themselves), and many others like them have been propagandizing the American people for most of a century, but the most recent, relentless assault came with the firing of the air traffic controllers union 30 years ago.
What we are witnessing in Wisconsin is the first full frontal and public assault by the right wing directly on the labor laws that were passed in the 1930s. They want them to be abolished. A vast array of foundations and Ă˘€śthink tanksĂ˘€ť funded by the right wing have brought the unions in the private sector to about 7 percent of workers in those industries and businesses. Now, they are working to demolish the unions of public workers.
The way they do it is by lying. They lie every day about workers and they mask what they are doing by whining that they donĂ˘€™t hate workers, they just hate their unions. Of course, their willful ignorance kicks in here, because they donĂ˘€™t want to see that the Ă˘€śunionsĂ˘€ť are the workers. For all of their problems and faults, they are democratic institutions, and the people do have something to say about how they are run.
Ordinarily, the lying would not work but, in a society in which so much is owned and controlled by a very few, the powerful U.S. elite own the news outlets, from the weekly paper in the smallest county, to the broadcast networks, the biggest city newspapers, and all the rest of the means of communication. Even the Internet is not safe from their control, as they are busily attempting to act as gatekeepers to determine who can get on line and communicate with anyone in the world.
Those who would control the Internet in the U.S. have seen how vital it has been in keeping the people together and informed in the Middle East, even as the rulers have tried to keep order with their police and militaries.
The theft of the wealth of America has been going on too long. The evidence is the tragic unemployment rate of about 10 percent, with another 10 percent among the long-term unemployed or underemployed. The evidence is in the collapse of housing and the millions of working people who lost their savings when their homes were foreclosed. The evidence is in the bailout and the stimulus of corporate entities that were Ă˘€śtoo big to fail.Ă˘€ť The evidence is in the bloated defense and military budget that is the sacred cow of the small American economic elite. The evidence is in the myth of free trade that works solely to transfer wealth from working Americans directly to the coffers of the transnational corporations. The evidence is in the giveaway of our natural resources to Corporate America at fire sale prices (prices from the 19th Century). The evidence is in a food supply that is unhealthy for the people and the planet and firmly under the control of a handful of corporations. The evidence is in the deadly disparity in wealth.
Corporate shills have targeted education for decades. For the likes of the Koch brothers and others, schools are just another sector of our public life that should be privatized, and the effort to do that was ramped up about 20 years ago. They have made public school teachers and their unions (donĂ˘€™t forget, they donĂ˘€™t hate the teachers, just their unions) objects of derision and, even, hatred.
The bile from the windbags of the right on both radio and television against teachers and other public workers flows without end. They continue their attack all day, every day, without much of a response from the real people, doing the real work of society. What they count on is that the listeners, and there are millions of them, are not really aware of being manipulated and propagandized.
Most of the people who claim Tea Party sympathies are aware that something is wrong, but they donĂ˘€™t realize that they are identifying with the very people who have caused the problems. Instead of going after the perpetrators who are most directly responsible, they go after Ă˘€śliberalĂ˘€ť organizations and groups that empower working people and the disenfranchised. In short, they align themselves with Republicans and with the elite who have taken their money and their substance.
The Ă˘€śMubarak momentĂ˘€ť in Wisconsin is an opportunity for Tea Partiers to take stock of the side they are on and to see that their Ă˘€śleadersĂ˘€ť are taking them, like lemmings, to a long drop off a tall rock into the sea. The attack on public workers is an attack on unions, in general, which historically set the standard of living for all American workers. This is an education moment for those who believe the liars who fill their minds every day with disinformation.
Madison should be an education for them. If they study a little history, they will see that the slide of America into a Third World condition has happened in parallel with the decline of the union movement. That decline has not been an accident. It was caused by people who are small in number and large in power. In a democracy (and we still have the structure of one), the people hold the power, but they have to learn to use it and they have to be willing to use it. Corporatists started this class war, and itĂ˘€™s time for Americans who work for a living to weigh in on the side of the working class.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers.
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