Monday, January 17, 2011

On This Occasion

We all knew this but The New Tork Times helpfully summarizes:

The dismal fiscal situation in many states is forcing governors, despite their party affiliation, toward a consensus on what medicine is needed going forward.

The prescription? Slash spending. Avoid tax increases. Tear up regulations that might drive away business and jobs. Shrink government, even if that means tackling the thorny issues of public employees and their pensions.

Ironic it may be that the article, "Budget Worries Push Governors to Same Mind-Set," was published today, the day the nation supposedly celebrates the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It would have been helpful if, as the left and the right (the latter illegitimately) scurry to claim the legacy of Dr. King, some Times' reporter had mentioned how contrary these politically correct efforts are to the life work of the slain leader. Dr. King's mission was not only civil rights but also the rights of workers, including unionized workers, and he lost his life while fighting for them. The Nation's John Nichols takes us back:

It was to that end that King made his last journey, at the age of 39, to march with and campaign on behalf of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in Memphis, Tenn., in April of 1968.

The sanitation workers of Memphis had experienced not just racial discrimination but the disregard and disrespect that is so often directed at those who perform essential public services.

No one should miss the fact that AFSCME, the union that they joined and the union with which King worked so closely, is now under attack by right-wingers who would have us believe that public workers are to blame for the problems that occur when policymakers blow the budget on tax cuts for the rich, bailouts for big banks and military adventures abroad.

King did not fall for the fantasy. He stood at the side of public employees, telling a Memphis congregation on the night before he died: "Let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on … the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them."

King was proud to rally with public workers, and proud to make the connection between their struggle and the broader struggle for a fair and equitable economy that served all workers — public and private.

Nichols cites GOP governors such as New Jersey's Chris Christie and Wisconsin's Scott Walker as the most egregious examples of abuse of public employees but, in a limited way, President Obama has joined in the fun. He has proposed a pay freeze for federal employees, of whom there is a disproportionate number of blacks. The attack on federal employees has delighted his Republican supporters (what- you mean he doesn't have Republican supporters?) while the attack on public employees by state governments across the country is closing a source of mobility for many individuals, minority and white alike. Government employment rarely has made individuals wealthy, but it has gotten many into the middle, or at least lower-middle, class. Today would have been a propitious time for a Democratic president to remind the country of just that.

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