Friday, February 18, 2011

Class Warfare, Now In Wisconsin

Maybe Rush Limbaugh is right.

Obviously, he is wrong about virtually everything he says about the dispute between public employees and Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. But there may be more than a little truth in Limbaugh's contention

And, by the way, cops and firefighters unions are excluded from Walker's plan because he knows if they'd been included nobody would care about the teachers. If he would have included firefighters and cops, then everybody would say, "Oh no! You don't want to take cops out! No, that'll make us unsafe and fires are gonna burn down our houses....

MSNBC"'s Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz contend otherwise and, as the Associated Press reports

Walker has introduced a bill that would strip public employees across the board - from teachers to snowplow drivers - of their right to collectively bargain for sick leave, vacation, even the hours they work. But absolutely nothing would change for local police, fire departments and the State Patrol.

The bill smacks of political favoritism for public safety unions that supported Walker’s election bid last year and sets up new haves and have-nots in Wisconsin government, said Paul Secunda, a Marquette University professor who specializes in labor law.

"That’s called ’thank you, I got your back,’" Secunda said. "There’s no surprise there. This is the worst type of favoritism there could be."

But the AP reporter, Todd Richmond, notes also the perspective of a Marquette University professor specializing in labor law:

Walker said the state has always treated local police and firefighters differently than other public workers. He did not elaborate at his news conference, but his spokesman later pointed to sections of state law that lay out separate benefits for workers in protective occupations, including an earlier retirement age.

The exemption could create jealousy among government workers upset they must suffer while police, firefighters and state troopers go on as if nothing has changed, Marquette’s Secunda said. That might be what Walker wants, he said; private sector managers have traditionally tried to weaken unions’ clout by dividing workers into camps.

"You give a special privilege to some unions and don’t give it to others, it puts the privileged unions in a tough place," Secunda said.

Although there has been some public support from police and firefighters unions, Limbaugh himself inadvertently gave credence to Secunda's theory when the talk show host, as he so frequently does, employed class warfare:

This is what's happening: Average, ordinary Americans who are paying the salaries and the health benefits and the pensions are losing their jobs and losing their homes. There isn't any money anymore! So these public sector unions, monopolies, are organizing and protesting against the taxpayers -- and what happens....

Now, let me ask you, those of you who are not members of a union. Are you allowed to negotiate the length of your shift? Are you allowed to negotiate when you start and when you finish each day? Are you allowed to negotiate your vacation schedule and time and length? Are you allowed to negotiate your sick days? Are you allowed to participate in whatever the disciplinary process at your company is? No. You go to work someplace, at the ABC Widget Company, and they tell you, "Okay, here's when you're gonna work. This is what the vacation schedule is, how many weeks you get based on service. Here's how many sick days you get, and the discipline process (if we have one), this is what that is."

It may be taxpayers vs. public employees, middle class against middle class, but it is still class warfare. Public employees, Rush states, have a say in their vacation days and sick days and have protection against arbitrary disciplinary measures. But instead of suggesting that perhaps some of these rights should exist for his listeners, he wants them to resent what others have. Provoke bitterness and envy, and perhaps other middle class workers won't notice what they don't have.

It's a tried-and-true tactic among Republicans. And when eventually the attack on public employees in Wisconsin is resolved, there will be some other issue in which it is invoked, and another opportunity for Democrats to avoid calling out conservatives for setting American against American.

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