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Time for a Little Education
Posted on Mar 23, 2011
By Jim Mamer
In subsequent years most of these corporations switched their remaining employees from the more secure defined-benefit retirement programs to various defined-contribution plans like 401(k)s. This reduced corporate responsibilities and also tossed the fate of the affected to the uncertainties of Wall Street. Cumulatively the blows to jobs and to secure retirements affected millions. After globalization and deindustrialization drastically reduced the number of American jobs, membership in industrial unions dropped accordingly. After corporate bankruptcies stripped workers of what they had been promised, the power of unions diminished. As fewer and fewer private sector workers were unionized, the private/public balance was reversed and, by 2010, a majority of union members were government workers. As The New York Times reported, “… membership fell so fast in the private sector in 2009 that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumbered those in the private sector, where labor’s ranks shrank to 7.4 million, from 8.2 million in 2008.”
When the preponderance of union membership shifted to those working for government the stage was set for another struggle about the nature of American society, even about the meaning of the American past. Omnipresent conservative commentator Ann Coulter recently summarized the narrative of the right: “… public sector employees got themselves terrific overtime, holiday, pension and health care deals through buying politicians with their votes and campaign money. But now, responsible elected officials in Wisconsin are trying to balance the budget.” But despite Coulter’s certainty, this battle is not primarily about the budget; it is about the power of working people to participate in determining their own fate.
This attack on the unions aims to destroy the very organizations that provide workers with a unified voice and make negotiation possible. Regardless of whether the fight is in Wisconsin, Tennessee or Minnesota, the current strategy on the right is to divide the public by sowing confusion, envy and anger while manipulating the confusion and anger already present in those continuing to reel from the recession, from official unemployment of almost 10 percent, from the continued lack of heath insurance and from the ongoing housing crisis. The point is to focus anger away from the plutocrats, away from the bankers and brokers of Wall Street, away from their protectors in Washington, and toward those who still benefit from the power of unions. Why not blame the teachers, firefighters and cops?
For many of us this situation has become personal and has been manifested in countless conversations. I’ve had such discussions with those in my own family who face an uncertain or nonexistent retirement, and I appreciate their frustration and anger, but I worry when their reaction is to suggest that, if they face uncertainty, I should too. Such an argument may appear rational (“Since I’ve worked just as hard as you, why should I suffer while you don’t?”), but the solution of making everyone poorer and unable to count on a secure retirement is self-defeating, even crazy.
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