Shannon: Issue 2 and the real class warfareWritten by Sean Shannon | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For all the rhetoric of “rich versus poor” and “corporations versus unions” surrounding Issue 2, the class warfare at the heart of these battles is really poor versus poor.
Sixty years ago, the American job market was markedly different from today’s. Thanks to the influence of unions, corporations and the public sector fought to recruit the best workers, offering them high salaries and generous benefits, and employees rewarded the companies who hired them with loyalty. They watched each other’s backs.
That changed with the 1981 inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan and a new generation of far-right conservatives strove to “relieve” corporations of the “burdens” of government regulation, particularly when it came to treating workers well. As corporations gained more power, employees and unions lost theirs. In addition, the number of quality, unionized public-sector jobs shrank as government programs were slashed to fund tax cuts for the corporations who were taking advantage of deregulation to work employees to the bone while slashing their benefits.
Issue 2, and Senate Bill 5 which led to it, are just the latest attempts by conservatives and their corporate financiers to consolidate their privilege and disempower workers. Millions of workers have become so accustomed to being treated poorly by their employers that the only time they notice how bad off they are is when they’re confronted with the advantages that unionized workers have. Instead of fighting to receive the same benefits themselves, many of these workers have been convinced that they should fight so unionized workers will be treated as poorly as they are.
The whole situation is akin to a teacher watching a bully beat up a little girl and take her lunch money and then, instead of confronting the bully, telling the bullied girl that she should beat up another little girl and take some of her lunch money instead. All the kids know the bully (corporate America) and the teacher (corporate-funded legislators) are in cahoots with one another, but they’ve been beaten up so frequently that many of them can’t fight back any longer or even offer support to the bully in hopes of not getting beaten up so much in the future. It’s the political equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.
The wealthy proponents of Issue 2 and other attempts to cripple unions say that cuts in worker salaries and benefits are necessary for America to “stay competitive” in the global marketplace. Recently, the Congressional Budget Office reported that after-tax income for the top 1 percent of Americans shot up 275 percent between 1979 and 2007, while the bottom 20 percent of Americans saw only an 18 percent increase. As a share of the nation’s wealth, the top 1 percent’s portion more than doubled while the share of the bottom 20 percent shrank. For all the sacrifices that the well-to-do are demanding from working-class and middle-class Americans, they are clearly not making any sacrifices themselves.
Right-wing talking heads also appeal to their followers by telling them that someday, if they work hard enough, they’ll be rich too. Therefore, they should support tax cuts for the rich so their hard-earned money won’t go to poor “freeloaders.” The same politicians who champion these tax cuts also pass deregulations that allow corporations and the rich to consolidate their power and wealth, making it harder for the working and middle classes to improve their lots in life, evidenced by the increasing wealth and power gap in America since the Reagan Revolution. The rare triumph of an enterprising American is held up as an example for all, but the numbers and other evidence showing that it’s becoming harder for working-class and even middle-class Americans to get ahead in life are either ignored or denounced as liberal fabrications.
For all the “rich versus poor” rhetoric invoked by protestors and the media on Issue 2 and other similar battles nationwide, the reality is that these fights are largely poor versus poor. The rich are keeping their distance from the real fight and hiring others to wage their battles for them by doing things like financing the Tea Party movement. It’s evocative of this country’s last civil war, where the conscripted could pay $300 to have someone, often a poor person, take place in the army. Would the Tea Party movement have taken off if Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers had been forced to protest for over a month in the cold and wind and rain before the news media began to take them seriously?
Issue 2 is not just about corporations versus unions, or the rich versus the poor. It’s about whether those of us who aren’t rich executives — liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, Occupy Wall Streeter and Tea Partier alike — deserve to be treated well or treated poorly. Which side are you on?
Email columnist Sean Shannon at email@example.com.