The events in Wisconsin are just one more battle in the government’s decades old war on American workers. The war which arguably started during the Reagan years and peaked during the two terms of, has diminished workers’ rights, pay and benefits, while corporate profits and CEO pay has soared. Workers have been told that if they just work a little harder for a little less everything in the future would be just great. The alternative they were warned would be a loss of jobs and less prosperity for everyone. Following the boom of the Clinton years and the surpluses that were left in its aftermath, Bush would have the ammunition necessary to convince the nation that tax cuts were necessary. Under the cover of a brief recession and by framing his tax reform in terms of fairness and equality, W. Bush managed to push through Congress a massive tax cut. The first measure which was passed in 2001, The Economic Relief and Tax Reconciliation Act (“EGTRRA”) revised income tax and estate tax rates. The second measure, passed in 2003, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief and Reconciliation Act, lowered the income tax from dividends and capital gains. The total price tag for the two cuts was initially estimated at 1.3 trillion dollars. The Administration predicted that with the passage of the tax-cut measure, 5.5 million jobs would be created in the 18 months from June 2003 through December 2004. In the first nine months of this 18-month period, a relatively modest 689,000 jobs were created, just 13 percent of the Administration’s projection.Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill raised objections to a new round of tax cuts and said the president balked at his more aggressive plan to combat corporate crime after a string of accounting scandals because of opposition from "the corporate crowd," a key constituency. For his candidness he was fired in a in a “shakeup” of Bush's economic team in December 2002. President Bush then opened the floodgates on the sub prime housing market with his signing of the American Dream Downpayment Act in 2003 and for good measure added the Zero-Down payment Initiative in 2004. In 2004 the SEC began outsourcing risk monitoring responsibilities to the banks themselves, assigning only seven staffers to oversee the five largest investment houses, which controlled more than 4 trillion dollars in assets. Among the results of the Bush’s policies that were rubber-stamped by a Republican majority in both houses: a banking meltdown, a sub prime mortgage crisis and the lowest amount of job creation for any two term President on record. While the government gave banks a trillion dollar bailout and big companies like automakers loans, workers only got lip service.
Today the Republicans are back proclaiming themselves as deficit reducers and the enemy of government spending as if it were possible to cut our way back to prosperity. Just don’t look at their previous record or the fact that they have succeeded again in extending Bush’s tax cuts for the rich at everyone else’s expense. They want to scapegoat workers for the budget shortfalls that Wall Street caused and divert attention from solutions that would require sacrifice from wealthy individuals and corporations. They say that good jobs paying a living wage like those with pensions and benefits, are unfair since “the average” workers don't have them. They want a race to the bottom, where no one has rights, instead ensuring that everyone does.
The politicians in Washington keep telling us we are broke. If that’s true, it’s because we were robbed. Between 2000 and 2007 two thirds of all the growth in the entire economy went to the top 1%. Over the last 50 years tax rates for the bottom 80 percent of wage earners have remained almost static. Meanwhile the rich have received tax cut after tax cut after tax cut. For example, the rate paid by the top 0.01 percent—people who currently get more than $6.5 million a year—fell by half from 70 to 35 percent. Since 1979, the top 1% of income earners have gained $740,000 in real annual income. Each. The lowest 80% of income earners have lost income. The average compensation of a CEO in 1980 was about 40 times that of the average worker in his company. Today it is more than 500 times. In contrast from 1979 to 2000, even before the most recent Bush recession, after more than two decades the American worker's average wages increased on average only 11.5 cents per hour per year. If you take a look at worker productivity with 1992 as base year, productivity was at 82.2 in 1979. It grew to 94.2 by 1989 and 116.6 by the year 2000. In the past year, moreover, it has exploded, putting it over 120. That's a nearly 40% increase sincetook office nearly 25 years ago. Corporate profits are at an all time high.
The Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision has resulted in elections being financed by a very small group of wealthy individuals and corporations whose names are never known, with most of those funds going to Republican campaigns. Their agenda includes taxes cuts for corporations, raising taxes on the middle-class and working poor while gutting education and environmental regulations. They want to divert attention from the real unfairness of the tax breaks given to big business and the wealthy. Encouraging workers to squabble among themselves works well for those still reaping rewards in spite of wrecking the economy.
People need to know that the “Golden Age” of growth, prosperity, and economic well-being in this country was precisely that age, from the 1950s and 1960s, when unions were strong and the middle class was vibrant. They need to know that the decline in living standards and economic security since that time have come hand-in-hand with the decline in unions and the protections they afforded jobs and incomes.
The right to organize and bargain collectively is the basic human right to pool our individual power into a unified voice that's strong enough to stand up against unfair or abusive workplaces and to ensure fair pay and benefits. When workers are denied their most basic right to bargain collectively, rampant abuse and exploitation are inevitable.
Ultimately, it is up to Americans to ensure that states do not balance their budgets by gutting important services and attacking public workers in order to deal with the effects of a recession caused by Wall Street’s misdeeds -not those of policemen, firefighters, teachers, students, and other hard-working middle class Americans.
In his Madison speechclaimed that a sleeping giant has been awakened. For the sake of the American middle class, let’s hope so.