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The Protests Are No Surprise; The Wonder Is Why They Didn’t Happen Sooner

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When the public employee protests erupted back in his home state of Wisconsin, Congressman Paul Ryan now-famously mused that it was “like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.”  While Ryan, a conservative Republican, certainly didn’t have it in mind when he spoke, there is something of a romantic quality to revolt breaking out in the American midwest in the immediate aftermath of the Egyptians’ courageous toppling of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The real question, though, is why the heck the worker protests — which have now spread like wildfire through America’s midsection — didn’t start much sooner.  After all, it took decades of repression and depravation for Egyptians to finally decide to risk standing up against Mubarak, who until the end would tolerate no public dissent, and routinely would use brutal force to knock it down.  And yet, the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to peacefully assemble and protest any time we want, and where have we been?

Where were the throngs in the street two or two-and-a-half years ago, as Wall Street melted down and unemployment began it’s long, painful climb? Where were they as the foreclosure crisis began to mushroom, even before that? I admit that I’m not the first one to ask these questions.

The venerable academic on the left, Frances Fox Piven, has wondered the same thing. She published a piece in The Nation back in late December titled, “Mobilizing The Jobless”:

So where are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs? After all, the injustice is apparent. Working people are losing their homes and their pensions while robber-baron CEOs report renewed profits and windfall bonuses. Shouldn’t the unemployed be on the march? Why aren’t they demanding enhanced safety net protections and big initiatives to generate jobs?

Musings such as these prompted right wing commentator Glenn Beck to launch such vicious and unrelenting attacks on Piven that she became the target of death threats.

And, of course, it’s not just the unemployed who should be out on the streets, just as the protests sweeping the nation are really about more than just union rights. “There are a lot of folks out there who say, ‘It doesn`t impact me, I`m not a union guy, I`m not a teacher, I`m not a civil servant.’ Let me tell you how it does matter to you,” says Sen. Bernie Sanders, another stalwart defender of workers and the middle class. “Wages are going down in this country for everybody. When you destroy unions there will be no standard at all, nobody left to negotiate decent jobs for the middle class.”  Piven, too, understands this, given, as she notes in her piece, the “decades of stagnating worker earnings, high consumer indebtedness, eviscerated retirement funds and rollbacks of the social safety net.”

Everyone who is middle class, used to be middle class, or aspires to be a part of the middle class, should all to be descending on their state capitals, and Capitol Hill too, to fight for basic fairness and quality-of-life.  Conservatives like to rail against “class warfare,” except that it often has been the wealthy, and politicians who support them, who have been waging a war on the rest of us. It’s about time we fought back.

Piven closed her piece saying, “We should hope for another American social movement from the bottom—and then join it.”

Now, finally, it’s here. Get out there and join it.

 

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About Scott Nance

  • Boeke

    “There is looming up a dark new power…. The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marking, not for economic conquest only, but for political power. For the first time in our politics, money is taking the field of organized power. The question will arise, and arise in your day though perhaps not fully in mine: `Which shall rule–wealth or man? Which shall lead–money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations–educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate wealth?'”

    This was Edward Ryan, Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1873.

    Read about it here

    There was a young man who heard that speech, his name was Robert M. La Follette.

    And if you don’t know who fighting Bob la Follette was:

    Bob La Follette

  • Boeke

    “Steeped in the ideals of Jefferson and Lincoln, La Follette developed his revulsion for corporate capital as a young man–taking his cue from Edward Ryan, a fiery Irish radical who rose to the position of chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court during the great populist upsurge of the 1870s.”

    op. cit.

    “When Ryan spoke to University of Wisconsin students in 1873, young Robert M. La Follette heard the jurist declare: “There is looming up a dark new power….”

    “Those words served as La Follette’s mantra as he embarked on a career that would take him to Congress, the governorship of Wisconsin, and the U.S. Senate. La Follette’s election as governor came after a decade-long crusade against the timber barons and railroad interests that dominated his own Republican Party. When he took office, he pledged to end the rule of “corporation agents and representatives of the machine,” who had “moved upon the capitol.”

    Declaring that “the spirit of democracy is abroad in the land,” La Follette successfully pushed the legislature to double taxes on the railroads, to break up monopolies, to preserve the state’s forests, to protect labor rights, to defend the interests of small farmers, to regulate lobbying, to end patronage politics, and to weaken the grip of political bosses by creating an open-primary system.”

    op. cit.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    It’s a little late for a re-born progressive movement in your country, Boeke. What happened in Sept. 2008 was the introduction of fascism, and the sitting president has only strengthened the hold of this fascist régime on your country. It matters little which party is in power – they are all just various branches of the fascist cabal you have been thrust under. Even these demonstrations are just another manifestation of this fascist cabal, one designed ultimately to deprive you of your liberty.

    Good luck, pal. You will need it.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    No wine before it’s time.

  • Boeke

    Ravitch

    Why should teachers have unions?

    By Valerie Strauss

    This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

    Dear Deborah,
    As I write, thousands of teachers are staging a protest in the state capitol in Wisconsin against proposed legislation by Gov. Scott Walker that would destroy their collective bargaining rights. Others stand with them, including members of the Green Bay Packers and other public sector workers, even those not affected by the legislation, namely, firefighters and police.

    Gov. Walker demanded that the teachers pay more for their health benefits and their pension benefits, and they have agreed to do so. But that’s not all he wants. He wants to destroy the union.

    It’s time to ask: why should teachers have unions? I am not a member of a union, and I have never belonged to a union, but here is what I see.

    From the individual teacher’s point of view, it is valuable to have an organization to turn to when you feel you have been treated unfairly, one that will supply you with assistance, even a lawyer, one that advocates for improvement in your standard of living. From society’s point of view, it is valuable to have unions to fight for funding for public education and for smaller class sizes and for adequate compensation for teachers.

    I recently visited Arizona, a right-to-work state, and parents there complained to me about classes of 30 for children in first and second grades, and even larger for older students; they complained that the starting salary for teachers was only $26,000, and that it is hard to find strong college graduates to enter teaching when wages are so low.

    I have often heard union critics complain that contracts are too long, too detailed, too prescriptive. I have noticed that unions don’t write their own contracts. There are always two sides that negotiate a contract and that sign it. If administration is so weak that it signs a contract that is bad for kids, bad for the district’s finances, or bad for education, then shame on them.

    The fight in Wisconsin now is whether public sector unions should have any power to bargain at all. The fight is not restricted to Wisconsin; it is taking place in many other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere. The battle has already been lost in other states.

    I have been wondering if advocates of corporate school reform, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee will come to the aid of the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if President Obama and Secretary Duncan, who were quick to applaud the firing of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, will now step forward to support the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if Secretary Duncan, who only a few days earlier had led a much-publicized national conversation in Denver about the importance of collaboration between unions and management, will weigh in to support the teachers. I am ever hopeful, but will take care not to hold my breath.

    If there is no organized force to advocate for public education in the state capitols of this nation, our children and our schools will suffer. That’s the bottom line. And that’s why I stand with the teachers of Wisconsin. I know you do too.

    Diane