BY BARBARA BUONO I didn’t have the opportunity to speak last Friday at the rally on the state house steps but if I had, I would have begun by telling the crowd of mothers with children in tow, teachers who for so many years educated and mentored my children, municipal and state workers who plow our streets, firefighters and police who keep us safe—that you are not alone —and that we do not support what amounts to an assault on the middle class.
The right to collective bargaining has been enshrined in our political and economic system since FDR signed the Wagner Act in 1935. It’s the basic principal that employers and employees should be able to sit down at a table and have a reasonable discussion about wages, benefits and workplace conditions. It’s not a radical idea. The US was one of the last developed countries to accept the right of workers to form unions. What’s radical is the latest attempt by two billionaire brothers and their Tea Party clients in the Wisconsin State House to wind the clock back to the 19th century, when most people worked 6 days per week, 12 hours per day; when there were no pensions, unemployment insurance, workplace safety laws, or health care — when people could be fired on a whim.
What happens if you eliminate collective bargaining and unions for public employees? We go back to the days when teachers could be fired for teaching controversial books or ideas–when transit workers had no recourse from dangerous workplace conditions–when local governments could fire pregnant women or unwed mothers–when states could discriminate between older and younger workers.
We know what’s really at stake here. It isn’t the state budget. The public employee unions have already agreed to Gov. Walker’s request for economic concessions. This is about eviscerating the rights of middle-class families — this is about widening the gap between the wealthy few, and the rest of us—this is about serving the misguided political agenda of two billionaire brothers who think that America owes them more–more than the considerable wealth and privilege that they already enjoy.
When Scott Walker and Chris Christie jump up and down and tell you that the teachers, child protection caseworkers, and police officers are bankrupting the state, they’re peddling a lie that just doesn’t stand up to hard scrutiny. It’s a cynical game of divide and conquer, and at the end of the day, all it does is coarsen our public debate and undermine the possibility of compromise. What it does is play on people’s fears and insecurities. It panders to our basest instincts by inciting resentment and casting blame. It is a political strategy whose guiding principle is grounded in name-calling and scapegoating; suspicion and contempt.
I believe we are better than that.
Scott Walker and Chris Christie talk tough. But a tough guy doesn’t pick on $30,000-per-year child protection caseworkers. A tough guy doesn’t tell state troopers to haul a public servant onto the stage, and then haul him back off once the governor is done yelling at him. A tough guy doesn’t play city against suburb–teachers against parent—seniors and the disabled against public employees—citizens against citizens. That’s the stuff of weakness.
It doesn’t show character. It doesn’t show leadership. And it doesn’t provide an example for our kids.
I would have told the crowd that I am proud to stand with working families today — I’m proud to stand with the dedicated teachers and child welfare workers of Wisconsin. Your struggle is our struggle, and you can count on our support.
Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) is the State Senate Majority Leader