"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wisconsin, Ohio : Isn´t the Right "Right" ??

The seizure of a Parliament by street protesters seems to be a terrific news item, but for some strange reason the events taking place in the heart of America do not get the appropiate mediatic attention they should (at least here abroad) . So as a courtesy I will begin the blog with a short introduction.

The story goes like that : Wisconsin Governor S. Walker has put forward a plan to end collective bargaining for most state workers. That has transformed Wisconsin into an ideological battleground between trade union activists and small-government conservatives. The State Capitol in Madison has become the focus for daily mass protests. And if this was not sufficient, today ( March 3rd 2011) Ohio's Senate voted to prohibit public employees from striking and to restrict certain collective bargaining rights, including negotiations on pensions and health care.

The fight in Wisconsin is being labeled by many commenters as THE major social battlefield; some even define it as a “Class War”. It that context it was interesting to read some comments which regard the Governor´s proposals not only as a serious step to fight the huge State´s deficit (under US Laws any State is obliged to operate under a balanced budget), BUT an opportunity to cut public employees´ “privileges” such as collective bargaining, health benefits or job security. Other see the opportunity to introduce “private sector” norms into the public sector and turning it more competitive ( to what exactly?) . Sounds as a war indeed….

The assertion “Simple working people are once again being forced to pay the price for an economic crisis caused by others….” it´s triviality. We don´t need Madison or Ohio to know that fact of life. Moreover, I would be surprised if this was not the response of a conservative establishment ( and the anemic US President) to the growing and mounting debts (which serve other interests… but that is for another blog). Therefore I would prefer to focus on other aspect of the events.

My claim is that Conservatives are correct in their observation. For example lets take the Collective Bargaining issue . In the US only app. 11% of the working force is unionized, an astonishing figure if compared even to the same US 30 years ago (20.8% in 1980). In some important corporations unions are banned and whoever tries to get organized can be fired at once. So the Newspeak that regards the right to maintain collective agreements a “privilege” of just a few is correct.

Or the health care “privilege”, which is indeed the correct definition for that basic service in a country where the right to enjoy a health insurance (for commoners) without being tied to a working place or falling into bankruptcy is not less than a “privilege”.

That’s exactly the point: The transformation of basic right into “privileges” reflects the short sight view of the American Unions. In many countries Unions have become the silent partners of the system securing their own “privileges” forgoing solidarity with the weakest. History can tell us that such strategy is dangerous : About 80 years ago German unions and the country as a whole paid a very high price for not paying too much attention to the “Lumpen ploretariat” the abandoned working class that became one or the main support of the Nazis. The similar sectorial approach dominates the American labor landscape where Unions are among the biggest supporters of the Democratic Party. As such they got their share in the actual state of affairs, they are the establishment.

So, if we might prefer to adopt the conservatives’ logic rather than a sectorial demand but with a twist: Want a “competitive” public sector? OK, raise the minimum salary in the private sector! ? Want to get rid of privileges? Guarantee that the right of free association in each and every workplace so it ceases to be a privilege …. And so on and so on. A solidary response is the proper reaction to the conservative avalanche emerging from the heart of America. However, if solidarity remains as a mean to achieve sectarian privileges than the lost battlefield of Wisconsin,, Ohio and others are just around the corner.

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