By Reginald Johnson
February 22, 2011
Just over a week ago, in my last blog, I lamented the fact that the American people seemed so unwilling to protest the many ills of our society --- the lack of jobs, a deplorable health care system, crumbling schools and government service cuts.
This was in sharp contrast, I said, to what we’ve seen in Egypt and across the Middle East, where thousands have taken to the streets to demand the removal of corrupt dictators and the establishment of fairer economic systems.
Well, maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe the sleeping giant in America is waking up.
In Wisconsin and now in Ohio and Indiana, throngs of workers are out every day demonstrating against the outrageous moves by new Republican governors to reduce the benefits of public employees and strip their unions of bargaining rights.
In Wisconsin, tens of thousands of workers --- teachers, nurses, firefighters, sanitation empoyees and others, together with school students --- have rallied at the state capital in Madison against the plan by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated legislature. The governor says the public employees must pay substantially more for their pensions and health care, in order to erase a claimed $3.6 billion budget deficit and avoid layoffs.
But Walker and the Republicans are lying about the reason for the draconian measures: the deficit came about only after GOP lawmakers in January rammed through a series of costly tax giveaways for the rich and big corporations. Before that, according to the Wisconsin Fiscal Bureau, the budget was balanced.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is part of a broad, national effort by the right-wing to smash public employee unions --- a major source of strength for both the Democratic Party and progressives in general. Anti-union forces must also figure that if public worker unions are badly hurt, it would be a mortal blow for the labor movement in general, since private sector unions have been steadily declining in recent years.
The union workers and their allies don’t buy the blather about the budget and see what’s really going on. It’s been inspiring to see the size of the crowds and the spirit of the protesters, day after day, in Madison.
Maybe this is the start of something. As Noam Chomsky commented on “Democracy Now” recently, the Wisconsin protests may be heralding the beginning of a “democracy uprising” in America.
Let’s hope so.
MSNBC Commentator Ed Shultz has done a terrific job covering the protests. He devoted his show every night last week to the rallies, offering strong progressive commentary and getting good interviews with people like John Nichols of The Nation. I just hope his passionate pro-worker stance doesn’t ruffle too many feathers at management (the channel’s new owners are Comcast) and he’s shown the door the way Keith Olbermann and Phil Donahue were.