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Class Warfare in Wisconsin

Pat Schneider
The Capital Times
February 16, 2011
http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/grassroots/article_b8243b38-398f-11e0-a7bd-001cc4c03286.html

What's happening now in Wisconsin, with thousands of
workers flooding the Capitol to protest Gov. Scott
Walker's move to snuff the collective bargaining power
of public employees, is much more than backlash against
a union-busting maneuver, labor activists and their
supporters said Tuesday evening at a forum at the
Orpheum Theatre in downtown Madison.

It is, they insist, the first counter-strike in a class
war being waged against workers.

The urgency for reform of an economic system that
enriches the few from the labor of the many was a
recurring theme as some 100 workers and friends
gathered to pledge mutual support and strategize on how
to build on the momentum loosed at the historic Capitol
rally earlier in the day that drew more than 10,000
demonstrators.

Their weapons?

Protests, sit-ins, filibusters, work stoppages,
boycotts of businesses that support Walker's
legislation or that funded his candidacy. Civil
disobedience. And most potent of all: Solidarity!

"What's happening now is political theater - let's keep
it going as long as possible," said Scott Erlenborn, a
Baptist pastor.

Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate report
that they have the votes to pass the governor's Budget
Repair Bill, which he says is aimed at a $137 million
deficit in the current fiscal year. A vote could take
place as early as Thursday.

Several speakers at the Orpheum Tuesday conceded that
the GOP majority has the votes to pass the bill,
including Lester Pines, a Madison attorney who has
represented many public workers.

"There's only one way to stop them, and I don't think
that's going to happen: take over the Assembly and the
Senate and don't let them come in," he said.

Even if the legislation passes, that doesn't mean the
end to collective bargaining, Pines said. Workers'
power to negotiate comes not from any state law
recognizing them, he said. It is seized.

"The power comes from people coming together and
organizing and telling employers they want to bargain."

Although touted as a budget fix, the removal of
collective bargaining rights from most public workers
on everything but salary, as Walker proposes, would
have no impact on the deficit, Kathy Wilkes, a retired
writer and editor, said in an interview. "He's
demonizing workers as the cause of the economic
collapse - that we know came from Wall Street and the
shipping of jobs overseas - instead of talking about
the corporate elite and their gargantuan salaries. This
is a class war."

State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, told the crowd
Tuesday that conservatives are "trying to shove this
down our throats, and this is where we draw a line in
the sand."

The role of social media in spreading the word about
worker actions was cited by several speakers, as were
websites with information backing up their arguments
about the catastrophic impact of destroying public
worker unions on the state's economy. University of
Wisconsin-Madison sophomore Scot McCollough spoke of
sending Walker copies of all the assignments produced
for UW classes to give him an idea of how much work
goes on there. "They are backing people into corners
here," he said. "We cannot roll over. We will never
give up."

Madison ironworker Anthony Anastasi, a private sector
union member, spoke to the struggle that in the last
century won the rights that are now threatened for
public employees. "People literally died for our
rights," he said. "I want the public sector to know we
have your back 110 percent."

The solidarity required to challenge the entire
economic system will need to extend beyond public and
private union members to the general public, activists
said. Carmen Clark urged fellow union members to talk
with friends and family about what the resistance to
"the owning class" is about. "Many of them have
unionism somewhere in their family closet," she said.

Labor activist Ron Blascoe declared that the time was
right for a general strike -- a refusal to work by all
public and private workers -- to pressure politicians
to enact reforms. The call for such action will not
come from union leadership, he predicted. "They will
tell us it is too radical, but Walker's plan is too
radical. This is no time to be cautious."

It's very important to enlist private sector workers,
because it is their envy of the the pensions that
public workers still enjoy that the right wing uses to
mobilize antagonism against unions, said Earl Silbar, a
Chicago labor activist. "Unless we organize inside and
outside unions for a class fight, we are not going to
get anywhere," he said.

The success of a grass-roots uprising in Egypt in
toppling strongman Hosni Mubarak was a source of
inspiration for many of those who brainstormed Tuesday
in Madison about resistance to attacks on U.S. workers
in several states.

It helped fire a passionate expression of solidarity by
Bryan Pfeifer, an organizer of part-time faculty at
Wayne State University in Detroit. "We are calling on
people from throughout the Midwest to descend on
Madison and make a stand. We did not create the
economic crisis and we are not going to pay for it," he
declared to cheers and applause.

"Fight like an Egyptian!"

The Shameful Attack on Public Employees

http://robertreich.org/post/2615647030

January 5, 2011

The Shameful Attack on Public Employees

By Robert Reich

In 1968, 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to support them. That was where he lost his life. Eventually Memphis heard the grievances of its sanitation workers. And in subsequent years millions of public employees across the nation have benefited from the job protections they’ve earned.

But now the right is going after public employees.

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they’d like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.

It’s far more convenient to go after people who are doing the public’s work - sanitation workers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, federal employees – to call them “faceless bureaucrats” and portray them as hooligans who are making off with your money and crippling federal and state budgets. The story fits better with the Republican’s Big Lie that our problems are due to a government that’s too big.

Above all, Republicans don’t want to have to justify continued tax cuts for the rich. As quietly as possible, they want to make them permanent.

But the right’s argument is shot-through with bad data, twisted evidence, and unsupported assertions.


They say public employees earn far more than private-sector workers. That’s untrue when you take account of level of education. Matched by education, public sector workers actually earn less than their private-sector counterparts.

The Republican trick is to compare apples with oranges — the average wage of public employees with the average wage of all private-sector employees. But only 23 percent of private-sector employees have college degrees; 48 percent of government workers do. Teachers, social workers, public lawyers who bring companies to justice, government accountants who try to make sure money is spent as it should be - all need at least four years of college.

Compare apples to apples and and you’d see that over the last fifteen years the pay of public sector workers has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education. Public sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, and local workers 12 percent less. (Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.)

Here’s another whopper. Republicans say public-sector pensions are crippling the nation. They say politicians have given in to the demands of public unions who want only to fatten their members’ retirement benefits without the public noticing. They charge that public-employee pensions obligations are out of control.

Some reforms do need to be made. Loopholes that allow public sector workers to “spike” their final salaries in order to get higher annuities must be closed. And no retired public employee should be allowed to “double dip,” collecting more than one public pension.

But these are the exceptions. Most public employees don’t have generous pensions. After a career with annual pay averaging less than $45,000, the typical newly-retired public employee receives a pension of $19,000 a year. Few would call that overly generous.

And most of that $19,000 isn’t even on taxpayers’ shoulders. While they’re working, most public employees contribute a portion of their salaries into their pension plans. Taxpayers are directly responsible for only about 14 percent of public retirement benefits. Remember also that many public workers aren’t covered by Social Security, so the government isn’t contributing 6.25 of their pay into the Social Security fund as private employers would.

Yes, there’s cause for concern about unfunded pension liabilities in future years. They’re way too big. But it’s much the same in the private sector. The main reason for underfunded pensions in both public and private sectors is investment losses that occurred during the Great Recession. Before then, public pension funds had an average of 86 percent of all the assets they needed to pay future benefits — better than many private pension plans.

The solution is no less to slash public pensions than it is to slash private ones. It’s for all employers to fully fund their pension plans.

The final Republican canard is that bargaining rights for public employees have caused state deficits to explode. In fact there’s no relationship between states whose employees have bargaining rights and states with big deficits. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights - Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, for example, are running giant deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent.

Public employees should have the right to bargain for better wages and working conditions, just like all employees do. They shouldn’t have the right to strike if striking would imperil the public, but they should at least have a voice. They often know more about whether public programs are working, or how to make them work better, than political appointees who hold their offices for only a few years.

Don’t get me wrong. When times are tough, public employees should have to make the same sacrifices as everyone else. And they are right now. Pay has been frozen for federal workers, and for many state workers across the country as well.

But isn’t it curious that when it comes to sacrifice, Republicans don’t include the richest people in America? To the contrary, they insist the rich should sacrifice even less, enjoying even larger tax cuts that expand public-sector deficits. That means fewer public services, and even more pressure on the wages and benefits of public employees.

It’s only average workers – both in the public and the private sectors – who are being called upon to sacrifice.

This is what the current Republican attack on public-sector workers is really all about. Their version of class warfare is to pit private-sector workers against public servants. They’d rather set average working people against one another – comparing one group’s modest incomes and benefits with another group’s modest incomes and benefits – than have Americans see that the top 1 percent is now raking in a bigger share of national income than at any time since 1928, and paying at a lower tax rate. And Republicans would rather you didn’t know they want to cut taxes on the rich even more.

 

~End of post~

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Note from SPCT: The Democrats did nothing to stop tax breaks for millionaires and will continue to do nothing to prevent further cuts and austerity measures to prop up the ridiculous transfer of wealth from the working class to the capitalist class that has been under way for 35years. The Socialist Party offers real alternatives; candidates that will actually stand up against the capitalist class and defend the rights of the working class majority.

Julian Assange, The Rosenbergs and the Espionage Act of 1917

Julian Assange, My Parents and the Espionage Act of 1917

Rumors are swirling that the United States is preparing to indict Wikileaks leader Julian Assange for conspiring to violate the Espionage Act of 1917. The modern version of that act states among many, many other things that: “Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States” causes the disclosure or publication of this material, could be subject to massive criminal penalties. It also states that: “If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions … each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.” (18 U.S. Code, Chapter 37, Section 793.)

I view the Espionage Act of 1917 as a lifelong nemesis. My parents were charged, tried and ultimately executed after being indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Espionage under that act.

The 1917 Act has a notorious history. It originally served to squelch opposition to World War I. It criminalized criticism of the war effort, and sent hundreds of dissenters to jail just for voicing their opinions. It transformed dissent into treason.

 

Many who attacked the law noted that the framers of the Constitution had specifically limited what constituted treason by writing it into the Constituton: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort” (Article III, section 3). The framers felt this narrow definition was necessary to prevent treason from becoming what some called “the weapon of a political faction.” Furthermore, in their discussions at the Constitutional Convention they agreed that spoken opposition was protected by the First Amendment and could never be considered treason.

It appears obvious that the Espionage Act is unconstitutional because it does exactly what the Constitution prohibits. It is, in other words, an effort to make an end run around the Treason Clause of the Constitution. Not surprisingly, however, as we’ve seen in times of political stress, the Supreme Court upheld its validity in a 5-4 decision. Although later decisions seemed to criticize and limit its scope, the Espionage Act of 1917 has never been declared unconstitutional. To this day, with a few notable exceptions that include my parents’ case, it has been a dormant sword of Damocles, awaiting the right political moment and an authoritarian Supreme Court to spring to life and slash at dissenters.

It is no accident that Julian Assange may face a “conspiracy” charge just as my parents did. All that is required of the prosecution to prove a conspiracy is to present evidence that two or more people got together and took one act in furtherance of an illegal plan. It could be a phone call or a conversation.

In my parents’ case the only evidence presented against my mother was David and Ruth Greenglasses’ testimony that she was present at a critical espionage meeting and typed up David’s handwritten description of a sketch. Although this testimony has since been shown to be false, even if it were true, it would mean that the government of the United States executed someone for typing.

But the reach of “conspiracy” is even more insidious. It means that ANYONE with whom my parents could have discussed their actions and politics could have been swept up and had similar charges brought against them if someone testified that those conversations included plans to commit espionage. Thus, the case against my parents was rightly seen by many in their political community of rank and file Communist Party Members as a threat to them all.

Viewing the Wikileaks situation through this lens, it becomes apparent why the government would seek to charge Assange with conspiracy. Not only Assange, but anyone involved in the Wikileaks community could be swept up in a dragnet. Just as in my parents’ case, the prosecutors could seek to bully some involved into ratting out others, in return for more favorable treatment. This divide and conquer approach would turn individuals against each other, sow the seeds of distrust within the broader community, and intimidate others into quiescence.

This kind of attack threatens every left wing activist. I urge all progressives to come to the defense of Julian Assange should he be indicted for violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

--------------------

> Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius
> Rosenberg. In 1953, when he was six years old, the
> United States Government executed his parents for
> "conspiring to steal the secret of the atomic bomb."
> Since 1990 he has served as the Executive Director of
> the Rosenberg Fund for Children (www.rfc.org), a
> non-profit, public foundation that provides for the
> educational and emotional needs of both targeted
> activist youth and children in this country whose
> parents have been harassed, injured, jailed, lost jobs
> or died in the course of their progressive activities.

Rally in Hartford 1/25 to Support Free Speech and Anti-War Activism


Tuesday, Jan 25th  - 5:00pm

Demonstrate at the Hartford Federal Building!    
450 Main St. Hartford, CT

Demonstration in New Haven - TBD

A CALL FOR DEMONSTRATION IN DEFENSE OF THE 9 NEWLY SUBPOENAED ACTIVISTS TO APPEAR BEFORE A GRAND JURY!
CALL OFF THE GRAND JURY!
END THE ISSUANCE OF SUBPOENAS AND GRAND JURY INVESTIGATIONS OF ANTI-WAR ACTIVISTS!
NO FBI/DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE INTIMIDATION OF THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT!
DEFEND FREE SPEECH!

In September 2010 the FBI carried out a series of raids of the homes of fourteen
anti-war activists. They issued subpoenas to them to appear before a grand jury investigating their ties to "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," a charge the FBI suggests is justified because some of them were engaged in international solidarity work in Palestine and Colombia. They seized computers, videos, cell phones, financial records, and drawings made by their children. These activists were guilty of no crime, but were instead the victims of the governments attempt to harass and silence the anti-war movement.

Demonstrations against the raids and the grand jury proceedings were organized by activists in over sixty cities around the country, alongside a spirited national call-in campaign.

The subpoenas to appear before grand juries were served to the fourteen activists but were later withdrawn when all fourteen asserted their 5th Amendment rights and refused to appear in court.

In November, however, three Twin Cities anti-war and international solidarity activists. Tracy Molm, Anh Pham, and Sarah Martin, who were amongst the 24 activists originally served subpoenas, received word from the U.S. Attorney's Office that that their subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have been reactivated.

And the dragnet against the anti-war and international solidarity movement is widening, with even more activists facing state department harassment and grand jury repression.

Just last month 9 Palestine solidarity activists and Palestinian-American community organizers were served subpoenas to appear before a Chicago grand jury on January 25th .

We in CT stand opposed to this assault on our free speech and right to organize without harassment against US military intervention abroad. Our demonstrations in over sixty cities in the wake of the FBI raids was a powerful response to government repression of the anti-war movement. This time we have to show the government that was not a one time response but the beginning of a vigorous campaign by the movement to defend our own. We must respond and grow this response dramatically as our very right to function politically in opposition to US wars is at stake.

We join the national call for a day of action to stop the FBI and Grand Jury repression on January 25th by demonstrating at the Federal Building in Hartford.


We demand:
**End the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists!
**Stop the repression against anti-war and international solidarity activists!

**Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell
phones, papers, documents, etc.

In solidarity,

CT United for Peace Organizing Committee

 

A Fresh Attack on Capitalism

Many of the attacks on capitalism are grouped into two camps-- it is inhumane, as evidenced by the crushing economic inequalities; and it is wasteful and impractical, as evidenced, for one thing, by the huge hulks of abandoned buildings that litter our CT landscape.  Here is a third.

Two recent books, Bright-Sided, by Barbara Ehrenreich, and Empire of Illusion, by Chris Hedges, highlight a new attack-- the theoretical basis of capitalism is flawed in an unexpected (to many Americans) way.  Capitalism is often given credit, even by liberals, for being a ruthless, but effective system.  Capitalists are realists and experts at getting to the bottom line.  This thinking is in our common idiom, as when we say that we need to "get down to business."  Even some socialists adopt this thinking, at least by implication.

Capitalists are not realists.  In fact, both of the above authors describe capitalists as magic thinkers. Modern capitalism views the world on earth as unreal, and looks to some sort of magic realm to help maximize profits.  This strain of capitalist thinking isn't some fluke or sideshow.  It is central to capitalism, which must ignore realities like pollution and the finite nature of resources to survive.

Bright-Sided goes very deep into the disturbing story of "positive thinking", magic, and capitalism.  The author recounts story after story about our "leaders" looking to magic and spirit realms to advance capital's interests, which is to say, their own personal fortunes.  If one looks and thinks intently at or about a goal or object, one will, in time, receive it.  If one's heart is pure, that is.  Sounds like the classic medieval Romance story, doesn't it?  This is the ideology of our time.

If you take this books and add to them Full House, by Stephen J. Gould, and Straw Dogs, by John Gray, then you get a fairly complete picture of mass delusion.  All these books are about shedding foolish ideas.

Full House:  There is no such thing as Progress in evolution.  Humans are not at the top of an evolutionary tree.

Straw Dogs:  The Enlightenment thinkers, in discarding Christianity, kept its pet doctrine-- humans are special.  We are not above or apart from nature or other animals.  Also, there is not going to be some sort of technological fix that will allow us continue our "progress."  We must live within the limits of the planet.  In short, that might mean a much quieter and diminished lifestyle once oil is no longer cheap.  Add to this book the book by James Lovelock, Revenge of Gaia.

Bright-Sided:  The modern capitalists have deeply embraced magic-thinking.  It is the new center of capitalism.

Empire of Illusion:  The faster empires fall, the more their subjects resort to magic thinking.  The process is in top gear, right now.

The Right has fully embraced all kinds of magic thinking.  This represents a huge opportunity for the Left to step up and become the rational pragmatists that we desperately need.

 

 

 

 

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