While Wisconsin has been receiving all the media attention lately for its governor’s vitriolic and violent assault on public sector workers, there is a growing trend throughout the nation to crush unions once and for all. In California the Republican Party recently issued the following propaganda in its bid to destroy public employee unions. In the document, they attempt to redirect blame for low student achievement on the privileges and rights teachers have won through collective bargaining, rather than on political policies and socioeconomic relations that have increased poverty and privation for millions of Californians and the gutting of public education through Proposition 13 and recent legislative cuts. They also place blame squarely on re-Gov. Brown, for signing the Rodda Act, in 1975, which gave teachers the legal right to bargain collectively.
The document is full of lies and distortions, like the notion that existing laws protect public employees, making the Rodda Act superfluous, a statement that is as meaningful as the idea that the rich have just as much right (or lack thereof) to sleep under bridges as the poor. The laws are written by the rich, for the rich, and of the rich. The few laws that do exist to protect workers’ rights, including public workers, exist as stopgaps to maintain labor peace (i.e., keep the workers on the job and in line) and generally have resulted in the wake of labor unrest and collective action. The laws on the books prior to Rodda did not recognize teachers’ right to collectively bargain. Considering Wisconsin’s current attempt to strip away teachers’ rights to collective bargaining and striking, and Illinois’ recent failed attempt to do likewise, we should be very suspicious and hostile to any attempt to weaken labor protections in California. This document is clearly part of this national trend to crush unions.
The document also exploits the recent stupid comments by a teachers’ union member who said that teachers unions are in the “protection racket,” bolstering the stereotype that unions are connected with the Mafia and tantamount to a criminal enterprise. What next, will they reinvoke the old criminal syndicalism laws used against the IWW, too? And while we’re speaking of “protection rackets,” isn’t that what the Chamber of Commerce does? Or the Cato and Heritage Foundatons? Or corporate lobbyists?
Speaking of lobbyists, this document specifically criticizes the millions spent by the teachers unions on their own lobbyists, something I have always been very critical of, but for very different reasons. The Republicans are pissed off at the unions for helping Brown defeat their billionaire darling Meg Whitman and for their influence in forcing out pro-privatization state school board members. Unions are one of the only non-corporate entities around with the bucks to compete with the ruling elite at election time, and this infuriates them. They want a complete monopoly on the political system (which they already virtually have) without having to waste their potential profits on getting it (which they still have to do). Considering that our unions’ campaign contributions have gotten us anti-teacher politicians like Brown, with his complicity in the multi-billion cuts to higher education, and potential k-12 cuts still looming, it should be obvious that union election money is a poor investment. However, the solution is NOT to abolish unions or collective bargaining, but for the rank and file to demand that our union bosses stop wasting our dues on the boss vs boss election game, and focus on their real mission: organizing, educating and mobilizing workers to fight for their own interests (rather than begging rich people to have mercy on us).
It is incredibly cynical and an enormous distortion to portray unions as greedy, self-serving, and corrupting entities in light of the truly greedy and corrupting organizations used by the ruling elite to sequester and protect their overwhelming wealth and political power. In addition to the goal of crushing unions (and thus increasing profits through lower wages), these attacks serve the dual purpose of distracting public attention from all their tax breaks, bailouts and subsidies that have benefited the richest 1% of Americans, now being financed by slashing social services, lowering wages and laying off workers. Their goal is to convince the working and middle classes to go for each other’s throats, instead of their own, so they can laugh safely and unmolested all the way to their banks.