Monday, February 21, 2011

What's Really at Stake in Wisconsin And The Myth of "Right-to-Work"

Saturday, the crowds in Madison, Wisconsin swelled to 70,000, the vast majority of them pro-union anti-Walker demonstrators. As the right wing is pushing its new line of attack, that the protests have been orchestrated by President Obama and the DNC — not true, unfortunately, which is too bad: The President should be taking a visible, leading role educating the American people on the importance of unions and the role unions have played in their lives; particularly in Wisconsin. Here’s a primer from Rachel Maddow:

And that’s not all. Wisconsin is the home of one the greatest Progressives (with a Capital “P”) in American history: “Fighting” Bob LaFollette. As the Wisconsin Historical Society recounts, LaFollette began his illustrious career as a reformer when he was offered a bribe to fix a court case against several former state officials:
La Follette refused the bribe, angrily denouncing the use of money to shut out the voice of the people. For nearly ten years, La Follette traveled around the state speaking out against the influence of crooked politicians and the powerful lumber barons and railroad interests that dominated his own party. Elected governor in 1900, La Follette pledged to institute his own form of political reform.

La Follette successfully pushed the legislature to pass measures instituting direct primary elections, which gave voters the right to choose their own candidates for office. He supported measures that doubled the taxes on the railroads, broke up monopolies, preserved the state's forests, protected workers' rights, defended small farmers, and regulated lobbying to end patronage politics. La Follette worked closely with professors from the University of Wisconsin to help the state become "a laboratory of democracy." By the time he joined the U.S. Senate in 1906, La Follette had become a national figure.

In Washington, La Follette pushed for the same kind of reforms he had promoted in Wisconsin. He often spoke at length on the corruption of government and the abuse of industrial workers. Arguing that the entire nation's economy was dominated by fewer than one hundred corporate leaders, La Follette supported the growth of unions as a check on the power of large corporations. In 1909, La Follette and his wife, Belle, founded "La Follette's Weekly Magazine," a journal that campaigned for woman suffrage, racial equality, and other progressive causes.

Though La Follette supported Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election, he adamantly opposed U.S. entry into World War I, believing that disputes should be solved peacefully. Although he was accused of being unpatriotic, La Follette believed that American's involvement in the war would end democratic reforms at home. Though critics declared that his opposition to the war was political suicide, La Follette was re-elected to the Senate in 1922. In 1924, he ran for president on the Progressive ticket and received almost 5 million votes, losing to Republican Calvin Coolidge. La Follette died the following year.
Robert LaFollette attained legendary status in the annals of American politics. He blazed a trail traversed by Teddy Roosevelt and later, Teddy’s cousin Franklin. Just reading LaFollette’s record of accomplishments and, more importantly, the principles he stood for, one cannot help but stand in awe of this leader who did so much to bring us to where we are today — only to see a movement of know-nothings fueled and manipulated by today’s robber barons trying to undo 100 years of progress in American history.

On Whose Side Would "Fighting" Bob LaFollette Be In This Fight?

In reality, President Obama weighed in four days after the protests had begun. The local grassroots flavor of the protests was never in doubt. These employee union members — teachers with support from students, nurses, firefighters — are protesting a venal. transparent power grab by the Governor to take away their collective bargaining rights.

They just want to retain the right they’ve fought for so hard to attain — not as a unilateral union privilege, but as the right for workers’ representatives — the union — to have a place at the table to negotiate working conditions, benefits and wages that are acceptable to all parties involved. People have given their lives in this country for the right to collectively bargain, and Wisconsin has led the way in this great 80-year historical tradition.

Wisconsin is worth fighting for.
Ultimately, this is a fight to turn the rest of America into those 22 so-called “right-to-work” states, an ironic and Orwellian name for states that bar public employees from the right to collectively bargain and  unions from organizing. I decided to check some key quality of life stats for these 22 states — the Republicans’ Nirvana — to see how they stacked up against union rights states. I settled on two broad ratings of state-by-state comparisons in education and health care. See for yourselves. The Education ratings and Health Index by state are calculated based on 21 different factors.

Here’s the reality: Of these 22 “right-to-work” states, in educational excellence/well educated population:

Only seven states cracked the top 20 (of 50 states); and of these only one, Virginia at number seven, was among the elite TOP TEN BEST EDUCATED STATES. At the same time, 10 of these 22 states were among the 20 WORST EDUCATED STATES, INCLUDING THE TWO WORST OF THE WORST: (Surprise!!!?) Arizona (Jan Brewer, Governor, anti-immigrant profiling law, attempted assassination of a Democratic Congresswoman); Number 50 — and Mississippi (Haley Barbour, Governor, racist comments, license plate issue honoring Confederate war criminal); Number 49.

Secondly, of these 22 “right-to-work” states, in health care delivery, accessibility and outcomes:

Only seven states (AGAIN!) cracked the top 20 (of 50 states); and of these only four, Virginia and Utah at number seven, Iowa (6) and Nebraska (9) were among the elite TOP TEN HEALTHIEST STATES. At the same time, 14 of these 22 states were among the 20 UNHEALTHIEST STATES, INCLUDING NINE OF THE TEN WORST HEALTH CARE STATES: Louisiana, 50 and Mississippi, 49 — in Rightwingville that's the kind of Dickensian healthcare record that turns Governor Haley Barbour into a presidential contender for the GO/TeaP. No surprises in the WORST of the WORST, in no particular order; they're ALL really BAD at providing health care: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas.

Note: Iowa and Kansas ranked well in both categories because they're considered swing states and Iowa went Blue for Obama, while the President's current HHR Secretary, charged with administering the healthcare law, was a former Kansas governor. Utah's health index seems anomalous. As for the rest, they're true to form. These states have serious quality of life problems for their working and middle class populations. The ultimate irony is that President Obama has been trying his best to elevate these states to the higher level of the others, while the oligarchs have been furiously campaigning to bring us all down ... with the help of a compliant (euphemistically) "low-information" population. Just throw a couple of buzzwords their way, like "socialism" and "big government," and they're yours for life.

Final verdict: This is a typical race to the bottom — the Ghettoization of America for the benefit of a very small, very powerful, very rich oligarchy, among whom the billionaire Koch brothers are maneuvering to be oligarchs-in-chief in the high councils of their shadow government.

P.S. Notice which state finished NO. 1 as the HEALTHIEST and MOST EDUCATED? Vermont! It is a gem of a state, absolutely GORGEOUS, like watercolor on canvas. And who, pray tell, is Vermont's ONLY Senator? DRUUUUUM ROLL, PLEASE: BERNIE SANDERS, INDEPENDENT SOCIALIST, OF VERMONT! This is what I'd call CELESTIAL SYNCHRONICITY.

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