GOP Bills Will Maim the Middle Class
Reprint, April 19, 2011
By John R. Durso March 24, 2011, Long Island Business News
Republican lawmakers are pressing an extreme agenda in Congress and state Legislatures across America: tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations; larger budget deficits as a result; then massive cuts in program budgets, mainly for education, health care and other services; and finally an assault on union rights and collective bargaining.
Wisconsin was the most notorious. The bill that passed in Wisconsin’s Legislature was a frontal attack on unions first and foremost, and less about the budget deficit it claimed to address. It blocked any tax increases for corporations and the wealthy while cutting education spending by $900 million and making additional cuts in aid to cities and universities. Public employees had offered $30 million in salary cuts, but the governor rejected it.
The confrontation there clarified the growing corporate influence in American politics. For example, Koch industries, an oil and gas conglomerate, will benefit from a provision in the legislation that allows for the no-bid sale of state energy assets. Koch Industries PAC was the second largest contributor to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, donating $43,000 in 2010. The PAC funneled even more to Walker and others through the Republican Governor’s Association.
In Michigan, the governor signed legislation allowing the state to appoint emergency managers who could negate union contracts, take over elected councils and school boards, or dissolve whole cities without a public vote.
Back in the nation’s capitol, Republican lawmakers are pushing toward a government shutdown in order to force drastic cuts in the federal budget. They are seeking to slash Pell Grants, student loans affecting over 600,000 students in New York alone. They would stop all funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and women’s health care programs. Their demand for cuts in funding for food safety, which would take food inspectors out of America’s slaughterhouses, is reminiscent of the horrible conditions at the turn of the century in the Chicago slaughterhouses.
Proposed cuts in the nation’s scientific research programs would cost Long Island 900 jobs at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Scientists there are doing basic research to help us understand the building blocks of renewable energy, generating new industries and jobs.
While the Republican congressmen, governors and legislators are chalking up victories for corporate America, the middle class is losing. In a study of the rise and fall of the American middle class in the years following World War II, it was found that from the 1970s forward, wages in the middle stagnated while those at the top grew dramatically. While many industrialized countries experienced job loss due to globalization, technology and outsourcing, few had anything like America’s concentration of wealth, breakdown in social benefits and decline of its labor movement.
This hollowing out of our middle class is caused by the growing influence of money in politics, a radicalized Republican Party and the growth of corporate influence in American politics. As the nation drifts toward economic decline and financial insecurity, a growing popular hostility toward government itself has taken hold.
Reviving the struggles of our predecessors, an outraged labor movement occupied the state capitol in Wisconsin to stop the attack on workers’ rights. We are starting to rebuild the public understanding that collective bargaining is essential to a thriving middle class. It is the most important counterweight to a one-sided economy that benefits only those at the top. We are fighting for a consensus that sound economic policy cannot be based exclusively on tax cuts and privatization of the public’s assets. America must invest in its future. American labor built this country. And we will continue to fight to keep this country great.
John R. Durso is President of Local 338, RWDSU/UFCW and President of the Long Island Federation of Labor.