The Extrahuman Union

Union Rejection and the Intersection of Everything

Posted on: June 27, 2011

This op-ed I wrote for CT News Junkie is getting a fair amount of attention and generation decent discussion, both of which are satisfying things. I don’t have a lot more to say on the nuts-and-bolts, what-comes-next piece of this, that’s all in the article. But there’s a lot more to say about this piece:

The other thing to consider here is the continuing decline of the American middle class, the continuing stranglehold of the wealthy on the nation’s politics, and the utter failure of economic policy in the nation’s capital, all of which contributes to the siege mentality on display here. The historic and political context is not an excuse, but it is part of an explanation.

I’m mad at the unions who voted no. I’m even mad at organized labor in general; I think they’ve failed more often than they’ve succeeded over the last thirty years. I’m not sure if I have any clear idea of what they’re for.

But, that said, I tried to fix this particular event into a long, long chain of many events. Something one commenter either at CTNJ or somewhere else said stayed with me; it boiled down to: “We’re tired of being pushed around.”

Pushed around? The unions? Well, sure. Unions, especially public employee ones, have been shoved around by big business, both political parties, national pundits, business organizations, taxpayer groups, parent associations, voters and everyone else who wanted a scapegoat for the fiscal woes of their town, city, state or country. This has been going on for decades. If you look at Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a man famous for his sneering tirades against public workers, you’ll get a flavor of the kind of bullying the public sector gets routinely from everyone.

But the ‘we’ here isn’t just unions, is it? The story of the last thirty years is a story of people being pushed around. I could talk about Ronald Reagan’s scapegoating of “welfare queens” and his gentle-but-brutal dismissal of liberals, or the incredible pressure to toe the conservative, “patriotic” line liberals and moderates came under during the Iraq War years. I could talk about the tea party and its bizarre attacks on President Obama, or I could talk about the Clinton Derangement Syndrome of the 1990s. I could mention the utter lie that tax cuts for the wealthy means prosperity for the rest of us (if it’s true, where are the jobs and prosperity?), or the belief that protecting business is far more important than protecting people. I could bring up about Scott Walker, sure, but he’s just the culmination of a decades-long war against labor unions which has in part led to the erosion of the middle class in this country.

There’s so much more, too. It’s personal, it’s emotional. It’s my mortgage is overwhelming, I’m drowning in debt, I have kids and a car and a house and everything costs more, the roads are awful, schools are failing, we’re stuck at war in three countries, the economy is lousy, our country is broken, my health care already sucks and now they want MORE? Are you KIDDING?

We’re tired of being pushed around.

I’m disappointed in the union members’ decision to reject the cuts. It’s shortsighted, and will lead to a weakening of both union and progressive positions (these have become different things). I think some people voted no for purely selfish or foolish reasons, but I think others voted no because, well, they were tired of being pushed around by everyone.

Why, they asked, couldn’t we tax the people who could afford it instead?

Good question. The answer had something to do with the economy, but if you believe that taxing the wealthy a bit more is worse for the economy than laying off 7,500 members of the middle class, then there is something wrong with your head.

And yet, in today’s political climate, it wasn’t possible. The Connecticut legislature wouldn’t do it, the governor pushed taxes as far as he dared. What happened with this vote is that the way the country does function and the way it should function crashed into one another.

Hence, the “no” vote, born out of frustration. It’s the same as when I see when I see liberals criticizing Obama for what are, in fact, practical positions aimed at keeping Democrats in power long enough to see more liberal polices enacted. Liberals have been waiting, and they have been bullied, and they have poured all their hopes and dreams and energy and money into campaigns and people who don’t deliver fast enough, if at all. They want action, they want to be heard. And so you get Dan Choi ripping up posters and (some) liberals at Netroots Nation turning their backs on the Obama ’12 campaign.

They don’t want to be pushed around anymore. By anyone.

Are these sorts of positions useful? Not in the least. They’re shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating. What good does opposing Obama do if all it gets liberals is President Romney or, God forbid, President Bachmann? What good does voting “no” to union concessions do if all it gets you is a pink slip?

So yes, this kind of thing is incredibly stupid. But I get why it happens. It happens because of everything else that’s happened for thirty long years, and because there’s only so much people can take.

Consider it a warning of things to come.

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