It's dangerous to draw too many parallels between the folks who turned out to protest in Tahrir Square in Egypt and the folks protesting outside the State Capital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Both situations are complicated and it's too easy to fall into a Glenn Beck simplistic, fact-free prescriptive rant about how we got here and what we should do about it.
But there are a few similarities.
In Cairo, you had a brutal dictator, the right-wing conservative Hosni Mubarak, backed by a powerful army, trying to persuade his people yet again that if they just maintained order, and went back to being docile and obedient, his rule would magically bring them all those wonderful things in life denied to them for so long.
In Madison, you have a right-wing conservative governor, backed by wealthy and powerful economic interests, yet again asking the middle class to act against its own economic interests. And they are doing so by trying to persuade these middle class "have-nots" that if they just give up their collective bargaining rights they would magically become "haves" and henceforth be free to pursue their "American Dream."
Behind the elected officials doing the official persuading were the puppet-masters: the folks we used to call fat cats whose formula for getting richer depends on the rest of us getting poorer.
This is now known as trickle-not economics. In America, trickle-not economic has resulted in the largest disparity in income distribution in our history. We have a tiny slice of the very rich. Then we have all the rest of us. And what used to be the Middle Class is disappearing.
In Egypt, the puppet-masters wore military uniforms; in Madison, business suits.
Even though it was a prank phone call, I think we learned a lot by being able to listen in to Minnesota's Governor Scott Walker talking to the man he thought was his puppet-master. After all, how often is it we get to eavesdrop on a call from the impersonator of David Koch, the multibillionaire oil guy who, with his brother, has funded much of the right wing's battle plan? FBI, maybe; ordinary folks, nah!
Two things in particular were revealing. The first was the tone of the conversation. It was clearly puppet-master talking to puppet. And then there was the glee with which the puppet seemed to jump out of the phone to accept the puppet-master's gracious invitation: "Once you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and show you a real good time!"
By the time that conversation took place, the public sector unions had already agreed to meet the governor's financial demands -- but it was clear he was out to take no prisoners. Give up your collective bargaining rights or else!
The trouble with the governor, and with far too many elected officials, is that they weren't paying attention when American history was being taught to them in grade school. Or they are memory-challenged. Or they just don't give a damn and want to obliterate their country's history and substitute their own.
What American history tells us is that without unions, the captains of industry would have rolled over working people like a Thompson CAT. Without unions, we would never have had a middle class in America. And without a middle class, who would have campaigned so tirelessly for so long for better schools, better teachers, better health care, better everything.
When conservatives talk about "family values," isn't this what they should be talking about?
The past half-century has witnessed the sharp decline in organized labor, with corporate ownership-management waging an unrelenting campaign to convince working Americans that they'd do so much better if American industry could be more competitive with the rest if the world, and that wouldn't ever happen if unions were dictating outrageously exorbitant wages and benefits.
Dictating? Maybe Governor Scott Walker doesn't understand all this, but it was Collective Bargaining that was responsible for wage and benefit restraints from both unions and ownership. Among other benefits, collective bargaining prevented countless strikes.
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