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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/26/11

What was Wisconsin Gov. Walker Talking About?

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Message Larry Olstad
Toward the end of the conversation he thought he was having with an ideological fellow traveler, Wisconsin Governor Walker tells the faux-Koch that he is out to "get our freedoms back." What "freedoms" is he talking about?  The whole uproar is over the power of public service unions to collectively bargain.  Does he long to be free to negotiate wages and working conditions with individual state employees?  That's ridiculous, but no one who has listened to the conversation can reasonably believe he was proselytizing or dissembling.  He repeatedly refers to other players in the drama as "one of us" or "not one of us."  It is clear he and Koch have an understanding about who "us" is.

Walker also thinks Koch knows exactly what he means by their "freedoms," and I think I know too.  Between about 1900 and 1937, the US Supreme Court repeatedly struck down legislative provisions - state and federal - attempting economic reform.  The most famous of these cases is Lochner v. New York, decided in 1905, which was precipitated by New York's attempt to prohibit employers from forcing bakers to work more than 66 hours per week because baking was a hazardous occupation in 1905.  In addition to white lung, bakers in 1905 went repeatedly from extreme heat to extreme cold, and pneumonia and related respiratory illnesses were rampant.  Unions were illegal in the United States, employers paid for no benefits, and employees could not afford them. 

The Supreme Court struck down the law on the basis of a doctrine called "substantive due process," which it theorized embodied a bundle of irreducible "liberties," one of which was liberty of contract.  The court venerated "the right of the individual to labor for such time as he may choose," a right that did not exist in the real world because of the disparity in bargaining power.  Oliver Wendell Holmes dissented, and pulled the covers off the court's normally secret deliberations, by revealing that "[t]his case is decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain."  

The doctrine was used by the court to prohibit government from interfering with even the most pernicious conditions under which children labored, from requiring safe work place conditions, from ameliorating sweat shops and, ultimately, to protect every reprehensible employer excess that our contemporary labor laws were enacted to prevent.

That's what Walker meant by "our freedoms" - the freedom to employ children and women in factories 12 hours per day and seven days per week, to require people to work for pennies per day, to take no responsibility for the safety or welfare of the workers and to maximize profits for the benefit of the very few at the expense of everyone else.  He is talking about the liberty to require workers to live in company barracks 5 families to a room, to pay them in scrip redeemable only at the company store in return for inferior goods at inflated prices, and to hire professional thugs to assault and kill them if they try to organize.

That is Koch's idea of freedom, and Scott Walker apparently agrees with him - he is "one of us!"
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Former criminal defense lawyer, lifelong leftist. Quote: No matter how paranoid you are, the government is doing something worse than you think it is.
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What was Wisconsin Gov. Walker Talking About?

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