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The International Attack on Public Workers

By       Message shamus cooke     Permalink
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In the state of Oregon, the most widely distributed paper, the Oregonian, announced on its front page that the state should expect "Ten Years of Pain." The perpetrator: the budget crisis -- $2.5 billion in the coming two-year budget cycle, with $2 billion projected deficits until 2019. Sadly, these depressing numbers assume that the economy will recover, a belief lacking any credible evidence.

How to fix Oregon's woes? The Oregonian answers:

""[Governor] Kulongoski is calling for a statewide conversation to determine how best to shrink what state government provides while leaving its core functions and duties intact" Among the options being discussed are requiring state workers to pay some of their health care premiums or requiring public employees to contribute to their retirement pensions [the 401(k) model] " (May 21, 2010).

Some politicians are more blunt about their feelings for state workers, demanding that they accept wage cuts as well.

This kind of "fix" for the recession isn't limited to Oregon; it's a national issue -- promoted by the corporate-friendly media and corporate-awestruck politicians. The pensions of public workers are being especially targeted, labeled by the media as "lavish" and "elite." The New York Times quotes Girard Miller of Governing Magazine:

"The pension crisis in New York state parallels others such as those in Illinois and California that also require serious solutions"many states must fix their pension laws to enable public employers to install lower-cost benefits for future service by incumbents and new employees." (May 20, 2010).

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Translation: Newly hired public employee should have lower wages and benefits. This is the same "two-tiered" system that the automotive corporations used to boost their profits off the backs of their employees.

The most popular method to attack public workers is to make the now-infamous switch from the pension plan to the 401(k), which most American workers know to be a giant scam. Creating a second tier of workers and switching to a 401(k)-type of "pension" are the two most mentioned ideas emanating from the U.S. corporate-elite.

Public workers are being painted as scapegoats for the recession that was triggered by the Wall Street super-rich, who are working hard to shift the nation's rage away from themselves, towards public workers-- especially unionized public workers-- immigrants, and other groups of working-class people. It's classic divide and conquer politics; pitting one section of workers against another, with the hope that the corporations and rich -- who dominate both the economy and government -- will be ignored.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and activist living in Portland Oregon.

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