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Joan Fitz-Gerald Headshot

The Sleeping Giant Has Been Roused

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In states across the country, the overreach of Republican governors has rallied hard-working Americans together in mass protests. While many conservatives are quick to quip that, "elections have consequences," these governors did not openly run on the harsh, union-busting punishments-masquerading-as-policies they are now pushing on their voters. Their true colors are certainly shining through.

While we are all aware of the serious budget issues that each state faces, it is incomprehensible to assert that the best way to balance those budgets is to dump the burden on the shoulders of working Americans. Even as these governors propose draconian cuts to wages, benefits and negotiating rights for working-class citizens, they shell out millions in additional tax cuts for corporations and the rich. The immoral math these governors are employing to balance their budgets is stunning.

Last week, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker let slip his true intentions while he took a call from what he thought was string-pulling billionaire and right-wing political financier David Koch. As it turns out, the caller was actually a sly Buffalo, NY editor, but Walker unwittingly spilled the beans. The fight to take away rights of working men and women in Wisconsin has approximately nothing to do with the budget; it's simply a long sought opportunity for conservatives -- the chance to crush public unions once and for all. It's about an opportunity -- as one famous line about how conservatives feel about government goes -- to shrink it to the point that you could drown it in the bathtub.

In so many words, Walker admitted this was the goal. He and his fellow Republicans in Wisconsin aren't prepared to sit down with those on the other side of the aisle and hash out a plan to balance the budget through calls for shared sacrifice and compromise like real leaders. Instead, he made clear that he "would not give in," because, "this is our moment." Whose moment is it exactly? The voters of Wisconsin or conservative businessmen and the politicians they fund?

It is no secret that public-sector unions spend money during election cycles to have a government that will heed the needs of working men and women. Throughout our history, working men and women have struggled to have a voice in our democracy. All too often, the interests of corporations and big-dollar donors have effectively superseded the needs of working-class Americans. With the recent Supreme Court Citizens United decision, the gap of influence in political discourse between the super-rich and the middle class has widened exponentially. The efforts of state Republicans across the country are clearly a calculated tactic to silence the voices of middle-class Americans fighting for a well-deserved place at the negotiating table and to limit their influence during the upcoming election season.

After Citizens United, the only equalizing factor was that both corporate and union campaign dollars were treated equally. However, the new GOP war on unions and their ability to organize and collect dues will permanently muffle the working middle class if successful. It was not enough to guarantee their own ability to spend unlimited cash to sway elections, now Republicans are pushing to shrink union funds and subsequently union influence. Unions have been instrumental in the civil rights movement, the women's suffragette movement and the push for programs like social security and health care reform, which have created the very infrastructure that makes up the country we live in today. They have been at the forefront of change since they were formed over 125 years ago.

Presently the GOP is trying to drive a wedge between public and private sector unions and a larger wedge between the unionized and non- unionized middle class. Divide and conquer is a tactic not lost on the GOP leadership. With corporate irresponsibility still unchecked, the Republicans are fomenting class warfare amongst all who have been left behind in their top-down economy. Lack of fair corporate taxation and continued tax breaks for their CEO's is a large part of the state budget shortfall. When jobs are shipped overseas and people are left unemployed they are unable to add to state revenue through income tax. The "no increase in taxation" mantra of the right wing over the past 30 years has left many states without rainy day funds: hence, no ability to cope in economic downturns.

Before we demonize the aspirations of millions of hard-working, hard-dreaming, and all too often hard-on-their-luck American employees, let's examine the actions and motivations of those at the very top. Because once you rouse the sleeping giant, it is very, very hard to contain it.