THE BLOG
02/22/2011 02:24 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Educating for Democracy: On Wisconsin!

The massive protest in Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker's bill which would take away one of the few tools of unionization for government employees -- collective bargaining -- has echoes of what happened in Egypt in the massive demonstrations that resulted in the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. Of course, Governor Walker was democratically elected in a fair election but his plan to bulldoze through a piece of legislation that would tear out the heart of the state's unionized workers' rights to negotiate terms and conditions of employment in the guise of "fiscal responsibility" makes a mockery of the word "responsible."

A hastily called rally in New York City in support of the Wisconsin demonstrations was held in front of the Fox News building on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan on Friday. A crowd of about a hundred union activists, students and retired teachers, some wearing foam-rubber "Cheese Heads," rallied to hear statements from political figures, such as assemblyman Jose Rivera of the Bronx and political activist Jonathan Tasini -- who once ran against Hillary Clinton for senate -- describe Walker's actions as "class warfare" and disputed the Governor's contention that his state was "broke" and had no alternative to eliminating collective bargaining for state employees.

Tasini, who is building a political party that will be focused on JOBS -- (www.workinglife.org) supports a 21st century version of the WPA that would put millions of people to work repairing the deteriorating infrastructure and constructing a national high-speed rail system. One former resident of Wisconsin, Harry Waisborn, illustrated the capriciousness of Governor Walker's attitude toward "fiscal responsibility" when he noted that a project for high-speed rail construction that would be largely federally financed was turned down by Walker although the state would receive over $800 million in Federal stimulus money, a project that could have put hundreds of people to work and benefitted state commerce.

Scott's argument that the state is "broke" should be viewed in the context of the recent $117 million tax break he is planning to give mostly to businesses in future budgets as revealed in a recent New York Times editorial (2/18/11). In the larger context of the fiscal problems being faced by state governments all around the country, it is curious that few if any politicians are pointing out that the enormous tax cut for the top income earners that was insisted on by the Republicans to remain in effect would have otherwise provided the needed Federal revenue that could have been infused into state treasuries as another stimulus package and forestalled the massive layoffs of state employees all over the country. How firing people who are taxpayers and provide needed services to the public is going to improve the economy when the alternative is available to put a surtax on the highest income levels -- a proposal that conservatives will always call "job-killers" -- is beyond my comprehension. There has never been very much evidence that "trickle-down" economics has been an effective way of improving the standard of living for the vast majority of Americans.

That the economic system we live in has been very adept at creating "good-paying jobs killers" for the last forty years should make us realize that the massive wealth redistribution upward for a tiny elite has contributed significantly to our present plight. The only way the United States has of returning to a nation with some semblance of economic justice is through union activism, especially that of teachers. Because if Walker's bill becomes law, and other states follow suit, the little protection will be eliminated that teachers can still rely on against the political and fiscal manipulations of the powerful interests that are using their influence to destroy quality public education and firmly establish an economic two-tier society with no possibility of social mobility.

If "fiscal responsibility" means fewer teachers, larger classes, less resources for instruction, narrowing the curriculum in the interests of "test scores" as a pretext for firing still more teachers, and increasing charter schools as a distraction from the real problems with learning for the disadvantaged -- being disadvantaged -- then I wonder what "fiscal irresponsibility" could be. If "fiscal responsibility" results in cutting subsidies for home heating to the poor, reducing social services to those most in need of them, closing community centers, libraries and cutting back on other cultural outlets for those with limited means, then what public benefits will exist to justify our claims to being a "democracy?" After all, those who seem fond of recalling the promises of our Founding Fathers should understand that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are not just words. There is no real life, no meaningful liberty, no opportunity to pursue happiness in abject poverty, and the "fiscally irresponsible" direction of this country is rapidly moving us away from fulfilling the promises of the Declaration of Independence for all but the economically elite.

Finally, if "fiscal responsibility" means raising the retirement age for Social Security when it is the most fiscally sound social benefit system we have which only needs to have adjustments in the income cap on taxation to keep it in solvency for the foreseeable future, then I tremble for the future of our tottering republic.