Wisconsin: A wake-up call for workers

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By Rick Howell

    John L. Lewis, the legendary leader of the United Mine Workers, put it this way many years ago: “Without organization, you’re a lone individual, without recognition or influence of any kind.”

    Lone individuals don’t fare well in the face of great corporate power. Lewis knew it then, and it’s still true today.
    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, apparently a hero to many conservatives, including our own governor, Bob McDonnell, is acting more like a CEO of a great corporate power than like a man elected to represent all the people of his state.
    Don’t make any mistake about what’s happening in Wisconsin. It’s not about balancing the state budget. It’s not about getting public sector employees to make some sacrifices (they already agreed to do that). It’s about union busting, pure and simple.
    Scott Walker feels emboldened enough as a conservative ideologue to make a naked attempt to destroy public sector unions. This brazen attack has had a reaction he might not have anticipated. Unions and their supporters and sympathizers have descended upon that state and have protested his actions.
    Those protests, which have been compared to the protesters in the Middle East, have spread to the nation’s capital, and to other states. It appears that many working class Americans have finally figured out what conservative Republicans believe and what they want to do.
    No, the average worker in America doesn’t make what teachers, firefighters, police and other public sector employees make. But there’s a reason that those jobs pay so well, because of their importance, and no union should ever have to apologize for what it’s able to achieve, through collective bargaining, for its members.
    Scott Walker, and his ilk, believe otherwise. Walker’s bill would take away collective bargaining rights for all public sector workers in that state except for the issue of pay. He wants to cripple public employees and bring them under the thumb of the state, the way they are in Virginia, and other so-called “right to work” states.
    If he succeeds, it should create shudders down the spine of everyone who works for a living, and especially those who labor for low wages, as nearly everyone does in so-called “right to work” states. Where unions are weak, corporations are powerful, and most of their employees don’t make much money.
    Labor unions created the middle class in this country. It was only when they were legalized under FDR that American workers began to have some semblance of equality and representation alongside the powerful corporations that employed them.
    So, how did a state such as Wisconsin, famous for its progressive past under Robert LaFollette, Gaylord Nelson, and others, wind up with a Republican legislature and a Republican governor?
    Too many working class people, motivated by religion and by conservative propaganda, have voted for conservative Republicans because of the so-called “social issues.”
    They vote for certain people because they don’t like abortion and gay rights, and they only find out later that those candidates are out to destroy their union rights and make them subservient to the powerful corporations that run this country.
    Working class people should entertain this question: Do you really want to live in a country where the only real power is corporate power? Scott Walker, Bob McDonnell, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and talk radio conservatives think you should. What do you think?
    Watch what’s happening in Wisconsin and realize that it could happen to you. Remember, too, the words of John L. Lewis, which bear repeating: “Without organization, you’re a lone individual without recognition or influence of any kind.”
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.