By Dennis Van Roekel
National Education Association President
True fiscal leadership requires creative solutions grounded in the most important needs of the community. So faced with crippling budget deficits, fiscally responsible governors should focus on reforms that create jobs and a long-term agenda for moving their states forward. All of this sounds plausible enough.
But in many states that flipped to GOP control last fall, nothing about it is true.
In actions more fitting for comic book arch-villains, a new crop of state leaders have launched blistering attacks on working families disguised as budget and education reforms, and many have sought to strip workers’ rights to have a voice through their union. Instead of dealing with the real problems at hand, such as looming deficits and high unemployment, these politicians are choosing to use public sector workers as scapegoats.
Gov. Chris Christie launched this storyline in New Jersey, where for the past year he has tried to make scapegoats out of public employees in general and educators specifically, blaming us for the weak economy. Now his understudies are falling into line with one purpose: to silence the voice of the middle class with anti-worker and anti-union legislation.
• In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” would strip public employees across the board – from teachers and prison guards, to nurses and snowplow drivers – of their right to have a voice in their profession.
• In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels and his allies are trying to ram through legislative attacks on public sector workers, crippling their right to form effective unions.
• In Ohio, under the direction of Gov. John Kasich, the GOP-controlled legislature is ready to wipe out the state’s nearly 30-year-old collective bargaining law and sharply curtail binding arbitration rules for local governments.
• In Idaho, School State Superintendent Tom Luna unveiled a package of proposals that would undermine public education and gut job protections for educators.
• In Tennessee, politicians backed by big business interests are seeking to abolish collective bargaining between teachers unions and school boards across the state.
Let’s be clear: Walker’s plan won’t make Wisconsin stronger — it would increase the state’s long-term debt — and it won’t create any new jobs. It’s a quick-and-dirty bill focused more on political payback than reforming his state’s economy. Daniels is attacking public education and public school teachers with several bills under the pretense of school reform. Silencing the voices of workers by busting up their unions won’t create one job or help Ohio’s economic recovery. And reckless proposals in Idaho and Tennessee will turn their public education systems upside down.
Instead of working to rebuild their states’ economies and public education systems, these politicians have turned their sights on weakening or eliminating unions — and repaying the CEOs and big donors who contributed to their campaigns.
Scott Walker passed $140 million in special interest spending, including $25 million for an economic development fund that already has plenty of revenue on hand, and $48 million for private health insurance accounts that mainly benefit the wealthy. Now, after giving corporate lobbyists a handout, he wants to balance the budget on the backs of hard-working public employees.
The old adage proves true once again: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. This isn’t about balancing budgets. It’s about balancing power. In our country today, the richest one percent of the people receive one-fourth of the total income. We have to hold these elected leaders accountable to do what is in the best interests of working people — not a few wealthy and powerful individuals.
Growing the middle class – educators, nurses, and firefighters – is crucial to growing and sustaining our economy. Workers, acting together through their unions, are the last best defense against the attacks on the middle class. And without unions, these attacks will go unanswered.
We will not bow to individuals and special interests who want to dismantle the rights of working people and the stability of middle class families. Working people need more power, not less. We need a stronger voice. And we need to build the labor movement because America cannot have a middle class without unions. We will not be silent or denied.
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