April 4, 2011

Is it all just rhetoric? Actually, no.

During the heat of the budget debate and the events in Wisconsin and elsewhere, it’s easy to get accused of using rhetoric, not facts, to make our case for real solutions that put people first.

On this 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a noted newspaper columnist says it is not.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. said basically King was right in 1968 and today we’re in danger of returning to those dark days if the well-funded corporate campaign against workers succeeds. King said the struggle for public workers, the public services they provide and collective bargaining is a moral fight. Today, when we say we’re seeing a war on workers and the middle class, we echo the warning of Dr. King so long ago but so right for today.

Over the weekend, one of the newspapers that ran Pitts’s column, the Tacoma News Tribune, carried the headline: “At war against workers while the greedy get a pass.”

Here is some of what Pitts wrote about the attack on public workers:

“On Monday, it will be 43 years since that man was shot from ambush and killed in Memphis, Tenn. Martin Luther King’s last public actions were in defense of labor and union rights.

“One wonders, then, what he would say of Wisconsin.

“Or Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Florida or any of the other places where, like a contagion, the move to weaken or effectively outlaw unions has spread. One wonders what he would make of a conservative governing ethos that now defines public employees — teachers, police officers, firefighters — as the enemy.

“Actually, we need not wonder what King would have said, because he already said it. In the speech quoted above, he warned that if America did not use its vast wealth to ensure its people ‘the basic necessities of life,’ America was going to hell.”

On the well-funded corporate attack on workers and the middle class:

“But to whatever degree our workplaces are not filled with children working adult hours, to whatever degree an employer is required to provide a clean and safe workplace, break time, sick time or fair wages, that also reflects organized labor’s legacy.

“It is instructive that this campaign to roll back that legacy is contemporaneous with a New York Times report on how General Electric earned $14.2 billion in profit last year, yet paid no U.S. taxes. Indeed, the Times says, GE netted a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

“What’s it tell you that some of us are on the offensive against working people, but breathe scarcely a peep when a giant corporation somehow slips through government-provided loopholes, paying no taxes? If need is a character flaw, what, then, is greed?”

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/02/2147591/remembering-mlk-and-the-rights.html#ixzz1IZL2tnqZ 

Here in this state, the Associated Press reports today that “a prominent business group (the Washington Roundtable) has launched a new, long-term campaign to try to chip away at labor’s key strongholds in Washington.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Zarelli continues his attack on your collective bargaining rights and wants to do away with PERS 2 and PERS 3 and create a more expensive PERS 4 with lower benefits. But hardly a peep about the $3 billion in tax breaks given away in the past 10 years while lawmakers mostly shirked their obligation to fund their share of the pension funds and the deficit grew to more than $5 billion. It’s not okay to cut to the bone and into the marrow and then ask public workers and the people who depend on their services to sacrifice even more. 


So the facts show what Dr. King said all those years ago. This is a moral fight, we are on the right side of history. Today we should commemorate the ultimate sacrifice made by Dr. Martin Luther King for the rights of AFSCME public workers and all workers. But more importantly, during this “Week of Action,” we must rededicate ourselves to the mission to win something as simple and basic and moral as a fair helping of decency, respect and dignity.

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