I dig a ditch, I shape a stone/Another battlement for his throne/Another day on earth is flown/We’re all working for the pharaoh.
— Richard Thompson, “Pharoah”
The nicest thing you can say about the mainstream media’s skimpy coverage of the workers’ backlash in Wisconsin last week is they didn’t see it coming, any more than they saw mass protests in Egypt brewing.
It’s not as if there were no warning signs. For 30 years now, powerful right-wing groups have waged a concerted campaign to wipe out rights won by American workers in the first half of the 20th century. Their first high-profile victory was Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controllers strike in 1981, for which I spit on your grave, Ronnie-boy. (Just kidding — loved you in Bedtime for Bonzo.)
Now the Republican Party and its wealthy backers think they’re ready to deal a death blow to labor unions, the last remaining reliable source of funding for Democrats who run for office. Step One in the campaign is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s ongoing effort to not only cut workers’ wages and benefits, but to gut their collective bargaining rights.
Wisconsin’s public-sector employees are fighting back, which is fortunate for all American workers, even those too brain-dead to understand what this country might be like — no decent wages and benefits, no middle class or suburbs, no flat-screen TV in every home — if their grandfathers and great-grandfathers hadn’t fought hard to win basic rights, usually through unionization and collective bargaining.
Not surprisingly, most of the belated reporting of the workers’ protests by mainstream news outlets has been pro-business. For example, a NY Times story yesterday buried the fact that Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature have made the budget situation worse by pushing through $117 million in tax breaks for business owners. (Wisconsin’s budge shortfall this year is $137 million.)
But street protests in Madison have grown so large that observers have started raising obvious questions — such as, why are Walker, NJ Gov. Chris Christie and other Republicans blaming workers for a bad economy primarily caused by Wall Street traders, big banks and super-rich activists, the very people who bankroll their political campaigns?
There, I just answered my own question.
The injustice of Walker’s union-busting effort has become so blatant that even Barack Obama, our chronically temporizing president, has felt compelled to voice lukewarm opposition to it.
It’s hard to tell, but labor might be on the verge of a modest victory. More importantly, many Americans might finally be getting hip to the fact that people who lack workplace rights, in this country as well as in places like Egypt, might as well be working for the pharoah.