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“Suffer the Consequences” of the Great Disconnect


It’s good to see people more influential than me saying something that needs to be said and which I’ve been saying for a while: it’s the dominant U.S. institutions and powers that be — the corporate-state media, the two U.S. Chamber of Commerce parties, the policy- and opinion-crafters of the relevant political class — NOT the American people, that have moved to the hard right.

For a couple of examples from the circle of the more influential, see:

1. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: the Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 2, 3, 17, 21, 34-43, 80, 83, 97, 13-14, 18, 30, 40, 47-53, 167, 50, 52, 85, 89-90, 94, 94, 152, 40-41, 19-20, 50, 77, 94, 152, 94.

2. Noam Chomsky’s chilling (almost numbing) book Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan Books, April 4, 2006), pp. 1, 18, 82, 95, 214, 218, 222-223, 225-226, 227-236,244-45, and 248.

In these and other sources you can find numerous annotated examples of the U.S. population’s relatively progressive, damn-near social-democratic and definitely non-imperialist sentiments on various issues (on foreign policy, see especially the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations research cited and linked in my last publication listed below).

The first book is by liberals and thus goes too far in exonerating theleadership of the more leftward of the two aforementioned business parties (the Democrats) from culpability in the rightward drift of policy in violation of actual — one might (sadly) say “mere” — U.S. public opinion. The second book does not have that problem.

For a few of my efforts along somewhat similar lines, see

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=6625

http://blog.zmag.org/ee_links/mandate_my_ass_on_democratic_failure_and_racist_felony_disenfranchisement

…and above all: “Semi-Invisible American Internationalists and the
Shocking Disconnect Between Policy and Opinion” (sometime in late 2004):

http://blog.zmag.org/ee_links/semi_invisible_american_internationalists_and_the_shocking_disconnect_betwe

I started thinking a bit more about the disconnect between (a) surprisignly decent and progressive public opinion and (b) hard-right policy in the U.S. while watching some local television coverage of an airline strike last year. The strike was about health benefits, with the offending employer (airline) asking the workers to shoulder an ever-higher portion of health costs. The reporters were out at O’Hare airport (Chicago) talking to white middle-class flyers who were being “terribly inconvenienced” (delayed) by the labor-capital conflict. Guess what? Everyone the
reporters interviwed was on labor’s side.

They empathized with the airline workers because they were experiencing the same thing. They were also being told to take on ever more of their health and retirement costs as corporate America rolls back further and further the fading social contract.

Here (below)is another example along the same lines. Looking at some recent Christain Science Monitors yesterday, I ran across an interesting item (pasted in below). Among other things, this story quotes a labor historian who cites a public opinion poll showing that most New York City residents supported the city’s transport strikers when the NYC transit union went out over the employers’ effort to pass health costs on to workers. Tens of thousands of affluent New Yorkers were terribly inconvenienced by the strike. But they supported it, something you would never have gleaned from the dominant media coverage.

Now of course the capitalist state has jailed the transit workers’ boss to punish him for too forecefully representing workers who asked for what NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) calls “too much.” The MTA says workers “asked for too much” and now must “suffer the consequences,” including crippling union fines ($2.5 million so far) and the jailing of its leader along with suspension of automatic dues collection.

The workers, with the support of the mere citizenry, asked for “too much.” And now they and we must “suffer the consequences” and see what happens who those who dare to expect “too much” from their authoritarian workplace masters.

Here’s the item:

“N.Y.C. transit workers in limbo, but unbowed, as leader is jailed”

By Alexandra Marks | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

CSM
April 25, 2006

New York City transit workers’ ongoing labor dispute may turn out to be
the strangest in recent history or a turning point for the nation’s
beleaguered labor movement.

Almost four months after the transit workers walked off the job for
three days, crippling city traffic at the height of the holiday shopping
season, they still don’t have a contract. Negotiations are in limbo, and
Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint has begun serving a
10-day jail term for contempt of court – but not before holding a
defiant rally, then marching across the Brooklyn Bridge with hundreds of
union activists and labor leaders flanking him in a show of solidarity.

To these workers, Mr. Toussaint’s jailing transforms him from an
embattled union leader threatened by internal dissension to a martyr who
is galvanizing unions across New York and the country to hold the line
against eroding pensions and health benefits for working people.

“This is a bittersweet moment,” Norman Seabrook, head of the
correctional guards union, told the placard-waving crowd. “It’s bitter
because some judge thought sending him to jail was going to stop us.
It’s a sweet moment because he has awakened the entire labor movement.”

To New York Gov. George Pataki (R) and officials of the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s transit system,
Toussaint is simply a lawbreaker responsible for disrupting the city,
costing its businesses millions of dollars and inconveniencing 7 million
daily subway and bus riders during one of the most frigid cold snaps of
the year.

To the MTA, the issue is whether transit workers asked for too much, and
now must suffer the consequences. The judge who sent Toussaint to jail
also fined the union $2.5 million and forbade it from automatically
taking union dues out of workers’ paychecks.

The standoff could end Wednesday when the MTA board meets. The board has
the authority to approve the contract that was negotiated to end the
strike.

But its spokesman has said the contract is not on the agenda. The MTA
wants the contract to go now to binding arbitration, which, it says,
will allow it to get an even better deal. That’s because transit workers
at first rejected the contract by a slim margin over a concession that
required them to pay 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health
benefits. That trade-off was made to save the current pension system,
according to Toussaint and other TWU leaders. So in a second vote last
week, workers overwhelmingly approved the deal they didn’t like at
first.

“This has been a long, strange journey with many unexpected twists, and
the final outcome is still far from clear,” says Joshua Freeman, a labor
historian from the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Another surprising thing, says Professor Freeman, was the sympathy the
bundled up walking, biking, and cab-riding New Yorkers showed for
transit workers during the strike. Polls found that the majority
supported the walkout, even though it inconvenienced them.

“The fact that this seemed to be a general effort to defend social
benefits resonated with a lot of people,” says Freeman.

As healthcare costs have spiraled upward, private-sector employers have
increasingly cut benefits and required workers to pay more for them.
Firms are also shifting from providing traditional defined pension
benefits provided by the companies to 401(K) and other cash programs to
which workers contribute. Many municipalities, like New York and its
MTA, are now asking their unionized workers to make similar concessions.

“This has become an increasingly major issue because it’s difficult to
protect these benefits in the private sector and the public sector
without increasing contributions and co-pays, and that’s an underlying
issue in this fight,” says Stanley Aronowitz, a sociologist at the CUNY
Graduate Center.

But the MTA argues that the benefits issue is a far larger societal
problem that has to be dealt with by unions, whether they like it or
not.

“To be able to get a handle on the pension and hospitalization [costs]
is vital because at the rate [they're] going in a very short period of
time, it could cost $5 or $10 a ride,” says MTA spokesman Tom Kelly.
“This is something that needs to be addressed and we’re trying to do it
the best way we can without presenting a hardship to our passengers or
our employees.”

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