Sunday, March 20, 2011

Liberal Discipline

Children’s Crusade

There was a bit of overtime this week. As an office temp with no benefits, I milk every assignment for as much cash as possible. When the contract is fulfilled at this assignment, there is no telling when, if ever, I will get another assignment. Working four hours on Saturday morning is easy money.

When I got off the bus on Downer Avenue, it was cool but sunny and pleasant. I looked forward to enjoying the rest of the weekend.

Then I saw the picketers. They had small white cardboard signs attacking Governor Scott Walker. They were walking in a circle in front of Sendik’s grocery store chanting, “We like teachers. Not Scott Walker,” and “Shame on Walker. Shame on Sendik’s.” The picketers all appeared to be college students from the nearby University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM), although I received reports later that there may have been one woman beyond college years in the group.

Comedy of Errors

Readers who are not citizens of our fair city need a little background.

Sendik’s is the name on three different grocery store chains in Milwaukee and its suburbs. In the beginning, an Italian family named Balistreri founded Sendik’s. How the stores came to be called Sendik’s is too complicated to recount here. (It involves the purchase of a stove by the Italian patriarch with a thick accent.)

Over time, the Balistreri cousins reportedly had … ahh, differences. Now there is one chain of nine stores that advertises itself as Balistreri owned and operated for over 80 years.

Another branch of the family owns the store on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee and stores in the suburbs of Bayside and Elmbrook.

Then there is the scandal of Balistreri cousins selling the Oakland Avenue store in Shoreword to the Nehrings. The Nehrings shamelessly advertise their store as A Milwaukee Tradition for more than a Century. (Yeah, right. And my name is Michelangelo.)

Let us return to our story. Anti-Scott Walker activists selected the nine-store Balistreri-owned Sendik’s for boycotting and protest action because the owners reputedly supported Mr. Walker in the November election. A Facebook page is dedicated to the cause and lists the stores to be boycotted.

The college students picketing the store on Downer were at the wrong store. They picketed from noon to one o’clock. Two protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct. Reportedly, after one hour of heavy lifting on Downer, the protesters proceeded to protest at the Nehring’s store on Oakland Avenue. This store also was not part of the chain singled out by the activists running the Facebook boycott page.

There is one thing that both the Nehring’s Sendik’s store on Oakland Avenue and the Downer Avenue store have in common beyond the fact that they are not the target of the Facebook activists. They are both within walking distance of UWM.

The blogosphere and talk radio would have you think union thugs are harassing local businesses. There were no union thugs on Downer Avenue. These were na├»ve, ill-informed, foolish college students getting a little drama into their lives. It is quite likely that these students came from suburbs to study in the big city. They may not have had cars to travel to the Balistreri stores, but “Hey, there are two Sendik’s in the neighborhood. Let’s do a show!”

Bad Aim

This whole comedy of errors calls for an adult conversation about the anti-Scott Walker boycotts. Boycotting is the wrong tactic. Boycotting benefits no one but Mr. Walker. Boycotting aims at the wrong target and hurts the very workers that Mr. Walker’s fiscal policies hurt.

Those who funded Mr. Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and those who voted for Mr. Walker are not the enemy. There is nothing illegal or immoral about contributing to Mr. Walker’s campaign. There is nothing illegal or immoral about voting for Mr. Walker. Those who supported Mr. Walker need to be persuaded, not punished.

Mr. Walker has made a career of misleading Wisconsin voters. As Milwaukee County Executive he pitted suburban voters against city voters. As governor, he has pitted union workers against non-union workers for the benefit of his corporate sponsors. Stripping the public sector unions of their 51-year-old bargaining rights was not a plank in his gubernatorial campaign for the simple reason that if it were he would not have been elected. Even the pro-Walker Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS) admits this.

If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. At least some of the anti-Walker party seems to think they only have a hammer. That hammer is a boycott. The hourly workers at Sendik’s or M & I Bank or Johnsonville Brats are not nails, however.

Boycotting reputed supporters of Mr. Walker is the wrong tool. Boycotting is effective when its aim is to change behavior. Those who funded Governor Walker’s campaign cannot take back their funding. Those who voted for Mr. Walker cannot take back their vote. Now that these supporters have fulfilled their purpose in the last election there is no reason that the ideologue Mr. Walker will listen to them. He has loftier goals.

But Isn’t Liberal Discipline an Oxymoron?

“Between Feb. 14 and March 12 more than a million people protested in and outside the Capitol,” Steven Walters writes in the MJS. “No one was injured; 16 citations were issued for minor violations.”

I suspect Mr. Walters’ figures are cumulative. Over the period he cites, I suspect some people are counted twice. I know of one MPS teacher who was there for four days. Nevertheless, there were tens of thousands of citizens outraged by the policies of Mr. Walker.

Rueters reported that on Saturday, March 12, the number of protesters was anywhere from 85,000 to 100,000 according to Madison police estimates. The news service observed that this “would top the size of protests in Madison during the Vietnam War.”

On the other hand, the pro-Walker MJS has buried any mention of the size of the March 12 crowd and then has never put a number on it. On Sunday, March 13, it tepidly reported, “The crowd that gathered in Madison was the biggest yet during four weeks of protests.” This understatement is on page 18, bottom right hand corner. The very bottom.

There have been attempts by Governor Walker’s administration and its allies at Fox and on talk radio to portray these citizens as dirty rioters imported to the state by greedy unions, causing cost overruns in police service and millions of dollars in damage to the Capitol.

The protestors were in fact clean, upstanding Wisconsin citizens exercising their rights to peacefully assemble and petition their government. Well, except for that guy on the tractor pulling the manure spreader. It seems that Mr. Tod Pulvermacher “has been convicted of drunken driving four times and has no valid driver’s license” (MJS, 3-16-11). Exceptions must be granted in such a large crowd.

Honest citizens, both conservative and liberal, should be nothing but proud of the uprising of citizens in Madison. Did we mention no one got hurt? Should we not be proud that the police, from the chief down to the patrol officers, professionally kept the peace? Should we not remember that protests in the sixties, over issues every bit as important, shared nothing of the character of this lawful assembly of citizens in Madison?

The fight must go on. The policies of Mr. Walker are dangerous for Wisconsin and the country. The loyal opposition, however, must exercise discipline.

Boycotting hits the wrong targets. Pouring glue into the locks of businesses is vandalism that every citizen should decry. These actions merely feed right-wing talk radio and Fox News. The wrong target is being hit.

On the other hand, the recalling of the senators who support Mr. Walker is on target. The recall of Mr. Walker himself in January 2012 is necessary.

These recalls require persuading citizens who voted for Mr. Walker that he misled them, that his senate supporters are culpable, and that neither the Governor nor his Senate supporters are working in the best interests of Wisconsin. This is hard because it requires patience, maturity, and the work of marshaling the facts. It is easy because the facts are against Mr. Walker and the good citizens of our Wisconsin do not share to his radical Libertarian ideology.

These recalls require disciplined liberals. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Walker's War on Workers

We've seen local union after local union rush to their school boards, their city councils, their technical school boards and rush through contracts in the past two weeks that had no contributions to the pension and no contribution to health care. – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Governor Scott Walker won a battle against public sector unions last week when the Republican-controlled legislature passed a portion of his so-called Budget Repair Bill. The new law strips public sector unions of bargaining rights granted by this state fifty years ago. The Governor contends that powerful unions prevent the state and its municipalities from assessing workers for pensions and health care costs.
From the beginning of this fight, Governor Walker has maintained that public sector workers covered by collective bargaining agreements pay little or nothing for pensions and health care. This assertion has been picked up by the local and national media and reported as fact.
When the fight went on over the so-called Budget Repair Bill, the Governor made the above statement. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel franchise of PolitiFact, a reputed investigative fact-checking enterprise, examined his statement and reported:
Two governmental bodies -- Madison and MATC -- tapped on the accelerator to get deals approved before state lawmakers could slam on the breaks. But two others, Janesville schools and Sheboygan County, are making their workers wait until the contracts are brought up for a vote at regularly scheduled board meetings. That doesn’t reflect the ram-it-through image Walker pointed to. We rate his statement Barely True.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Mr. Walker for governor. Now MJS continues to support him in both its news and editorial pages. Even their fact-checkers need to be fact-checked, because the Governor’s assertion about employee contributions to pensions and health care is complete economic hogwash.
Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.
How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services (http://www.tax.com/taxcom/taxblog.nsf/Permalink/UBEN-8EDJYS?OpenDocument).
The above is from David Cay Johnston. His excellent article deserves your attention and I encourage you to follow the above link.
Mr. Johnston shows that every employer has employee costs that go beyond the cash on the paycheck. Pensions, health care, sick pay, vacations, and employer contributions to Social Security all figure into the compensation earned by a worker for services rendered. Workers earn this compensation.
Every employer must count the full position costs of a worker, whether his employees are union members or not. No employer, public sector or private, gives his workers something for nothing. Even employers who do not compensate their workers with pensions, health care, and other benefits have to contribute to Social Security. The only exception would be if their employees are undocumented and off the books.
Governor Walker has premised his attack on public sector unions on economic nonsense. Undoubtedly, fair-minded citizens of Wisconsin were appalled to hear that state workers were not contributing to their health care and pensions. They should be even more upset to learn that the Governor has completely misled them.
Governor Walker likes to compare his battle with public sector unions to President Reagan’s conflict with the unionized air traffic controllers. There are significant differences.
President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers when, contrary to law and union contract, they went on strike. To the best of my knowledge, all public sector union members are forbidden by law from striking, unlike their private sector counterparts.
Governor Walker has attacked public sector unions that conceded to his economic demands. They were not striking. They were not threatening to strike.
President Reagan enforced the law. Governor Walker changed the law. President Reagan fought a battle forced on him. Governor Walker has picked a fight. It will not be his first.
After this battle won against public sector unions, there is the battle with the private sector unions. Even before the proposal of the so-called Budget Repair Bill, Republicans in the state legislature were talking about making Wisconsin a so-called Right-To-Work state, thereby ending closed union shops.
Governor Walker has won a battle with his so-called Budget Repair Bill. After this came the budget that cuts local funding and grants tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Terminations of local municipal workers are sure to come. Terminated public sector employees do not buy many goods and services. As unemployment surges, wages are depressed. Every worker in Wisconsin, union and non-union, is beginning to realize that there is now a war on workers.
This is a war the Governor cannot be allowed to win.