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William Rivers Pitt: Look for the Union Label

Look for the Union Label

Wednesday 23 February 2011

by William Rivers Pitt,
t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Governor Walker of Wisconsin got up on his hind legs on Monday and blasted public-sector unions for being wasteful. He made it very clear that he intends to continue his push to abolish collective bargaining in his state, which basically means he intends to abolish unions in his state. The polls are not with him, the people are not with him, and a number of Republicans in the legislature look to be going soft on the whole deal, but don't tell Walker that. He thinks he's going to get his way on this, so he can be the big conservative hero, the one who abolished unions, thus setting a trend to be followed in more than a dozen other states.

This is what I know about public-sector employees. This is what I know about unions.

In February of 1978, a snowstorm roared across New England, went out to sea, gained strength, turned back inland, and then stalled. It was for all intents and purposes a hurricane, complete with eye and sustained winds over 100 miles per hour. When it was all over, the Blizzard of '78 dumped several feet of snow, and paralyzed the region for a week. More than 50 people died. My mother worked for the city we lived in, and was put in charge of plowing out the streets and homes that had been buried. She and the plow guys disappeared into that maw for a week, got the snow cleared, and saved lives. Her work, and the work of the guys running the plows, made all the difference.

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That's what public-sector employees do.

That's what unions do.

Four years ago, my wife and I arrived at a hospital to receive a diagnosis. My wife had been experiencing numbness and tremors in her right hand, and when the doctor told her she had Multiple Sclerosis, she collapsed into terrified tears. A nurse comforted her, and a social worker sat her down to talk things over. They told my wife about her options, about where she could go and what she could do to deal with this disease, and they were wonderful. Twenty minutes after finding out something horrifying and utterly life-changing, my wife was laughing through her tears and immensely comforted, thanks to the efforts of those two people.

That's what public-sector employees do.

That's what unions do.

When I was in public high school, I had the same English teacher two years in a row. His name was Brainerd Phillipson, and he was quite possibly out of his mind. He flew around the room like a dervish, and brought to life even the most brutally dull assignments we were required to read. Mr. Phillipson is solely responsible for the life-long love of reading I have enjoyed. He is the reason I became a teacher, and the reason I became a writer. Those two years in his classroom set the course of my life.

That's what public-sector employees do.

That's what unions do.

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On a bright Tuesday morning nearly ten years ago, two commercial airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Thousands died. As people fled in terror from the fire and violence, police officers and firefighters and EMTs charged into the burning buildings to try and save as many as possible. When the Towers collapsed in fire and dust, those heroic rescuers were lost. At the time, I am certain that Gov. Walker had many fine things to say about those who gave their lives to save others.

That's what public-sector employees do, Governor.

That's what unions do.

In a perfect world, public-sector union employees would not be scapegoated for the ills of state budgets. They would not be called lazy or wasteful. They would not be asked to give up their rights after already having given up so much.

In a perfect world, the bankers and Wall Street wizards would be handed a bill for all the damage they have done, be required to pony up in order to salvage the economic calamity they created, and would spend some time in jail for the crimes they committed.

In a perfect world, the two disastrous wars George W. Bush and his cronies threw us into would never have happened. All those lives would never have been lost. The hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars spent to no avail would never have been so profligately wasted...and if those wars did happen, in a perfect world the perpetrators would also be billed, and jailed, for stealing from us all.

But, of course, this is not a perfect world. The bankers and Wall Streeters stole from us, the Bush administration and their "defense" industry friends stole from us, to the tune of trillions of dollars. If you want to know why we are in this economic crisis, why state budgets are falling short all across the country, why millions are without work, look no further for the reason. To date, none of these people have been called to account for what they have done. Instead, we hear about the "wasteful" nature of public employment.

It isn't a perfect world, so Republican frauds like Walker get to blame everything on unions and public-sector employees instead of their own unutterably flawed and false policies. Trickle-down supply-side pro-war idiocy is to blame for our current condition. Period. End of file.

When you are in a car accident, or a fire, or are sick, or get robbed, or are buried in snow, or lost, or need help in any way, you won't have to look far to find the union label. It will be there to help you, to comfort you, to dig you out, to make you smile, and to save your life.

Remember that.


William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

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