Dr. Dawg

Margaret Wente on Wisconsin

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Doesn’t this tell you everything you need to know about Maggie?

Wente was born in Evanston, Illinois into a wealthy family. She moved to Toronto in 1964, where she attended a private school, and has since become a naturalized Canadian citizen.

A former American, born with a silver spoon in her mouth. And one can smell the acrid reek of class privilege in her Globe & Mail column today.

Unions (the folks who brought us public healthcare, the eight-hour day, old age pensions and the weekend) are, unsurprisingly, a favourite whipping-boy for the corporate media. You can never go wrong taking a poke at labour. So Wente duly targets the people in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s all old, brackish wine in old bottles, of course. Her argument, in a nutshell: the workers in the streets are reactionaries, and the union-busting governor and his gang are reformers.

Here’s the mendacious way she sets up what passes for an argument:

The showdown in Madison is only partly ideological. States and cities are buried in a mountain of debt. They have inherited reckless promises to public-sector workers that simply can’t be kept. Wisconsin (a small and traditionally liberal state) faces a $3.6-billion deficit over the next two years.

In fact, Wisconsin was heading for a modest surplus this year of $120 million. What changed? Well, the national recession, of course—and to some extent the election of Republican Governor Scott Walker, who, eager to reward the corporate buddies who put him where he is, passed a couple of business tax breaks and a conservative health policy measure that will add $120 million to the state’s deficit for the period 2011-2013.

In any case, the public sector unions had already agreed to major concessions—pay cuts and increased pension and insurance contributions. Yet Walker pressed ahead to repeal collective bargaining rights.

It was never about necessary financial rearrangements in the face of a recession. This year’s shortfall, for example, could be avoided by some adroit debt restructuring, which Walker himself proposed. It was all union-busting, all the time, using the deficit spectre as an excuse.

Despite Wente’s ill-founded assertion, and I for one don’t think she really believes a word of it, the move has been entirely ideological, to the core. Has she not heard the infamous telephone conversation between Walker and “David Koch?” In fact, Walker has been at this sort of thing for quite a while. But Wente is too lazy to look this stuff up.

Will busting the unions cure the Wisconsin deficit? Obviously not. But pitting worker against worker is a favourite tactic of the Right—let them fight over the crumbs that fall from the master’s table, and let the master intervene, from time to time, to redistribute the crumbs. So here’s Wente:

[N]ow that private-sector workers have been hammered by brutal competition, technological change, layoffs and wage freezes, they think it’s not unreasonable for teachers and garbage collectors to share the pain.

Misery does love company, even if it was caused in this instance, not by unions, but by a greedy financial sector and suspect lending practices, followed by bailouts and tax breaks that predominantly favoured the rich. What’s always been a little unclear, however, is how making more people miserable increases the well-being of the masses.

Nevertheless, having unemployed people and the exploited working poor turn their wrath upon other workers who have managed to achieve better conditions through collective bargaining is a useful diversion. But judging from the support Wisconsin’s public sector has been receiving from other workers, it isn’t always guaranteed to succeed.

Here’s Wente one more time (try to ignore her tiresome caricaturing):

[A] two-tier work force. One tier has lifetime job security, generous pensions and a workplace where seniority matters more than merit and almost no one is let go for poor performance. The other tier has none of this good stuff. You’ve got to wonder how much longer private-sector workers will be willing to keep shelling out for perks they themselves no longer get.

Three guesses which tier Wente, with her bred-in-the-bone rich-girl sensibility, wants for all Canadian workers. “Smart Canadian politicians should be taking notes,” she says. What makes her think her Conservative friends aren’t doing just that?

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on March 1, 2011 10:00 PM.

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