With Friends Like These… Mass. Dems Make Union bashing a Bipartisan Movement

Roger Bybee

What can Massachusetts Democratic leaders possibly be thinking at this moment, as they launch an attack on the bargaining rights of public workers?

These guys not only don’t care about worker rights, but they are seriously slow learners about the electoral impact of selling out workers: Just last November, their national party suffered the stunning losses to the Republican Party precisely because of the Democrats’ inability to rescue working people from the devastation of the Great Recession. And 10 months earlier, in January 2010, Massachusetts Democrats suffered a humiliating and demoralizing defeat when Republican Scott Brown captured the seat of the late liberal lion” Sen. Ted Kennedy. 

One critical factor was workers’ perception that Obama and the Democrats stood for the mis-labeled Cadillac tax” that would — just like John McCain’s
plan — pay for expanded healthcare coverage by taxing the benefits of
middle-income working people, according to Jeff Crosby, president of the IUE-CWA Local 201. Disillusioned working people felt that Obama’s insurer-friendly healthcare plan fell far short of genuine reform.

Now, somehow deluding themselves that they can once more alienate working people without any blowback, Democratic leaders are at it again. Led by State House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the Democrats on Tuesday night rammed through a bill limiting the rights of public employees to bargain over healthcare.

This basically eliminates collective bargaining as we know it, ” warned SEIU Local 888 President Bruce Boccardy who represents nearly 10,000 state and local public employees units throughout Massachusetts.

The attack on bargainng rights is far from decided, as labor is determined to fight back. But this extraordinarily foolish fight provoked by DeLeo and Co. inconveniently comes at the very moment when labor, progressives and Democrats around the nation have finally gotten up off the mat and started punching back.

Working people, at long last, have been lashing back at the Republican attacks on worker rights in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere. Across the nation, Republicans’ town hall meetings have been converted into forums of polite but powerful resistance against House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan to shrink Medicare into a useless voucher plan.

But in supposed liberal bastion Massachusetts, the Democratic
establishment’s members are showing that they apparently learned
absolutely nothing from the Scott Brown victory and the Nov. 2 crushing
that Democrats took nationally. 

Just like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Massachusetts Democrats are using the budget crisis” as a pretext for undermining public-sector unions.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is trying to play the good cop”
role, as fellow Working In These Times contributor Mike Elk put it in an article yesterday, by offering up a compromise measure that would allow a limited time period for public workers to negotiate on healthcare benefits before the state and local governments can unilaterally impose what they choose.

That hardly constitutes collective bargaining.


The present moment offers a chance to draw a clear contrast — with vast
national implications — over which party is dedicated to protecting the
poor and middle class at a time of great financial suffering for
working families and great fortunes for those at the top. The Democrats in Massachusetts could choose to raise revenues by taxing the richest 1 percent.

But Gov. Patrick, DeLeo and other Democrats are placing their party on the wrong side. Their complicity in anti-union budget-balancing schemes will
only help the Republicans to justify their own shameful, more strident

Similarly in New York, Gov. Anthony Cuomo is choosing to chop away at
public services rather than raise taxes on the super-rich. Like Gov.
Patrick, Cuomo and his allies have chosen to adopt Republican-style
austerity policies on public employees and public services rather than
tax the rich. 

These Democrats would prefer to be associated with closed libraries, closed clinics, fewer ambulances, less mass transit service, longer police response times, neglected parks, crumbling roads and bridges, and of course, anti-worker maneuvers. Any step is conceivable except imposing even temporary taxes on the super rich — who are concentrated in New York and Boston, home to many of the nation’s very wealthiest CEOs, stockbrokers, hedge-fund owners and others enjoying a new Gilded Age.

Apparently Patrick and Cuomo imagine that a small surtax on their
wealth — at this time of grievous suffering for working families facing
wage cuts, foreclosures, and prolonged unemployment — will drive the
wealthy to give up New York and Boston’s elite clubs, restaurants, museums and nightlife and head off to Oklahoma simply because the taxes are lower there.

Or maybe the explanation is simpler: this wealthy elite provides the
contributions that elected Patrick and Cuomo, and they thus matter more than working families.

In any case, it is deeply disheartening to see Democratic governors and legislators refuse to raise revenues, and instead cut public services. They are following the prevailing formula for governance as described by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz: Of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.”

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education.Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus.More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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