Are Americans learning how to “Walk like Egyptians,” to quote a popular song by the Bangles from the 1980s? What’s happening in Madison, WI., a city named after a founding father, might just herald the rebirth of American Democracy. Inspired by the brave, freedom loving souls who sent dictators packing in Tunis and Egypt, thousands of proud Wisconsonians have taken to the streets and said “Enough!”
Enough to the war against American workers that began in 1982 when Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers, the opening salvo in a ferocious attack on labor that has yet to be answered…until Madison. And let’s be clear, this isn’t just an isolated case of union busting—it’s part of a thuggish, 3 decades-long bullying campaign against American workers by greedy corporate chieftains and their political cronies.
During the golden age of the American middle-class, 1945 to 1980, when even Republicans accepted the compassionate New Deal ethos that labor unions were good, and that making the rich (who can afford it) pay more taxes for the benefit of society was the kind, decent, American thing to do, we were a happier, more united country. What went wrong? NYU Professor Kim Phillips Fein does a terrific job of diagnosing the problem, and I urge people to read her 2009 book Invisible Hands: the Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal.
Just from the book’s title, though, you might be able to guess what happened. A handful of greedy businessmen were pissed off that American workers were doing so well because it cut into their profits. So they formed think tanks to fetishize the virtues of the “free market.” They started political lobbying groups—a legal form of bribery—to sway elected officials against labor. Instead of being happy for workers earning a comfortable living, they shuttered factories in the north (where unions were strong) and moved them to the anti-union south. When the southerners started to unionize, they outsourced to countries like China and Mexico, which paid workers slave wages. So much for patriotism and loyalty to America.
Recently, the tiny cabal of corporate and political elites calling the shots (a collusion of power historically known as Fascism) engineered a 17 trillion dollar payout to corrupt financial institutions, and an 800 billion dollar tax cut for rich folks who don’t need it. Now they’re coming for your money and services and they call this scam “Austerity.”
To solve these problems we need to organize, organize, organize! Transform the Democrats from corporate lackeys to a party of the people again; strengthen the Green and Working Families Parties; or start a brand new Third Party. Events move quickly in a post-Egypt, post-Madison world. Or come on my TV show, the Public Voice Salon, and articulate your ideas for hope and change.
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