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Our Local Newspaper Assesses Walkouts and Urges Public Sector Employees to “Wrench” Funds From “Politicians”

May 1, 2018

An editorial in the Valley News, the local newspaper that serves the communities in the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River, hailed the successful walkouts that occurred in recent weeks in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado. Their assessment of why these walkouts occurred was spot on:

What these states have in common is that, except for Colorado, they are Republican-controlled and have a decade-long history of big tax cuts and spending curbs that have starved public education and other government services, pushing teachers to the brink…

The editorial then provided a backdrop for these walkouts

A recent New York Times story provided context and background for the teachers revolt. It noted that while the disappearance of middle-income factory jobs has attracted most of the attention during and after the 2016 presidential election, the erosion of public sector employment has also played a leading role in hollowing out the middle class.

State and local government jobs now account for the smallest share of the civilian work force since 1967; there are fewer per capita now than there were then. Many of the workers who hold these jobs — bus drivers, nurses, child welfare investigators and so on — increasingly find themselves financially squeezed to the point where they need to take a second job to cling to a lower rung of the middle-class ladder.

While private sector employment has surged as public sector jobs have lagged, the Times notes that many of those private sector jobs were created in service industries that pay low wages and come without health insurance or other benefits that were once the hallmarks of a stable middle-class life.

Along with low pay, the chipping away of health and retirement benefits have diminished the appeal of public sector jobs to the point where widespread vacancies threaten the public health and safety. In Houston, for example, the police department is short an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 officers.

And while not saying so explicitly, this diminishment in pay is not a bug: it is a feature that anti-government and anti-tax groups have long wanted… a feature that the plutocrats have promoted by fanning resentment between those in the public sector whose jobs were lost due to the cold-blooded desire to increase the bottom line even if it meant the loss of a living wage, basic benefits, and secure retirement for their employees.

Shrinking public sector employment, of course, is a long-cherished goal of Republicans both for ideological and partisan purposes. This downward spiral has been driven by big tax cuts that left governments short of revenue, resulting in sharply curtailed spending.

The closing paragraph of the editorial offers advice to public sector employees:

What lessons can the nation’s 19.5 million government workers take away from the teacher uprising in order to reverse their fortunes? A few obvious ones: There is strength in unity and numbers; securing allies is critically important; social media provides new opportunities to organize and press their case; and the need to support candidates who support public employees and the critical jobs they perform. Pay raises and more resources will not fall like manna from heaven; they will have to be wrenched from politicians who want to maintain a stranglehold on both.

The editorial misses one crucial point: the politicians who want to maintain a stranglehold on both pay raises and resources are elected by voters who accept the premise that government is the problem and the taxes that fund government are confiscatory. So in addition to striving for unity, using social media, and supporting candidates who support them and the critical jobs they perform, it will be necessary for public employees to make the case to voters that government spending benefits not just those whose jobs are funded by taxes but by the public at large. Of course the GOP may make that case shortly when the voters realize the tax breaks they gave to the plutocrats will “require” the government to make cutbacks to everyone… including the very voters who they convinced to support lower taxes.

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