The assault on unions now taking place in Wisconsin and elsewhere seems to me to be part of a larger war in which the enemy has been defined as our great public institutions (of which we were once so proud), our schools and our cities and especially government at all levels. All this in the name of an “economic responsibility” that is anything but responsible if it robs great masses of people of a decent wage, a sound education, and the kind of community services that make life livable.
In an address at Amherst College in 2007 entitled “A Great Amnesia,” the incomparable Marilynne Robinson said, “Now we speak of the great mass of people as workers who must be conditioned and pressed toward always greater efficiency, toward accepting lives they do not define or control, lived in service to some supposed greater good that is never in any humane or democratic senses their own good or their children’s good.” (Harpers Magazine, May 2008)
If we balance budgets on the backs of our workers, our teachers, our firefighters and police, we will be creating a meaner and less equitable society.
The “Tea Party” movement went to the polls in droves last November to demand fiscal responsibility. Is what is taking place in Wisconsin really what they wanted? There is a tale making the rounds on the Net: “A unionized public employee, a Tea Partier, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes eleven cookies, looks at the Tea Partier and says, “Look out for that union guy — he wants a piece of your cookie.”
I am glad the workers in Wisconsin are putting up a fight. Some things are worth fighting for.