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Wisconsin, unions, and the billionaire Koch brothers

If you haven't been following developments in Wisconsin, this article at Mother Jones will get you up to speed. But to recap: the first thing you need to know is that Scott Walker, the state's newly elected governor, is in the pocket of the Koch Brothers. (And this is not a new revelation, it came out during the campaign.)

If you've been asleep for the past year or so, the Kochs are the oil billionaires whose company has been described by Greenpeace as a "kingpin of climate science denial". Their family fortune -- built, ironically enough, on seed money obtained from contracts with Stalin's USSR -- is a major part of the bankroll behind Reason magazine, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute. And more importantly, they funded the astroturfing of the whole "Tea Party" farce. As one GOP Republican consultant who has done research on behalf of the Koch brothers said of the Tea Party, "The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!"

Following the bidding of his masters (whose interests in Wisconsin include coal company facilities in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan, six timber plants, and a large network of pipelines), Walker is much less interested in balancing the budget than in breaking the backs of unions. The "budget crisis" is of his own making -- Wisconsin just gave away $117 million in tax breaks, and without that and a few other recent decisions, the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that the state would enjoy a surplus. But even if we pretended that the crisis was not a self-inflicted casus belli, it's quite clear that Walker's goal is not fiscal responsibility, but destruction of the public unions' collective bargaining rights -- i.e., of the whole mechanism that empowers unions. When the executive director of the Wisconsin Public Workers Union agreed to the cuts to pension and welfare benefits that Walker was supposedly after, Walker still refused to deal without an end to collective bargaining.

"Well, so what?" say many dupes of the investment class. "Unions are bad, m'kay? They create unemployment and make workers less prosperous." Which just goes to show that if you say it often enough, you can get Americans to believe anything.

Presented here for your review are three graphs: union membership, unemployment, and income distribution. Notice how unemployment was not, in fact, higher during the union's heyday in the 1950s. Notice how, in fact, it generally runs higher after union membership starts a precipitous decline in the 1970s. Notice also how the incomes of lower quintiles flatten out around that same time -- and even the 60th and 80th percent fall off their upward trend from 1950 to 1970 -- even as the top 5% keep absorbing more and more of the wealth.

Unions are one of the few checks left on the power of the extremely wealthy. Of course billionaires have a motivation to want them destroyed. Wisconsin is the first salvo of the new battle: the billionaires, their toadies, and their dupes in the Tea Party, versus the rest of us.

As Robert Reich points out,

In the late 1970s, the top 1 percent got 9 percent of total income. Now it gets more than 20 percent.

So the problem isn’t that “we’ve” been spending too much. It’s that most Americans have been getting a steadily smaller share of the nation’s total income.

At the same time, the super-rich have been contributing a steadily-declining share of their own incomes in taxes to support what the nation needs — both at the federal and at the state levels.

Right-wing pundits like to dismiss observations like this as "class warfare". No. Class warfare is what the investment classes have been doing to the rest of us for decades now. The warfare is already going on. The only question is, when will the working people who produce all of this nation's wealth come to understand who's making war against them?


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