An Open Letter to Public Employees and Their Unions, From Formerly Unionized Private-Sector Workers
Our lives suck.
We want yours to suck, too!
Our political outlook was ably articulated in recent interviews in Janesville, Wisconsin by the New York Times. There, A.G. Sulzberger and Monica Davey found cashiered ex-union members eager to condemn public employees now fighting in Madison to protect their collective bargaining rights. Lucky for us, these crack reporters from New York City don’t know that Janesville is locally regarded as the “Mississippi of Wisconsin,” a town that drew a red line through the middle of Rock County a century ago and spent generations battling tooth-and-nail to keep the black folks in Beloit from moving ten miles north and ruining their lily-white neighbourhoods. Sulzberger and Davey would have ruined their story by pointing out that Janesville is a longstanding bastion of right-wing reaction and bourgeois bigotry.
Like the white traditionalists of Janesville, we — the castoffs of General Motors and the casualties of Reaganism — have embraced a zero-sum world. We believe that if something good happens to someone else, that good something was taken from us.
We believe that if we can’t have it, you shouldn’t have it, either. Your good fortune is our misfortune. Your success is our grudge.
The only satisfaction left to us is to destroy you. Your destruction does us no good, but it will make you just as miserable as we are. And that will make us smile.
Lucky for us, there are powerful forces contributing to your doom. We know these forces, because they crushed us first. A rich and mighty few — every one a Republican (like us) — have systematically offshored our jobs, hollowed American industry, played craps with the U.S. economy, busted our unions and waged a relentless, ruthless war against organized labor. Knowing we are powerless against these forces of organized wealth, we have gone over to them — not as equals, of course. We speak for them. We dress up in funny hats and carry misspelled slogans on their behalf. They point to us, their foils, and call themselves, by association, “populist.” In return, some — but not all — of us receive the odd handout, or perhaps a comic, pathetic moment on YouTube.
We know that none of the “real money” hoarded by organized wealth will trickle down to us. That’s not the point. By taking away our rights to bargain, to negotiate, to discuss our working conditions, to fight for our jobs, to retain our dignity and to bestow hope on our children, organized wealth has left the post-union working class without pride or aspirations. We envy, revere, ogle and parrot the rich but harbor no illusions of ever becoming rich ourselves. We have become — as we were three centuries ago — peasants, beholden totally to the commands and caprices of “lords” who have no concept of how we live, who often wonder why we even bother to live.
We share our degradation with the public flunkies of organized wealth, among them Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, and Congressman Paul Ryan, a favorite son of, yes! Janesville. But these two lickspittles are more degraded, after a fashion, than we.
Walker and Ryan are not draftees in the war on fairness. Gladly, they volunteered to dirty their hands on the foul chore of eviscerating organized labor, justifying the redistribution of wealth upward to the super-rich and outward, toward Wall Street, Switzerland, and the tax-shelter islands. They are the lockstep noncoms of a swollen oligarchy that relentlessly hunts down and kills every lingering vestige of workers rights — affordable health care, pension plans, a steady paycheck, negotiated raises, paid vacation, the five-day 40-hour week, overtime, protection from industrial accidents, horny bosses, vindictive managers, office politics and discrimination in the workplace. Scott Walker believes in the American dream of upward mobility. But not for us.
The political servants of the high and mighty, these Boehners and Becks, these Pauls and Palins, herald a new American gospel of downward expectations. They point out The Other and obediently, we fear The Other. We revile and deny the poor. We despise the comfort of a prosperous neighbor and we work to ruin him. But even as we hate our neighbor, we kneel in humble tribute to the billionaire whose fortress is so far from our neighborhood that it’s usually in a whole different country.
We know that labor’s last redoubt is you, the unionized public workers of America. We know that life for you is a little better than it is for us, who either surrendered our power willingly, or had it torn from us by sociopathic prigs like Scott Walker.
We want you to give up. We know your defeat will not better our hopeless lives. We know that whatever shreds of wealth accrue to your destruction will go straight up the pipe to the lobbyists of K Street and the deposit boxes of Zurich. We know that you will get less, and we will get nothing. We know that, after promises by organized wealth that your sacrifices will save your jobs, you’ll lose your jobs — just as we before you were promised security and screwed the next morning… before breakfast.
We despise you, because you remind us of ourselves before we sold our souls for a mess of pottage, because you have what we gave up. We resent you, because what we gave up is so little compared to the treasure, the excess, the triumph and the towering smugness of those who took it from us.
We know who you are — teachers, firefighters, foresters, cops, nurses — honest people making a living. We know you don’t have much, and we know you are engaged in an uphill struggle to hold on for dear life. But we want you, like us, to let go.
We want you, like us, to despair. We want you to honor the thieves who stole our work, foreclosed our houses, mortgaged our children and blighted their future.
We don’t want your life to be the least bit dear. We would prefer it — and we will vote for it — to be like our lives, in a world without industry, without unions, without solidarity and without brotherhood: “… solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”