Sunday, November 06, 2005

Weintraub: Debate Over Unions isn't personal

Poor Dan Weintraub. As an opinion columnist he is charged with presenting a point of view on a topic and providing evidence for his argument. Weintraub’s Trojan horse for the last few months has been the public employee unions and their supposed stranglehold on politics in California. His latest column ‘Debate Over Unions Isn’t Personal”, (November 6) reaches a new low even for his trite brand of punditocracy.

Weintraub’s first attempt at framing the issue is to establish his regular-joe bonafides; we learn that his family includes a number of public employees, therefore he must not be pushing a partisan agenda. Sound familiar? This is the logical equivalent of “I’m not a bigot, I have lots of black/gay/whatever friends!”. His central point, that “public employee unions have tied our government in knots, et. al, is laughable. Most mainstream political observers consider California to be ungovernable for totally different reasons, ones that have a lot to do with Schwarzenegger’s brand of B-movie politics. As majority opinion and voter apathy demonstrates, government by proposition is both unpopular and irresponsible. How many of the major, controversial propositions have been both funded by big business and the radical right and been used as weapons by the California GOP? Props. 13, 187, 209, 226, 227 in the past; Props. 73, 74, 75, 76, 78 in this election. Unable to gain traction with an electorate that rejects Placer/Orange County politics of fear, the state GOP continues to call up the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Business Roundtable to fuel the soft bigotry of low-turnout elections.

Later Weintraub uses the canard making the rounds of “respectable, moderate” opinion, that unions were useful at one time for minworkers, steelworkers, etc., but are negative forces hurting the state. His examples point to unions opposing the employment of lower-wage workers for state services. We live in the most brazenly free-market country in the world. Our lack of a social safety net means that working people are at the mercy of the ruthless efficiency of the market. Since the de facto legalization of public sector unions in the 1970’s California has been governed by anti-tax conservatives for most of the period. The state’s beggar-thy-neighbor tax policy and white flight has much more to do with the dwindling quality of state services than public employee unions do. As far as pensions and benefits go, state government negotiators often pushed pensions and health-care benefits (amounting to delayed compensation) in leiu of pay increases to avoid the spectre of raising taxes on the wealthy, the ultimate crime in Republican circles. The state kicked the can down the road just like United and Delphi did, and now we actually have to pay for it. How shocking.

I’ve seen a lot of jealousy and envy in regards to the hard-earned benefits won by state employees, understandable in light of the Republican economy of “economic growth” without wage increases. The politics of greed and envy are manifesting themselves in these populist sentiments, with the millions of Californians losing ground yearly looking for answers. Are there lazy and incompetent state employees? Sure, I know a couple myself. Attacking state workers is not the way to solve the state’s problems. California needs to look at the way that the unholy alliance of big business and Christian fundamentalism has been behind the most unpopular and damaging political events in my lifetime.

Sean Campbell
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