#338 – Dick Bernard: Part 8. Public Servants bearing the burden….

Before the 2011 MN Legislature had convened, and the new MN Governor sworn in, the news concerned the burden of a $6 billion deficit in the MN state budget.
At the time I did some simple arithmetic, dividing $6 Billion by 5 Million residents of the State of Minnesota. The result was $1,200 deficit per person: large, but by no means insurmountable. The $6B was an artificial mountain constructed to get Minnesotans in an almost desperate budget cutting mood.
Like people in most states, Minnesota’s residents have collectively huge personal savings accounts and we could easily balance the books with a one time very small additional tax sacrifice. But government itself is under attack by elements who have nearly taken over that very government. The desired remedy is shrinking, not restoration, of the role of government in our society. Or if not that, transfer of the burden of paying for government from those who can easily afford the bill, to those who are struggling….
Not long thereafter came Wisconsin. As the information flow has fleshed out the facts in Wisconsin, it appears that an average teacher, just for example, will have to give up about 10% of his/ her previously negotiated pension benefit – a benefit negotiated in lieu of wages – to “help” Wisconsin. A reasonable average take back from the public employee appears to be roughly $5,000. There is no comparable giveback expected of others in Wisconsin, a state roughly the population of its next door neighbor Minnesota, but with a smaller deficit. The take back will be permanent; future ability to bargain severely restricted at best.
Only time will tell how this Wisconsin conflict will be resolved.
As the Issue came to be clear – Pensions for Public Workers – I got to thinking about an advertisement that I had been seeing on television during, it seemed, the entire month of February, long before Wisconsin erupted onto the national or even state screen.
The ad was one placed by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
It was a simple ad, showing an abandoned chicken coop, with the narrator stating that the founder of AARP, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, had founded the organization after finding a retired teacher living in a converted chicken coop.
The AARP website was not helpful in filling in the blanks about the ad. Wikipedia was a bit more helpful with an entry about Dr. Andrus.
Dr. Andrus founded her group, initially called the National Retired Teachers Association, in 1947. It seemed that she perhaps discovered that poor teacher around that time somewhere in either California or Illinois. Such was how it all began for AARP which, since its naming in 1958, has since become an immense insurance business in itself. I haven’t seen the ad the last few days. Perhaps the term of the buy has ended; or, perhaps, the ad was pulled…it wasn’t helpful to the anti-teacher mood in Wisconsin.
Until relatively recent history, the public was not kind to public employees. In tough times public employees were first to suffer; In good times, last to benefit.
In the old days, teachers, just for a single example, got a small wage and nothing else.
They were called “public servants” (see February 17 and 18) with scant more legal status than migrant workers.
Basically teaching was ‘women’s work’. Then the teacher married some man who provided decent income and status for the former school marm.
But there are only so many eligible bachelors wandering around to marry poor public workers, etc., and as time went on teachers got a bit uppity, and school boards in various places began to see – not always the result of pressure – that their professional employees deserved more than just minimal wages and annual uncertainty about jobs. Salary schedules were established unilaterally by management, and state’s implemented and then improved pension plans for their teachers and others, to keep them out of the chicken coop on retirement.
It is the old “public servant” attitude – to keep public employees in their proper subservient place – that makes it possible for Gov. Scott Walker and his abundant ilk to act dismissively towards these employees who are really essential to the American “good life”.
There is something even more offensive about today’s “public employees”. They are unusually strongly unionized, a direct outgrowth of yesterday’s oppression. As Henrik Hertzberg so well describes in a March 7, 2011, New Yorker piece, public employees are the last bastion of a declining organized labor movement. Their destruction or at minimum gross diminishment is a goal of the oligarchs who now control the Republican party and the American media conversation.
This is a case where, hopefully, “success” in beating down the public employees will truly be a failure…for everyone who works for a living.
The last chapter has not been written.
Part 1 in this series is found here, with the remaining posts subsequent. There will be further posts.