Support Main Street Movement’s Uprising Against Corporate Greed

Support+Main+Street+Movements+Uprising+Against+Corporate+Greed

John Montagno

Many of us recall the pledge made by candidate Barack Obama in Spartanburg, S.C. on November 3, 2007 when he declared:

“Understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain, when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States because Americans deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”

We’re waiting.

Police estimated up to 100,000 people turned out in Madison, WI on March 12th to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on unions, making it bigger than any protests the city has witnessed, even those during the Vietnam War. The Madison rally is part of a much larger Main Street Movement of average Americans demanding fairness in labor laws, social spending, and taxation that has emerged in Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere. But the rally in Madison is noteworthy because at 85,000-100,000, it was bigger than the biggest tea party protest, the September 12, 2009 rally in Washington, D.C., which turned out only an estimated 60,000-70,000.

As a wave of anti-union bills are introduced across the country in the wake of the Great Recession, many analysts are picking up on the theory that award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein first argued in her bestselling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it, she reveals how those in power use times of crisis to push through undemocratic, radical, free market economic policies.

Emboldened by November’s election results, corporations and their right-wing allies have launched what they hope will be their final offensive against America’s unions. Their immediate target is government workers’ unions. While New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie has gained national fame by beating up on public school teachers, the threat to unionized workers is playing out in all fifty states, to the drumbeat in the media about states going broke because of government workers’ wages, pensions and benefits. By late January, with the swearing-in ceremonies complete in the twenty-one states where Republicans have a “trifecta,” controlling the governor’s office and both statehouses, hundreds of bills had been introduced seeking to hem in unions if not ban them altogether. On February 11, Wisconsin’s new Republican Governor Scott Walker made what amounts to a declaration of all-out war on public sector workers in his historically progressive state, moving to deprive them of the very right to bargain collectively on matters essential to their economic security.

Grover Norquist laid out a sort of blueprint for the current right-wing assault in the February 2001 American Spectator. Identifying labor unions as the first of “five pillars” of Democratic strength, he calculated that they “raise $8 billion a year from 16 million union members paying an average of $500 dues,” and outlined a game plan for destroying union power, key to the right’s larger mission of abolishing all regulations that impede its agenda, from environmental laws to occupational safety to affirmative action.

But, of course, the right’s campaign against labor has been decades in the making. In 1975 the overall unionization rate in the private sector was 25 percent. Thanks to the class war that has been waged since then—involving trade liberalization, radical reorganization of global finance rules, unionbusting, deindustrialization, rejiggered accounting rules and more—Norquist’s goal is now within reach for the right. According to union expert and author Bill Fletcher Jr., “There has been a three-decade campaign by the neoliberal Democrats and the right wing to destroy the base of the strength of the American middle class, which can be boiled down to unions and government regulation of corporate excess. As a result, unionization rates and corresponding pay and benefits now appear higher in the government sector, and the same forces are now attacking government workers’ unions.”

We need a clear message that public workers and union members in general did not cause the economic crisis or unbalanced budgets. Public pensions did not spark a meltdown on Wall Street. It wasn’t workers exploiting tax loopholes or off shoring their bank accounts that depleted public treasuries. Over the past three decades there has been a massive shift of federal revenues. Individuals now account for nearly five times the federal tax receipts as do corporations, numbers that were roughly equal when Ronald Reagan took office. The states are no better. Overall, taxes on individuals produce about four times the revenues for states that corporations do. In Wisconsin, the ratio is about five to one – and that was before Wisconsin Gov. Walker  gave corporations $117 million in tax cuts in January to create his current “I need to break the unions” $137 million deficit.

Koch (pronounced “coke”) Industries, the private company of the billionaire Koch brothers Charles and David, is a chemicals, cattle, forestry, synthetics, oil and gas giant — and also a major force for punishing Main Street Americans. Charles and David Koch have directed many millions of their shared $43 billion net worth into a vast propaganda machine that’s corrupting American politics in order to reward their pollution-based enterprise. The Koch brothers have played an integral role in provoking Walker’s notorious attempt to crush Wisconsin’s public sector unions. Koch Industries contributed $43,000 to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, and Koch political operatives encouraged the newly elected governor to take on the unions. Now after viciously opposing pro-middle class policies for years, Koch Industries is trying to eliminate the only organizations which serve as a counterweight to its well-oiled corporate machine. Koch’s AFP operatives are now working with “state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to duplicate Walker’s crusade in Wisconsin.”
Koch Industries is a major player in Wisconsin: Koch owns a coal company subsidiary with facilities in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan; six timber plants throughout the state; and a large network of pipelines. The Koch brothers have made a science of fabricating ‘grassroots’ organizations and advertising campaigns to support them in an attempt to sway voters based on their falsehoods. Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and Citizens United are just a few of these organizations. Since the showdown began two weeks ago, Koch-funded front groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — which is chaired by David Koch — and the American Legislative Exchange Council have organized counter-protests, prepped GOP lawmakers with anti-labor legislative talking points and even announced an anti-union advertising campaign. For now, however, the AFP message doesn’t appear to be resonating: Koch-backed pro-Walker demonstrations have had low attendance and were dwarfed by pro-union supporters.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) databases, Koch businesses are huge polluters, emitting thousands of pounds of toxic pollutants. As soon as he got into office, Walker started cutting environmental regulations and appointed a Republican known for her disregard for environmental regulations to lead the Department of Natural Resources. In addition, Walker has stated his opposition to clean energy jobs policies that might draw workers away from Koch-owned interests.

The Koch political poison has spread across the nation. Robocalls from Koch’s Americans for Prosperity group flooded New Hampshire in support of a bill that would repeal participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has cut greenhouse pollution and created 1,130 jobs as a result of energy efficiency benefits. AFP climate deniers in New Jersey are trying to kill RGGI there as well. Koch’s main man in Congress, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), inserted an amendment to slash EPA funding in the House GOP’s already wildly anti-environment budget. Koch’s many subsidiaries have filed challenges against health and environmental rules from toxic chemical disclosure to dumping in streams.

In a world where corporate money has become the lifeblood of political influence, the labor unions are one of the few ways citizens have to fight against corporate greed. Massachusetts workers cannot ignore the plight of the citizen-workers of Wisconsin, or the opportunity to fight for the people in America’s broken political system for, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” For these reasons, the Koch brothers threaten the United States democratic system and, by extension, all freedom-loving individuals everywhere. As such, we have no choice but to spread the word of the Koch brothers’ political manipulation, their single-minded intent and the insidious truth of their actions in Wisconsin, for all to witness. We hear the voice of the downtrodden American people, whose rights and liberties are being systematically removed one by one, even when their own government refuses to listen or worse – is complicit in these attacks. We are actively seeking vulnerabilities, but in the mean time we are calling for all supporters of true Democracy, and Freedom of The People, to boycott all Koch Industries’ paper products. We welcome unions across the globe to join us in this boycott to show that you will not allow big business to dictate your freedom.
For two years, tea party activists and their allies in the GOP have claimed that the hard-right movement represents the true beliefs of the American people. But the crowd in Madison and numerous polls, including a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll that shows that an overwhelming 81% of Americans favoring a millionaire’s surtax and only 23% think its acceptable to make cuts to Medicare, tell a different story.