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Amy Traub

Attacks on Public Workers Hurt Us All

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the AFL-CIO’s state legislative issues conference in Louisville, KY. Building on my recent article in The Nation I discussed the mounting conservative attacks on city and state employees and how they represent a threat to all working people. Here’s part of what I said:

Once they’ve successfully mobilized resentment against other working people – whether it’s public workers, or, for that matter, immigrant workers – it becomes harder to hold businesses accountable for not creating quality jobs. It becomes harder to argue for a public jobs program that would put our unemployed back to work. It becomes harder to argue for the benefits of unions at all, because solid wages and benefits won through collective bargaining have suddenly been turned into something to be resented, rather than something to aspire to in your own job. None of this is new, but the renewed attack on public employees brings it to the fore.

So: there is a long-term anti-worker political agenda behind recent attacks on public employees and their unions. The newest conservative class war amounts to dragging unionized public employees down to the level of the most contingent no-benefits workers among us, and of making contingent, no-benefits, low-paid work the new normal for everyone. It’s a strategy for a race to the bottom.

I recently read an excellent piece by Saru Jayaraman, founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center in New York City. She wrote:

“If public employees’ wages are cut, that will not give restaurant workers a raise. If benefits are slashed in the public sector, that won’t help restaurant workers get health insurance… Attacks on public sector unions will weaken, not strengthen, restaurant workers’ ability to improve their lives. If we move toward a future in which no one has, for example, a decent pension, how can restaurant workers expect to ever achieve it themselves?”

This gets to the core of the issue. We cannot build a middle class in this country that’s only public employees. We have to lift up workers in the private sector. But tearing each other down sets us all back.

Click here to read the rest of my remarks.

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Posted at 1:33 PM, Jul 26, 2010 in Economy
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