The greatest threat of the 21st Century is not terrorism or religious fanaticism or nationalism….. it is concentrated power – both political and economic – within the corporate state. That very power, concentrated in an elite, an oligarchy, whether national or local, is an interlocking system of wealth, politics, media, and corporations whose sole purpose is to destroy the ability of individual citizens to organize together for the common good through the mechanism of government.
Their goal is unregulated greed, poverty wages, the right to pollute, the ability to sell dangerous drugs and unsafe products, the isolation and powerlessness of each citizen to vote or bargain or even plead in the media for a better life for their children. Theirs is a feudal world, where the rich and CEO’s are the new Barons and Earls, and people are trapped in stratified classes, almost castes, without access to education or economic opportunity.
They seek hierarchy, where they and their children will always be on top of the pyramid. A return to the social tyranny of Dickens’ day, when to be poor was a moral sin, a personal failure and a crime against society. They pretend to favor a “market” system, knowing full-well there is no more competition in monopoly capitalism, where large corporations have bought off most politicians and judges and, even like Wal-Mart, have the power to overrule city councils.
God bless the rich, is their motto; no one should have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep, medical aid, a good education, unless they have the money to pay for it. They see virtue in selfishness, weakness in sharing. They would fight social responsibility, whether it’s feeding a child or saving our human species from extinction because of global warming.
From Washington, D.C to Madison, Wisconsin to San Diego, the goal of the corporate state is to destroy community government and its regulatory power for the common good. Martin Luther King, Jr. is long gone, the Civil Rights movement tamed, the national unions defanged and almost irrelevant with over 40 years of corporate bought anti-union legislation and managerial intimidation, the Democratic Party, run by opportunists and political whores has drummed its left-wing into submission or flight, people of faith who once fought systemic injustice, what St. Paul called “social sin” as opposed to individual sin, now hide, writing an occasional check for charity and what was once the “liberal class,” as Chris Hedges calls it, has become a useless hodge-podge of designer causes, identity ghouls and mouse warriors fighting injustice in their underwear with e-mails.
The last bulwark against the corporate state, the last vestige of an organized group of people of conscience, who see value in the public commons – whether it is libraries, free recreational facilities, public schools, health clinics, public transportation, unadulterated food, safe working conditions, clean air and water, or a safe haven for those to fragile, mentally or physically, to survive in dog-eat-dog corporatism – are the public employee unions. That is why they are under attack in Madison and San Diego.
The newly elected Governor of Wisconsin, elected with millions of corporate dollars, taking a playbook from the oligarchy in San Diego, has blamed that state’s budget deficit on public employee unions. But unlike our city, where the unions were tamed at the turn of the Twentieth Century, when organizing Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) were murdered by police, tarred and feathered by vigilantes and run out of town by the hysteria of the wealth based media, both the city Madison and the state of Wisconsin has a grand history of struggling for workers. Most of the rights we enjoy today as employees were first secured in Wisconsin.
For the right-wing governor to propose that public employee unions lose the right of collective bargaining guts the whole purpose of a union – an alliance of employees to secure safe and just working conditions by uniting for a common purpose. This very notion of individuals alone, isolated, powerless in the workplace is what the corporate state has in store for us all – it is their fundamental neo-liberal dogma. To organize for the common good, whether employees for decent wages or citizens fighting pollution in a nearby stream, is bad for business and the mechanism which allows for a social consciousness must be crushed. The very thought of communal responsibility or action for anything that threatens the corporate state, whether it is safe medicine or protection for our neighborhood mom and pop stores, must be made to seem not only impossible, but radical and outside the parameters of the personal capability of any individual.
San Diego’s Attack on Unions
San Diego’s oligarchic assault on its public employee unions was by stealth. The Republican game plan, helped by a few self-serving Democratic city council members, was to slowly squeeze every dime into corporate welfare over the years, subsidizing ball parks, hotels, golf courses, infrastructure projects for hundreds of corporations and call it “redevelopment” while under-funding their legal, contractual obligations to pay into the pension accounts of their employees and then, when the whole bait and switch game was discovered blame it on “greedy” city employees.
It was a win-win situation for the radical right. Bankrupt the city with corporate welfare; then, proclaim the only solution is to turn the services and assets of the city over to the very snake oil salesman and corporate crooks who benefited from the shell game (privatization or outsourcing, they call it) and crush the public employee unions under an Orwellian campaign of media lies and distortions.
Over and over, like an unattended car alarm, loud, viciously intrusive, repeat the lie. The talking heads parroting the politicians parroting the lobbyists parroting the journalists parroting the accountants parroting the attorneys and back again. An endless chain of articles, sound bites at 10, political speeches, official pronouncements, all designed to inculcate the citizen, like a drill sergeant, to penetrate his or her very psyche: then, in military cadence, repeat the chant ….”sound off…who’s at fault..1-2-3….sound off…the unions…1-2-3….” until it reverberates through the consciousness rhythmically and ceaselessly.
The real problem with our city, unlike Wisconsin, is that there is no real solidarity between people who work and the pitiful wages in the San Diego labor market – the worst cost of living to wages ratio of any major city in the nation. Where were the public employee unions when the grocery workers went on strike in 2003? Where has the AFL-CIO Labor Council been all these years as the average San Diegan’s wages have stagnated and lost ground due to inflationary pressures? Jerry Burkiewicz, head of the Council for many years, can take a flush job with Sempra Corporation, which exploits its monopoly energy position, lies to government regulators and bribes Mexicans politicians so they can pollute without penalty, but he never agitated or called for a living wage for all who work in San Diego.
The problem with unions in San Diego is that unlike the wobblies, who say an injury to one worker or employee is an injury to all workers or employees, most unions follow the corporate model of bottom line economics and “what’s in it for me” advocacy. First, the union officials take care of themselves, then there members, and then their political allies and the rest of us who work for a living; well, we’re on our own, isolated, without any bargaining power – just like the governor of Wisconsin wants for his employees.
But in spite of the limitations and often myopic view taken by union leaders, the rank and file members of the public employee unions are our teachers, librarians, nurses, trash collectors, lifeguards and hundreds of other tasks whose collective responsibility is to build our common capital, the life blood of society which cannot be commodified. It is neighborhood spirit, history, culture, attitude, a shared narrative of belonging and apportionment as members of a community, compassion and empathy, fairness and justice, and, ultimately, a sense of subjective purpose, personhood which cannot be bought and sold in a corporate state.
Public employees work for us, not Wal-Mart. As their employers, we should follow the Golden Rule, not the corporate rule, and treat them as we would want to be treated. In San Diego, we have been silent far too long in defense of these wonderful, vital community members.