Saturday, March 28, 2009

When pigs fly and hell freezes over!

I was trying to get a fix on a good topic for the latest Caveat Lectores rant and came upon a six year old tome that seemed more relevant today that in 2003. I re-drafted it a lot to fit in with the times, but the story is the same.

After 36 years, as a devotee of the fire service and organized labor on one level or another, I feel the need and the right to RANT. On my first day on the job as a firefighter, I heard.... “Firemen are their own worst enemy.” It was true then as now. Has nothing changed in 36 years? No, not really.

Are public employees responsible for the decline in public service? Yes, they are: to the extent so many involved in public employment today have forgotten their working class history in favor of something more palatable to the notion of having moved up the economic scale.

Firefighters, police and other public sector employees make more money and are better trained and educated than ever before. Until the recent economic melt down because of a convoluted tax reforms and an economy that has fallen apart, wages, benefits and working conditions were better than ever before. However, today’s issues are much the same in 2009 as they were in 1973: privatization, budget cuts, layoffs, and any issues involving taxation and funding. An additional issue threatening public employment is the possible inevitable demise of the defined benefit pension.

The last 40 years of politics in Florida has been a roller coaster ride for all. At first, it was the conservative “pork choppers,” calling themselves Southern Democrats, who regularly bent us over the political table and had their way with us. With time and clearheaded leadership, Florida’s firefighters got more on track and built a credible political power base. I saw firefighters become more pragmatic than their brothers and sisters in other areas of organized labor, and they cultivated the emerging Republican majority. Or, did they cultivate the firefighters? Were firefighters set up for the slaughter with the largess of the Rs that made them lethargic? What will happen with an emerging power grab by the Dems who have been largely ignored by some public sector unions?

Public employees in other states have achieved similar success and more.

Some did so without collective bargaining. Some still suffer from a legal but nonetheless immoral denial of collective bargaining rights. In recognition that this rant goes out to employees other than fire fighters, I suggest the non-firefighter reader merely substitute your employment category and see if the analysis does not work.

Fire/rescue employees have prospered when much of organized labor and all of disorganized labor has taken it the shorts. Financially, the modern firefighter/paramedic is not just another blue collar Joe six-pack. He and she were doing rather well financially and many began to adopt the viewpoint of the conservative right, whether an old-style pork chopper Southern Democrat or the 21st century equivalent, a modern Republican fiscal conservative. This is not just about R’s and D’s. The lines are too blurred. It is about the self-destruction of the middle class working man and woman.

Many other successful trade and craft union members have adopted similar points of view. Some make really good money and have begun to think of themselves as having moved “uptown.” They have distanced themselves from their history. Time and newly acquired pseudo-wealth healed many of the wounds inflicted by the right wing conservative forces of the past. Without a clear understanding of our past, we are doomed to repeat it. This time the damage to the public employment could be worse than anytime before. Who will teach the history of your struggle if not labor leadership? That responsibility falls upon you, dear reader.

By way of continuing my rant, let me add this:

"There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved…."

(Former Governor Jeb Bush (sounds like mush) 2003 inaugural address)

Tell that to the homeless, the ill and the old, those who travel a state's roads, those who seek to protect the environment, the children and their parents who are not rich, just hard working and caring.

Much of the political leadership current and past leadership wants to privatize government for the benefit of its corporate owners. Private business wants to outsource nearly everything so it will not have to endure the burden of employees. It looks like the only place to find work will be a third world country.

But then, maybe that is what government’s corporate owners and the rich really want for America. They recall fondly the days before there was a middle class when they had all of the wealth and the working class knew its place. Yeah, that's the ticket. I get it now. All we have to do is give up and go back to the early 20th century, when the working poor, men, women, children, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, Catholics and everyone else not rich were held in economic slavery by the rich. Let's reform Workers' Comp and the tort system right out of existence. Let's do away with all that expensive overtime pay and other laws that keep the honest hardworking wealthy from getting richer. Let's make the unions our lap dogs or get rid of organized labor, entirely. Yeah, I get the idea. How could I have been so stupid? If I become a right wing fiscal conservative, I will be rich like they are. Yeah, that's the ticket. When pigs fly and hell freezes over! Thanks, I feel better, now. wjc

No comments: