Friday, June 22, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 6

Attacking public employee unions by attacking their pensions

In the previous post I talked about misdirection, about trying to redirect attention away from the real issue. Here's another example, this one affecting the health of the economy as a whole and the individual economic health of quite literally scores of millions of American families.

Across the country, nearly 600 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to attack the collective bargaining rights and other activities of public-sector workers and their unions. At least 10 states passed such laws, although in one - Ohio - the law was overturned in a referendum.

The main target the reactionaries are using to advance this cause is the pensions on public employees, which are branded as dangerously high, wildly out of control, omigosh, Henny Penny, they're going to turn us into Greece! A lot of arguments, though, and this is what I wanted to bring out, are designed to appeal to jealousy: "Look at what they get compared to what you get. What makes them so special?"

Combine that with budget crunches and as a result, there are moves on across the country, even in traditionally more liberal areas like California, to cut, reduce, freeze, or some other way hack away at the pensions of public employees. In 2010, 11 states increased employee pension contributions for state workers - that is, made employees put in more so the employer would put in less. In 2011, 18 states did so and 16 lengthened service requirements for being vested in a pension and raised the age when you can start collecting. Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, and South Dakota have postponed or cut cost-of-living adjustments for current retirees. In at least one case - New Jersey - it was done while at the same time twice failing to enact legislation to raise taxes on people making over $1 million per year. Voters in San Diego and San Jose recently approved cuts in pensions of present and future employees.

Now, the truth is, public employees often have pretty good benefits, including pensions. But here are really two reasons why those benefits have been as good as they are. One is that it was compensation for the fact that, contrary to popular mythology, public employees typically earn less than comparably trained, educated and experienced workers in the private sector. Studies have shown the average difference to be somewhere between four and seven percent less.

But this is the other reason, the important one here The kinds of pensions and benefits held by public employees used to be the norm for most major private companies around the country.

But over the past several decades there has been a vicious, unremitting attack on unions, particularly private sector unions. As union representation has shrunk, so have benefits, so has the middle class. But instead of letting you have a chance to focus on that, the elites have again, with, unhappily, considerable success, misdirected you, deceived you into looking the wrong way while the trick is performed with the other hand, gotten you to blame those that should be and could be your brothers and sisters in struggle for economic justice instead of blaming the thieves who are stealing away with your economic future.

So this is the whole point here: When you hear someone, anyone, going on about oh those inflated pensions of those public employees, the question that should immediately spring to your mind is not "Why do they have so much" but "Why do we have so little."

And old Chinese proverb says "calling things by their right name is the beginning of wisdom." Recognizing who actually is your enemy is calling things by their right name.


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