START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
1,305,015 people care about Politics

Wisconsin Budget Battle Targets Women and People of Color

Wisconsin Budget Battle Targets Women and People of Color

Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Florida are taking advantage of budget deficits in their states to undermine public sector unions. They hope to justify this unprecedented power play by transforming public sector workers into the next “welfare queens,” as Truthout writer Adam Bessie and others have argued, citing the Ronald Reagan coinage.

Last month Governor Scott Walker threw Wisconsin into chaos when he proposed the Budget Repair Bill, which strips public sector unions of their right to collectively bargain and decimates a host of other social programs. Shock and anger at the direct attack on fundamental worker’s rights brought tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, students and their supporters to the Capitol in protest. Fourteen Democratic senators fled the state in order to delay passage of the bill.

In spite of the outrage Governor Walker refused to negotiate, falsely stating that stripping unions of their power will solve the budget problem. In a shocking development on the night of March 9, Senate Republicans split the budget provisions containing the attack on collective bargaining from the fiscal items in order to circumvent the rule requiring quorum. Republicans then passed the bill 18-1. The Democratic senators were not present for the vote.

Once news of the maneuver spread thousands of protesters stormed the Capitol. Police attempted to block their entry but eventually gave way to the numbers and several hundred people spent the night. After a delay the next morning caused by protesters, the State Assembly finally passed the bill March 10 by a vote of 53 to 42. Democrat Peter Barca, the minority leader, expressed his disappointment according to the New York Times, but said he didn’t think the vote would stand, adding “we do have recourse in the courts.” Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employee’s Union stated, “The truth is that none of the provisions that he asked for in this worker’s rights attack had anything to do with the budget… Walker and the Republicans have declared war on the middle class and working families.”

To mobilize support for their cause conservatives in Wisconsin and nationally have launched a smear campaign claiming that public school teachers and other government workers have luxurious lifestyles and need to sacrifice.

Abbie Fishman’s life doesn’t sound decadent. A 20-year veteran English teacher and literacy coach in the Milwaukee Public School system, she is worried about her family’s financial future, uncertain if the new round of pink slips will target recent hires or veteran teachers who cost the system more. She worries about paying the mortgage on the single family home she and her husband purchased a few years ago and paying bills from her cancer treatments last year. Even if Fishman is lucky enough to keep her job she knows that “luxuries” like traveling, continuing her professional studies and retirement before social security kicks in will not be options for her. “We live fairly austerely already…passage of this bill will compromise our modest lifestyle.”

The rhetoric being used by the governor and his supporters to discredit public workers is eerily similar to the campaign used against single mothers during the welfare debates of the 1990s. At that time, the right-wing mobilized public anger by pushing a manufactured image of an inner-city woman of color who gave birth for welfare checks and lived an undeserved life of comfort.

Both conservative campaigns demonized people who are deemed not to be productive enough, says Jane Collins, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Both Hands Tied: Welfare Reform and the Race to the Bottom in the Low-Wage Labor Market. Supposedly teachers do not produce anything. “The battle line is about how services are not productive — also that the state is not a legitimate employer,” says Collins. The deep antipathy many Tea Party supporters and conservatives express towards government is a factor in their willingness to accept and promote myths about public employees.

Other similarities abound. Both campaigns rely on a false narrative that utilizes gender and racial stereotypes to demonize the target group as lazy and undeserving. Also, the first state in the union to begin implementing “welfare reform” was Wisconsin — ground zero in today’s fight against public sector unions.

Most importantly, in both battles, women and people of color ultimately are the biggest losers, disproportionately affected by the budget cutting mania because they are more often employed in the public sector. Nationally, the public sector is the number one employer for African-American men and the number two employer for African-American women. Also on average nationally, women at the state and local levels make-up 52 percent and 61 percent respectively of public sector employees.

In Wisconsin Walker has specifically exempted the male-dominated firefighter and police unions, aiming his attack at predominantly female unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers. In addition, women, especially women of color, continue to earn less than men for the same work. Slashing salaries and benefit in sectors where women are concentrated has a profound effect on their economic power, particularly at a time when budget cuts threaten funding for women and family health programs such as Title V in Wisconsin and Title X nationally as well as state insurance programs for women and children.

While many mainstream media outlets are promoting the right’s image of overpaid public employees, numerous studies have shown that public sector workers are not overpaid and are not the main reason for states financial woes. The Economic Policy Institute found that government workers in Wisconsin already make the “sacrifices” Walker calls for. When controlling for education and other factors, Wisconsin state and local government employees earn 4.8 percent less on average per year than their private sector counterparts. And in regard to their oft-derided pensions, McClatchy’s Kevin G. Hall reports that government contributions to pension funds are also in line with the private sector at around 3.5 percent. Pulitzer-prize winner journalist David Kay Johnston explains on Tax.com that pension contributions are a form of deferred compensation accepted by workers and not some gift being taken from other taxpayers. The real reason for budget shortfalls is Republican unwillingness to spread the “sacrifice” around through increased taxes or even a return to pre-Bush tax cut levels.

If economic facts are on the side of the teachers, nurses and daycare workers, why have many conservatives come to view them as greedy? It is instructive to look back to the earlier welfare battles when conservative leaders took advantage of existing stereotypes about women and people of color to create a scapegoat — the “welfare queen” — for economic problems. They are using the same trick today by pushing a mythical image of the “bad teacher” who doesn’t do her job but can’t be fired due to union protection.

Compared to the targets of welfare reform, public sector workers have been better able to mobilize their organized strength to fight against the right-wing’s attempts to demonize them. The response to attacks on public workers in Wisconsin has been overwhelming. For three straight weeks, protesters have gathered daily in the snow outside the capitol holding signs and chanting, “Kill the Bill,” and the 14 Democrats who left the state in order to deny Governor Walker a quorum resisted returning. On the national level, a recent poll found that 60 percent of Americans oppose weakening bargaining rights for unions.

Jane Collins also points out that public sector workers are refusing to let themselves be divided. Despite their exemption from the attack, police and firefighters have come out strongly in support of their union colleagues.

“The consequences are going to be gendered and raced, but the movement itself is not fractioning along those lines,” Collins says. “Right now the message is ‘this hurts us all.’”

This post was originally published by the Women’s Media Center.

 

Related Stories:

Meet The New Face of Terrorism: White Guys

Is Wisconsin The New Front In The War Against Women?

Should Welfare Recipients Have To Prove They Aren’t On Drugs?

 

Read more: , , , , , , , ,

Photo by WxMom via flickr
Written by Kate McCormack, a Women's Media Center blogger

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

183 comments

+ add your own
2:24AM PDT on Mar 24, 2011

I agree that there is a lot of truth in here, that the Union busting has little to do with balancing the state budget, and how they're demonizing the public school teacher. And trust me on this, it's not the nurses or other public people they're going after, people seem to love nurses, for what ever reason.

I'm in the S.E. portion of Wisconsin, and my local newspaper has an online section, and trust me, the conservatives are HARSH in the article forums as well as in the blogs section.

I've shared this article there as a talking issue. We will see how it goes. I'm hoping that I'll get the moderates in there, because they're the ones I like to talk to.

8:14AM PDT on Mar 21, 2011

"Have You Mysoginistic, In-bred, Idiots nothing more to do with your time or the welfare of your constituents than, to tear them down"

Be nice to know whom you are discussing?

6:47PM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

Have You Mysoginistic, In-bred, Idiots nothing more to do with your time or the welfare of your constituents than, to tear them down & make already troublesome, bleak, situations worse! I used to be so proud of being from Wisconsin! By the way, Black, Single-Parent households are NOT the highest percentage of Welfare families, so your depcition was not only assinine, it was also incorrect!!! Maybe your disdain for Black & Women comes from being afraid of or tired of seeing so much Black while your heads have been stuck in our a**es!

10:06AM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

"so... the conservatives are out to screw over the people. what else is new?"

How are conservatives "screw(ing) over the people" by keeping the cost of government DOWN??

10:04AM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

"It does indeed,hurt us all."

What is that?

The problem or the solution??

9:51PM PDT on Mar 19, 2011

so... the conservatives are out to screw over the people. what else is new?

6:48PM PDT on Mar 19, 2011

It does indeed,hurt us all.

1:16PM PDT on Mar 19, 2011

Michael,

"Methinks thou dost protest to much," If you don't agree, it's OK to say so. Just give someone else a chance, unlike the Tea Party and the incumbents, etc.

8:54PM PDT on Mar 18, 2011

I love you Michael! well I mean I love your ideas and comments!!!

2:09PM PDT on Mar 18, 2011

"Oh please! Aren't there any unbiased articles on here besides the liberal left?"

Nope! Not only that but anyone that does not tow the left line is told to shut up & go away!

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free
CONTACT THE EDITORS

Recent Comments from Causes

BP is responsible for this at the end of the day so therefore they will pay. They selected an engineering…

I posted this on another site today, but it is appropriate here! 9:00am PST on Nov 20, 2014 This…

I live in Florida and I didn't think we would make the cut. So much sun and not one cares.

meet our writers

Lindsay Spangler Lindsay Spangler is a Web Editor and Producer for Care2 Causes. A recent UCLA graduate, she lives in... more
ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.