|Gaddafi, Wisconsin Unions Suffering from Martyr Complex|
By Ashton Ellis
Wednesday, February 23 2011
Some people have a death wish. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is pledging to “die a martyr” defending his autocratic, blood-soaked rule. The pro-union protestors in Wisconsin would rather risk layoffs than weaken their grip on the state’s fisc. In very short order, both might realize the consequences of their convictions.
By now, there must be sighs of relief behind the Obama White House’s cone of silence on Libya’s government-sponsored massacres. After a month of protests against Middle Eastern allies, there is finally a popular uprising to depose a man Ronald Reagan launched air strikes against. If ever there is an Arab strongman that President Barack Obama could safely confront, it is Gaddafi, the man who sheltered (or possibly even directed) Pan Am 103 bombers, and is a pariah in his own region.
Perhaps realizing that public opposition to his rule is reaching the tipping point, Gaddafi gave a cartoonish televised speech to his oppressed people commanding counter-protestors to “take back the streets” from their neighbors. In a clear sign that his security apparatus is overwhelmed, he counseled his supporters to arrest and hand over the opposition to police and military units incapable of doing their jobs.
In analyzing Gaddafi’s defiant tone, two things become clear. First, his political power (like nearly all Middle Eastern despots) is tied directly to his control of his country’s oil revenues. Second, his failure to loosen his grip on Libya’s main source of wealth led to an impoverished, restive underclass prepared to risk death for a better future.
To speak in terms the Hoops-Player-in-Chief will appreciate, going after Gaddafi – even if just rhetorically – is an easy layup. But as usual, President Obama isn’t nearly as interested in directing Americans’ ire against a common foe abroad as he is with stirring up division at home.
One could be forgiven if, when hearing that President Obama described the actions of a government official as an “assault,” he was referring to the daily killings in Tripoli. Instead, he was speaking about Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to empower union members at the expense of their leaders.
The proposed increases in public employee contributions to benefits aren’t the issues that sent state Democratic lawmakers scurrying to Illinois. Union bosses already communicated through their political mouthpieces that they would accept the changes. What is bringing Wisconsin state governing to a halt is the proposal to subject teachers’ unions to yearly votes of confidence from their membership.
In a nutshell, union leaders are afraid of union members. If Governor Walker is successful, Wisconsin teachers will have the power to choose whether to keep and pay for their union every year. No longer will union bosses be able to compel members to submit to automatic paycheck deductions for dues. Gone will be the assumption that the rank-and-file supports leadership – or the union’s existence – without bringing the issue up for an annual vote.
Right now, union leaders wield two clubs to keep members and taxpayers in line. Collective bargaining allows bosses to negotiate one-size-fits-all contracts. By design, there can be no exceptions for the gifted or the incompetent. That clout allows union officials to threaten retaliatory action against lawmakers who dare to question their clutch on the public purse. The result is a seemingly monolithic organization holding state taxpayers hostage.
Governor Walker’s strategy is to separate the interests of union leaders from two groups: members and taxpayers. Teachers in Wisconsin should have the right to change or eliminate the entities that represent them. Taxpayers should have the right to decide the value of the services they fund.
Last November, Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature campaigned and won on the very issues union leaders say are affronts to democracy. Absent a legislative quorum with Democrats encamped out of state, Walker may be forced to do the one thing his proposal promised to avoid: mass layoffs to balance the budget.
If this comes to pass, Democrats and union leaders in Wisconsin will confirm the suspicion they exist to privilege a few at the expense of many. Thereafter, they will face a messy, public demise. Just ask Gaddafi.
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