My friend Tom Schneider is profiled in today’s Chicago Tribune. Tom was a juvenile probation officer for more than 30 years. The story discusses his relationship with a young man, Parrish Flourny, who made many mistakes in his life. He worked with Tom and was planning to meet him to fill out an application to college. Two days before they were to meet, Flourny was shot dead in an argument over a bicycle.
Over the years, Tom has told many stories about good kids who have met a similar fate. Despite this seemingly unsolvable problem, Tom continued to do whatever he could to help young people get second, third, and fourth chances. Some of them were able to change their lives.
We hear too often that public employees – union employees – are disparaged as feckless and lazy. The ones I know are like Tom Schneider: People who are dedicated to serving others. We’ve been trained to think all things “public” are flawed and all things “private” good. No private business would try to help or educate a young man like Parrish Flourny. Tom Schneider did try to help him, as I am sure his teachers did – as my public school teachers and librarians did in Cleveland, Ohio. We all owe Tom and those who helped us a great deal of gratitude. They truly serve.
The Tribune also published an editorial by Tom Schneider about Chicago’s youth and gang violence.
The British government is trying to “reform” (steal) the pension of public employees. It is also proposing cuts in pay and heavy layoffs. Public sector workers responded with a massive protest that closed schools, transit services, and many other government offices. BBC estimates that “tens of thousands” participated in the strike with 30,000 in the streets of Birmingham and 25,000 in London. Trying to play down the protest, Prime Minister David Cameron said, “It looked like a damp squid.” The squid may be damp, but it looks pretty big and mean. Politicians across the world need to wake up. Working people are getting fed up and angry.
Daily Kos offers an informative article on job loss in the public sector. Over the past 33 months, 446,000 public employees have been laid off. Forecasts say that 110,000 more will be let go over the next year.
This problem is worse than it sounds. State and local governments aren’t raising enough revenue to regain a solid financial footing, which mean more and more cuts are looming. Lay this on top of “furlough days” and other types of pay cuts, and the news is very bad for people who are very important to our society: teachers, police officers, fire fighters, waste collectors.
Meanwhile, several governors and local governments have turned to incentives to bring business to their areas. Tax cuts and rebates (we call them TIFS in Illinois) take away even more revenue from the state and local treasuries to woo companies that often offer little benefit to the community. If a company opens a store that pays low wages, employees will sign up for state food and medical benefits, which means that the state will have a double burden of helping underpaid workers while it writes off the taxes of profit-swollen corporations. We live in strange, sad times.
Today’s Huffington Post has a piece from radio/TV host Ed Schultz. Ed is a consistent champion of working people, but he has been even more intense in supporting the working people of Wisconsin. In this post, he talks about the value of teachers, which he learned first from his mother, who was also a teacher. This man speaks honestly and from the heart. If only we had a few politicians (other than Bernie Sanders) who followed Ed’s example.
On the Christmas edition of Common Dreams, Jay Walljasper, editor of onthecommons.org, has written a great essay about the things we share. Much of what we hear in the corporate media is based on a simplistic belief: private is good – public is bad. Walljasper challenges that belief and gives us much to think about on a holiday that has become too much about personal consumption. We need to remember that Jesus preached about serving the “least among us.” He did not say, “Greed is good.”
In a related editorial published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Rich Miller asks his readers to think about public employees in light of the recent death of two Chicago firefighters. Miller concedes that are problems in government, including the funding of employee pensions, but also he challenges the Civic Committee, which claims that public sector employees are overpaid. (I wonder how much members of the Civic Committee are paid – and who pays them.). As Miller says, the debate has been too one-sided. He ends his column with a good Christmas notion: “We shouldn’t turn each other into enemies.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean we should roll over and stop fighting for what is fair – and moral.
I was educated in public schools (and private schools). I also have learned much in public libraries and public venues that promote the arts, such as the Chicago Cultural Center. Public parks give people from all backgrounds the opportunity to enjoy nature and culture. Public roads let us get from one side of the country to the other. Good public officials (there are a few left) try to protect our rights and keep us safe. We constantly hear well deserved praise of the military, police officers and fire fighters. Like teachers, they are public employees. Public is not a bad word. Neither is sharing.
Over the last twelve months the private sector has added a million jobs while the public sector has lost 250,000. Critics of “big government” have to look at this data and smile. Government is getting smaller. Of course, a quarter of a million people don’t have jobs, but that’s o.k. because government is smaller. Government services can’t be delivered because of layoffs, but that o.k. Government is smaller. So is the American heart and soul. We are becoming a greedy, fearful country in which all that matters is the individual.
Common Dreams has published an essay by Michelle Chen that challenges the claim that public sector workers are overpaid. Chen looks at statistics rather than simply making broad claims. She finds that people working for government still make less than people working in similar jobs in the private sector.
Union workers are the chief target of attack. Chen shows that the benefits negotiated in contracts took years to achieve. Critics that attack unionized public sector workers ignore what working people in private industry have lost. They are pushing more and more a race to the bottom.
Chen gives us all a great example. When a critic of working people makes a simplistic claim, ask for some evidence. Remind that person that workers in the private sector have not only lost jobs, but had hours and wages cut. They pay a larger percentage of their health care every year. Ask the critics: Why do you hate working people and want more for billionaires?
Writing in the Nation, Amy Traub analyzes the campaign right wing commentators and think tanks are waging against unionized public sector workers. Traub points out how many of the claims of “overpaid” union workers are silly. Sadly, however, even some Democrats like New York’s Andrew Cuomo say, “We are going to be tangling with public employee unions.” Follow this link to read Traub’s article. Even if you disagree with the argument, it is a perspective worth considering.