The Republican War on Workers Heats Up

by A. Jay Adler on February 17, 2011
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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that if Republican efforts to cut federal spending resulted in the loss of government jobs, “so be it.”

Ah, but you know – they’re government jobs, government workers, union workers, government employee union workers, barely workers, you know how they are, drawing salaries when I’m out of work, with pensions, while my plan was dissolved. It’s practically socialist. It needs to stop. They need to be stopped. Get rid of their unions. Let ‘em lose their jobs. Then we can all live the way I do. So now -

Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) recent “budget repair bill,” … would effectively eliminate state workers’ right to collectively bargain, and his coinciding threat to deploy the National Guard to stop a walkout. Yesterday, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers criticized Walker, saying that collective bargaining is “fundamental” to the middle class.

Approximately 13,000 peaceful protesters flooded the state Capitol yesterday, including nearly 800 Madison East High School students who left school to protest Walker’s bill. Democratic lawmakers listened to testimonies from citizens for more than 20 hours, stretching into the early morning. Many people who hadn’t yet gotten to speak pulled out sleeping bags.

Responding to his inappropriate threat to use the National Guard against resisting workers, Walker said last night on Greta Van Susteren’s On The Record that the National Guard has contingency plans for natural disasters, and a worker “walk-off is part of [the] contingency plan”:

VAN SUSTEREN: You have the Guard on alert. Why, if that is true?

WALKER: No, in our case we have contingency plans that we put into place that are updated from where they were before. The National Guard is part of that. They would be part of that whether it is a snow emergency, tornado, earthquake, flood, anything else. And a work walk-off is part of contingency plan.

This is a first campaign in a long envisioned and prepared conservative war on unionism’s last bastion in the United States. As I wrote in

The Next GOP Assault on Working Americans: State Bankruptcy

it has been going on for over thirty years. It has taken the form of nearly stagnant wages, while the accumulation of wealth among the richest Americans has reached proportions beyond all previous measure. It grew in the increased turn to a contingent labor force, steadily shorn of worker protections, benefits, and even full-time employment, a labor force even begrudged its unemployment benefits at time of financial crisis. All of the enhanced conditions of labor with which the American worker entered the second half of the twentieth century were won for it by labor unions and labor rights activists, especially from the 1930s onwards, including those unemployment benefits. In the early 1950’s union membership peaked at somewhere between 28-35%. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data is available from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage was down, but still at over 20%. As of 2010, according the Bureau, the percentage was down to 11.9% – 6.9 percent in the private sector. Where have the numbers maintained and grown? In public sector union membership, currently at 36.2%.

….

Once more, the wealthy, and the party of the wealthy – the GOP – have set workers upon each other to fight for the scraps, while the superrich stand back and get tax cuts.

Just the other day, one of the fomenters of insurrection in the country over the past two years, Rush Limbaugh – completely without care to the meaning of the Rep. Giffords shooting in Tucson, and the longer record of results – had this to say:

This is something that, you know, let me put it to you in terms you can understand, all right? Final comment of the day during the substantive programming content portion of the program. After the election in November, repeal Obamacare, defund it all, doesn’t happen, number of other things that voters who sent all these freshmen to Washington to stop, arrest, cease and desist, if it doesn’t happen, we go Egypt on Obama. (Emphasis added)

An idea for American workers, to adopt Limbaugh’s metaphor at the minimal level of mass protest, is to organize a nationwide influx of protesters into Wisconsin in recognition of what the struggle there represents. For while, conservatives would not accept an increase in taxes on people with incomes over $200 thousand per year – and only on the income over the $200 thousand – they can live with federal workers losing their jobs and government employees across the nation suffering their pensions to be taken from them, and their rights to bargain for wages eliminated.

Meanwhile, reported The New York Times and others,

Intent on fixing a banking system that contributed heavily to the recent financial crisis, lawmakers and regulators pushed Wall Street to overhaul its pay practices. Big banks responded by shifting more compensation into stock, a move intended to align employees’ interests more closely with those of investors and discourage excessive risk-taking.

But it turns out that executives have a way to get around those best-laid plans. Using complex investment transactions, they can limit the downside on their holdings, or even profit, as other shareholders are suffering.

More than a quarter of Goldman Sachs’s partners, a highly influential group of around 475 top executives, used these hedging strategies from July 2007 through November 2010, according to a New York Times analysis of regulatory filings. The arrangements were intended to protect their personal portfolios when the firm’s stock was highly volatile, especially at the height of the crisis.

In some cases, executives saved millions of dollars by using these tactics. One prominent Goldman investment banker avoided more than $7 million in losses over a four-month period.

Such transactions are at the center of a debate over whether Wall Street executives should be allowed to hedge their stock holdings. The concern with hedging is that executives can easily break the ties between compensation and company performance. Employees who hedge their holdings are less concerned about a falling share price. That’s why the government barred top executives at banks that received multiple bailouts from using the strategies until they paid back the funds.
….

The filings illustrate how routinely Goldman’s executives used the strategies. From July 2007 through November 2010, at least 135 partners used options to protect themselves from stock drops or to profit if shares held steady.

Several used such transactions routinely. Among them: David J. Greenwald, Goldman’s deputy general counsel overseeing its international businesses; Peter C. Aberg, a senior executive in the mortgage group; and Jack Levy, co-chairman of mergers and acquisitions. Howard Wietschner, the co-head of a hedge fund advisory group, had at least 32 such arrangements.

Shareholders over the same period endured roller coaster volatility. Goldman shares peaked at $248 in fall 2007 before dropping to $52 a year later after Lehman Brothers failed. At $164.83 on Friday, the stock still has not reached its former highs.

Regulators are taking a hard look at the practices. The Financial Stability Board, a group of global banking supervisors, wants firms to restrict employees from using the strategies. The Federal Reserve is examining hedging in its review of bank compensation.

Over these three decades and more, conservatives have pointedly highlighted any speech suggestive of class warfare. Spread the wealth around? Why, certainly not. It should be concentrated in the bank accounts of a few. That has to be the Lord’s plan. Besides, they earned it fair and square – just like those Goldman Sachs partners.

This is class warfare, and it’s being waged by oligarchic predators and the conservative business, political, and media activists who are their centurions on the working people of the country.

AJA

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