Don't Sleep Through Assault on Workers

This weekend in Wisconsin, some 200,000 citizens rallied to protest the governor's assault on working families. The crowd included farmers and firefighters, teachers and students, parents and children. In Wisconsin -- and across the Midwest -- they are connecting the dots.

They realize that the assault on the right of public workers to organize isn't about the budget crisis. Gov. Scott Walker and the right across the country are pushing to weaken the ability of working families to counter what is a brutal assault on the middle class in America.

The reality of Wisconsin and other states is clear. Wall Street's excesses blew up the economy, causing a global recession that savaged public budgets at the local, state and national levels. Housing prices fell, unemployment rose and tax receipts plummeted while costs increased. Public pensions -- and, for that matter, private pension plans -- took a huge hit from the implosion.

Now conservative politicians act as if teachers, cops and nurses caused the budget crisis, not Wall Street. They represent the few against the many. Only over the last 30 years, the broad middle class has declined. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans now capture nearly one-fourth of all income, and control more wealth than 90 percent of Americans. The question now is whether we can rebuild a strong middle class, or whether the crisis will be used to reduce it further.

This is central to a concerted offensive that has two major parts. First, conservatives are intent on rolling back core protections for working families, and virtually every step of progress America has made over the last century. Second, well aware that they are pushing a very unpopular agenda, they are targeting unions and other institutions that can counter the force of money in politics.

On the first part, look at the combined agenda of the House Republicans and right-wing governors like Walker in Wisconsin. House Republicans fought to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and then targeted basic supports for working families. They made deep cuts in education from Head Start to elementary education to college affordability, zeroed out job programs, and slashed budgets for every consumer or worker protection agency.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are next on the chopping block.

In Wisconsin, mirrored in other states, Gov. Walker combined tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations with deep cuts for teachers, police and firefighters. Education and health care were hit the most.

On the second part, organized people are the most effective counter to organized money in politics. So conservatives are pushing to permanently break labor unions, the most powerful counterweight to the flood of corporate money in politics. But unions aren't the only target. ACORN, the most effective organization helping to register poor and minorities to vote, was targeted with a dishonest sting operation. Planned Parenthood is under attack because it informs women of their rights in chapters across 50 states. Efforts are under way to strip students of their right to vote where they go to school. Voter ID measures are cooked up to intimidate Latinos and discriminate against the poor and seniors. This is bareknuckled rollback of democratic rights to protect an unpopular agenda.

But in Wisconsin, the workers stood up; students and citizens rallied to their side. The Wisconsin uprising touched citizens across the state and activists across the country. They are starting to connect the dots.

Dr. King once said, "There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution." Now, in this defining struggle about America's future, people are beginning to wake up. Will we build a new economy that provides opportunity for all out of the ashes of the old? Or will we roll back the progress we have made, and watch as the American Dream becomes a fantasy out of reach of our children?

The choice will be ours.