A key part of the Republican strategy in efforts to bust public employee unions in Wisconsin and around the country is a concerted attempt to demonize teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other dedicated public workers. Audrey Barbakoff, a Milwaukee librarian, writes for American Libraries magazine on what it’s like to be made a scapegoat:
It’s funny that legislation meant to malign and eviscerate unions has made me realize how vibrant and vital they can be. But my renewed respect for the critical role of collective bargaining only makes it clearer to me that, for librarians, union-busting isn’t the biggest problem. Yes, I’m angry that a politically motivated gubernatorial power grab could set back the rights and quality of life of the middle class for decades. Yes, I’m deeply worried that I, along with many others, could lose the right to have any say about my workplace. And yes, I recognize that such an outcome would be to the detriment of all working middle-class families in Wisconsin, whether employed in the public or private sectors.
But none of it triggers the almost nauseating fury I feel every time I open the newspaper.
Legislation—no matter how destructive—doesn’t last forever. Eventually, new politicians will be elected and new political theories will come into vogue; the pendulum will continue to swing between extremes with an occasional and too-brief pause in the middle. Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting is horrible and lives may be ruined needlessly in the process, but in the long-term view, it’s temporary.
What is not temporary is the effect of the governor’s favorite tactic in the service of this legislation: the vilification of public employees. It’s the old divide-and-conquer routine. By turning private employees against public ones, Walker can break up the largest constituency that might oppose his ideas. It’s a savvy political tactic, but it will cause permanent, irreparable damage for the most educated and hardworking public employees in Wisconsin and throughout the country. In order to turn the public at large on its own employees, supporters of this bill must paint us as lazy, stupid, overpaid freeloaders. They must imply that we are in our jobs only for the “sweet bennies” they provide.
The enduring problem here is one of value, one of respect. That’s why librarians around the country need to be upset about what’s going on in Wisconsin, whether you belong to a union or not. The governor of Wisconsin is telling us that we are worthless, that we add nothing and contribute nothing, that we are parasites and moochers.
It’s one thing to ask for monetary sacrifices; most librarians have already sacrificed money to do what we love. We’re an intelligent, educated bunch who could have pursued degrees in any number of more lucrative fields, or trotted our little MLISes right over to some hotshot tech company and doubled our salaries. It’s not the fiscal cuts in the bill that make me angry. I’m furious at the insinuation that we are nothing but takers.
via Rita Meade