It's been a couple of busy days around me in the political field.
There is a stark contrast between the state I live in (NY) and the state I work in (NJ).
Getting screwed twice
As if not getting promoted weren't enough, the state of New Jersey has moved to stick it to me (and all state workers). The legislature, both controlled by so-called-Democrats, voted to support a plan by Republican governor Christie, to cut state worker benefits, especially health and pension, and deny our right to collective bargaining. Of course this comes at the very moment that many of the unions are in the process of negotiating their contract renewals.
I attended a rally two days ago in Trenton to protest these changes. It was an interesting experience, although it was hot and extremely muggy. It was my first collective action as a member of a union. There was a lot of noise, a lot of rhetoric, and a lot of people. I was sorely disappointed that only a couple of my colleagues from the college went. A few I knew had legitimate reasons for not being there, but some just do not prioritize fighting for their rights. It's easy to let others do the fighting for you. I know because I have been guilty of that before.
Sara asked whether the rally made any difference. The rally didn't change the outcome. The bill passed and our future, both in terms of our well-being (income, benefits, etc.) and our rights, looks glum. However, the rally might hold hope if it catalyzes action. Will it motivate people to go vote? Will those Democrats that sold the unions out be challenged in the next election? Will the ones that voted against the bill be supported and given the resources to continue the fight?
In this sense, I feel somewhat impotent in the matter because I am not a resident of New Jersey and I cannot directly participate in the electoral system. I am also happy that I do not live in a state where cronyism and corruptions are rampant and where the system allows politicians to hold to positions concurrently, such as mayor of city and a seat in the state legislature.
Those who claim that the bill is part of the "shared sacrifice" that the current economic conditions dictate must be had refuse to see the reality of the matter. This is not shared sacrifice, it is targeting a group of people, demonizing them through demagoguery, and extolling resources from them. Where is the "shared sacrifice" of those who are succeeding in, and probably because of, the economic conditions? Why is the state decreasing the taxes of those whose incomes have actually gone up - both individuals and corporations?
The result of what just happened in NJ is predictable: public services will get worse as resources for them go down, fewer employees will provide them, and those who do will be disgruntled. This will create animosity among the public who will blame the employees and think that they still get paid too much. Meanwhile, the promise that this action will help keep taxes in check or even lower them will go unfulfilled. The attack on public employees does not address the big issues of the state and hence the demand for revenue will continue to go up - meaning more taxes.
What, higher taxes for worse services? And who will get the blame? The pols? Those who have benefited from the reallocation of resources? No. It will be the beleaguered state employees. And the mantra that will follow is: privatize - which means those who will own the schools, the security forces, etc. will make more money.
Meanwhile those with the resources will not care that services are poor. They send their children to private schools, they live in gated communities with their own security service, they can afford to pay for their own healthcare.
The system is broke, though, and this is the only solution, they claim. Unions are only out for themselves and they never give up anything, they claim. The state had no other choice.
Wrong. Take a look just north to New York.
Civility, Compromise, and Making things Work
While the legislature and the governor in New Jersey were busy screwing state employees, events in New York illustrate that it need not be so. Governor Cuomo and the state worker unions acted like adults, negotiated, and came up with a compromise. The unions recognizes that there are financial constraints the state faces and was willing to give up raises, work days, and some benefits to help the state out while avoiding having any of their members lose their jobs.
There was no need for demagoguery and vilification. Collective bargaining rights went kept and were even effective in coming up with a tenable solution.
At the very same time, a deal was reached that recognizes the importance of public higher education and the need to fund it. There is a commitment to try to increase funding for it and at the very least a promise to not decrease the funding. This will allow schools to hire new faculty and have some stability. It is true that some of the burden is places on students by increasing tuition. The increases are modest - $300/year for 5 years - but they are also planned. This means students can plan for the increases they know are coming, rather than be hit by an increase that might have been bigger than they expected.
I know New York is not perfect and that there is enough corruption and cronyism to go around here too. It is, however, an example how things can proceed in a cooperative way where there is a respect for workers and public institutions. And when treated respectfully and their rights are not attacked, workers are willing to compromise for the benefit of all.
Oh, and yes, in the midst of all of this, New York was able to address a civil injustice that had gone on too long by allowing gays and lesbians to marry. Rather than call it gay marriage, I like to think of it as marriage equality because rather than giving homosexuals the right to marry, it is the end of denying them the right they always have had.
As far as how it impacts my own heterosexual marriage, it makes it better and stronger. Why? Because now it is no longer a privileged union that is restricted, but a right/rite that is shared by all.
Civility and respect. If only the politicians and some of the residents of state just south from here could learn that. Either that or if Ramapo and Mahwah (the town the college is in) could secede and join NY - it's right on the border and I think the only thing people would notice would be that you would have to pump your own gas at higher prices.