The words “Now is the Winter of Our Discontent” is the opening line in Shakespeare’s Richard III which is about the king’s rapid rise to power and the malevolent, cunning, duplicitous and intentional deceptiveness in government that Richard III brought to England. The Winter of 2011 will also be known as the “winter of discontent” for all public employees who have seen the guarantees of collective bargaining come under attack by local and state governments.
As written by Robyn Blumner in The St. Petersburg Times, “every middle- and working-class person in this country has a stake in what is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and everywhere else there is a pernicious attempt to strip public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights. "Solidarity" is a word that has lost much of its vigor, but without it, American workers have lost. Either we are all Wisconsin teachers or we are all on our own against powerful and well-funded forces bent on destroying the last vestige of power that average people have over their working lives. This “winter of our discontent” should be the winter where workers finally shake off their lethargic indifference and realize they are under attack by billionaires and the political factions or this winter will go down in history as the last gasp of fresh air for the labor movement. What is apparent in the numbers of Americans who have expressed hostility toward the Wisconsin teachers and public sector unions is that the opposition's divide-and-conquer strategy has worked.
Jealousy can be easily exploited, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other anti-union Republican governors have effectively used it to turn worker against worker. They are selling the story line that it's not the financial meltdown caused by Wall Street banks that is to blame for our country's tough economic times and states' consequent budget woes but rather it's teachers making $50,000 who have the gall to expect a decent pension at the end of a long career. People are lashing out at government workers because they are frustrated with their own job insecurity and lack of retirement benefits. That anger should be directed toward corporate employers who have unilaterally shifted the burden of retirement risk onto workers and held down workers' real pay by failing to share corporate profits. However, if employees expressed these resentments, they would be fired. Therefore, they keep quiet and turn against teachers, garbage collectors and state bureaucrats, who suddenly appear privileged by comparison. With only 6.9 % of private-sector workers in unions - down from about a third at the peak - there is little appreciation any more for the value of collective bargaining rights and their essential role in human self-determination. The Wisconsin teachers have conceded on the money issues - agreeing to contribute toward their pension and health benefits - but have refused to give up the right to negotiate working conditions. Contract protections that reward loyal service with added job security are especially important in a climate where school superintendents are told to cut expenses. Otherwise, inevitably, the most expensive - read experienced - teachers would be susceptible to layoffs. If the fight in Wisconsin were about money, Walker would be at the bargaining table solidifying his victory. Instead, he is using the budget as a convenient red herring for the real Republican agenda of decimating public sector unions, which are not only democratically leaning, but also are the last bulwark of middle-class organizing.
Across the country, ill-advised governors are writing an epitaph for America's middle class. Wisconsin teachers' struggle to retain their bargaining rights is our fight, too, whether we know it or not.”