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Workers under attack


GOP staging a full fiscal assault on the middle class

Kurt Hochenauer March 30th, 2011

The start of the legislative session had some Democrats here hoping GOP overreach on cultural wedge issues might create voter backlash and fatigue this year that would hurt conservative political candidates in the future.

Check that. For sure, the GOP has overreached again on typical wedge issues, such as “sanctity of life” involving medical research, evolution science and anti-illegal immigration, but the real overreach might just be its full fiscal assault on the middle class.

It’s happening here and across the country as Republican-dominated legislatures work to cut state jobs and benefits, take away ordinary people’s basic legal protections and eliminate collective bargaining.

The overreach might be the GOP’s full fiscal assault on the middle class.

Consequently, maybe the overreach that could turn the tide here for Democrats will come in the form of what the GOP wants to present as long-needed and common sense fiscal reform for the state, but really just exhibits an outright disregard for ordinary, middle-class workers.

Take Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed budget cuts as outlined in her State of the State speech. It would force state agencies to take 3 to 5 percent cuts even after budget cuts in previous years, although Fallin opposes steeper cuts some lawmakers say might be necessary. This could mean more furloughs and layoffs for state workers. This comes even when the basic idea of a bloated Oklahoma government has come under major scrutiny. The Oklahoma Policy Institute showed recently how state “spending as a share of the economy is at a 30-year low.”

Then there’s the subtle attack on worker benefits. Here in Oklahoma, underfunded state pensions are under scrutiny by the Legislature. Does anyone here doubt that raising the retirement age or increased employee costs, at least for future employees, will be a part of the conversation this year?

What about the assault on collective bargaining? A measure considered by the Legislature this year would repeal the Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act, which allows some city workers to bargain for their working conditions.

There are also periphery issues that affect the middle class. Tort “reform,” which limits lawsuit damages, will result in less access to courts and lower damage awards. Wealthy people will have no problem using the judicial system to their advantage.

Anyone in the middle class here who thinks reducing state worker salaries through furloughs, putting people out of work, or reducing retirement benefits will help their working conditions in the private sector needs to take stock. For three decades, conservatives have waged war on the American worker through union busting and indifference to stagnant wages, while sanctioning a health care system that primarily benefits powerful insurance companies.

Study upon study has shown the growing wealth disparity in this country between the rich and everyone else over the last three decades or so. As economist Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times put it, “The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. … Now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis.” It’s happening here, too.

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the Okie Funk blog.

 
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