posted by Mai Jacobs ’87, 1st grade teacher
Our country is suffering. We’re frustrated and scared and angry. We get angry at the president, angry at the people in Congress, angry at the slow checker in the grocery store and angry at the traffic light that takes too long to change. But we have little control over any of these things. And it’s that feeling of powerlessness that drives the frustration, fear and anger.
We want change and we want it now. We want someone to pay for the impossible situation we find ourselves in and for some reason, teachers and other union workers have become easy targets. Rather than discuss the true reason we’re in our current fiscal quagmire, the Wisconsin governor has chosen to pit American workers against American workers. And this, at a time in our country’s history when unity is most critical.
It is not corporate CEOs at the Wisconsin capital building rallying in the snow in support of the governor’s proposal to eliminate collective bargaining and the rights of unions to exist, (although they are certainly there in the comfort of their offices, funding the governor and “grassroots” opposition to the unions). Out in the snow and cold it’s other middle class working people who believe that their Republican governor is actually seeking a rational way to balance a state budget.
Teachers and other union members are not getting wealthy on their union wages and benefits. They may own homes and pay their bills and may even have enough to retire without becoming a burden on society. But these same workers do not run and control banks, corporations and large payrolls of workers. They do not vote to fund two impossible wars abroad. They do not pass laws that enable the wealthiest Americans to reduce their tax burdens, while middle class Americans pay the rising costs of gas, food, utilities and other necessities of daily living. Teachers and police and firemen may make a living wage, but this does not make unions or the benefits unions provide the cause of this nation’s enormous fiscal problems. In the few months the Wisconsin governor has been in office, he has seen fit to pass tax break provisions for the wealthiest Americans. As a member of the Republican Party he supports the wars our country is funding abroad, which are the largest drains on our floundering economy.
Rather than attacking the middle class that makes up the largest sector of our society, we should all demand that those who led to the failures of banks and other large corporations, the true source of our economic disaster, be held accountable. We should demand that the federal government properly fund public education, which cannot be adequately funded solely by local property taxes. Somehow, money is found to fight wars and bailout large corporations. But as states go bankrupt as a direct result of those decisions and mistakes shouldn’t we demand our government protect working Americans, too? If another group of workers loses their ability to support their homes and families, if another group of workers can’t pay their bills and support themselves in retirement, then who is shopping at the store you work in? Who is hiring you to build or renovate their home, fix their plumbing, repair their car? Who is checking in at the hotels where you work, eating in restaurants you own and shopping on Main Street? If more people lose their ability to make a living, then we all suffer.
I implore you to look past the alluring sound bites that would have you believe it is unions that are single-handedly sinking our country and jeopardizing our collective financial security. Having a job that provides a living wage, decent working conditions, and health benefits that enable more people to live healthier should be every American’s right. If true security for his state and our country were the goals of this Wisconsin governor, then he would be seeking a way to lift all of us up, rather than pit us one against the other. Worker against worker. American against American. Question the logic of undoing what decades of organizing has brought many of us – unionized or not – the five-day work week, the eight-hour day, better working conditions, and health benefits (even if we help fund them), to name a few. These were not given to Americans just because we worked hard and believed in the “American Way.” People organized together to create one voice that demanded fair treatment and reasonable pay for all working Americans. And this is what we must do now.
Let your voice be heard.
Mai Jacobs has been a public school teacher for most of her career. She believes in people. (This piece was originally written as an open letter to her community.)