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Guest Column: The Attack on Public Sector Workers

Date: 
12/10/2009

A guest column from Citizen Action/Illinois Board Secretary-Treasurer, John Cameron.

An excerpt:

“A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

It may be a quip attributed to Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to our current president, but it also the operative strategy for a broad offensive against the public sector by a variety of corporate-backed forces.  It is not just the rightwing fringe led by Glenn Beck and the other Fox News blowhards; the tea partiers are mere shock troops for an assault being driven by the mainstream business class and their cheerleaders in the media, even by many supposedly “liberal” voices in the public debate.

Their surface argument is as simple as it is fallacious: government should be run like a business, and in a down economy with revenues dropping, a business cuts costs, reduces its operations and lays workers off – therefore governments should do the same.  In a recession, of course, the demand for business products and services declines unlike the public sector where it increases.   A business is driven simply by profit; the public sector by need.  And faced with a growing demand, a business would borrow to increase capacity (through bonds or equity sales) while state and local governments are prohibited from using debt to do so.

A government is not a business, as every halfway rational analysis acknowledges, dating back to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.  Clearly, if businesses could make money by providing the services demanded of government, they would be quick to do so.  In fact, many corporation forces, such as the health insurance lobby is currently doing, go to great lengths to prohibit the government from acting like a business, since it would mean real competition.  And when it comes to getting a handout – from no-bid local government contracts to sweet long-term deals on public assets, not to mention billions of dollars in bond business and military contracts, let alone hundreds of billions in bank bailouts, the business class positively loves government and public spending.  So, if not logic, what then is driving the attack on the public sector?  The answer is simply plain old class war – a power struggle that seeks to destroy the public sector as the “public option” for working people.