Saturday, March 12, 2011

Group Therapy: Mussolini, Stalin, Newt

Former Speaker of the US house of Representatives, Newt Gingrich is pushing federal legislation to give states the power to declare bankruptcy.

State legislators across the country are getting "lobbied" hard by big capital to vote for budgets that decimate social spending and weaken laws protecting organized labor. Despite demonstrations of 100,000 and more, the Wisconsin House and Senate violated state law and voted to rescind certain union bargaining rights last week. Ohio unions have been stripped of certain powers as well. Indiana, Idaho and New Jersey could fall within days or weeks. Citizens of Wisconsin have learned the hard way that asking nicely in 2011 has become inconsequential.

On Feb. 21, the Wisconsin South Central Federation of Labor passed a resolution calling for preparations in case a statewide general strike was necessary to try to staunch the war on labor, on law, and on civil liberties that has accompanied union busting since construction was halted on the Tower of Babylon.

But the bankruptcy legislation, snaking through the US Senate reveals a slightly uglier side of the strategy.

Lobbying generally means providing members of a given legislature campaign donations at strategic moments, often around the time industry lawyers hand proposed legislation to a representative or congressman that they ask to sponsor or vote for. Since a supreme court ruling of a year ago eliminated any significant limits on corporate "donations" to legislators, it may be time to change the US motto from E Pluribus Unum (Latin for "Out of many, one"), to E Pluribus Bagman.

Bankruptcy, as it was applied by federal courts in Michigan to General Motors a short time ago, allowed the auto maker to break its wage and hour agreement with the United Auto Workers Union, and allowed GM to stick billions in employee pension contributions it was managing into their own purposes.

The function of the Newt Bankruptcy bill, would be to allow state governors to threaten their less easily corrupted legislators with a declaration of bankruptcy, in exchange for the legislators votes for an austerity budget.

US state attorneys general won't say whether bankruptcy will eliminate all collective bargaining and allow seizure of pension funds, but the harsh nature of bankruptcy laws at very least implies that protecting the middle class has been transformed from a constitutional issue to a political issue in the current climate.

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