Public workers in the bull’s-eye

BY:Scott Marshall| January 5, 2011
Public workers in the bull’s-eye

When I was in basic training in the Army, we learned all about the bull’s-eye. They marched us to the firing range with our M-16 rifles, and taught us that the bull’s-eye was the heart of the target. If you hit the outer rings of the target, you might only wound your enemy. But if you hit the bull’s-eye you bring your enemy down.

The 2010 election results and the resurgence of the corporate ultra-right mean renewed attacks on labor. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, the Republicans have placed public workers in the bull’s-eye of their attack. Forget that the Great Recession was brought on by Wall Street gambling and corruption. Forget that the banking giants, the hedge funds, the insurance giants, the oil and energy companies, and the rest of big business are back to making out like bandits.

Of course, the Republican right launches these kinds of attacks on labor every time they have majorities. But this is much more than your run-of-the-mill, knee-jerk, anti-unionism. This time the attack is more like the McCarthyite anti-communism of the 1950s. Like McCarthyism, today’s attack is a broad, sweeping ideological and legal attack on the democratic rights of labor and the working class. And while its current bull’s-eye is public workers, its real target is organized labor and the working class as a whole. (And let’s be clear, workers and the working class ARE the taxpayers.)

On the ideological side, deficits are caused by lazy, overpaid public workers, they argue. War budgets and tax breaks for the rich and corporations are not factors. Public employee pension funds and health care costs are bleeding federal and state governments dry. Ignore that pensions and health care are often negotiated in the place of pay raises, and are not gifts, but earned income.

In this mythical world, the public workers unions have way too much political and economic clout.

On the legal side is a barrage of anti-labor legislation at the state level. This includes right-to-work-for-less laws, laws to outlaw strikes by public workers including teachers, laws to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, and efforts to weaken workers compensation laws and prevailing wage laws.

Another reason for putting the bull’s-eye on public workers is they have a higher percentage of union membership than workers in private industry.

The target around the public workers bull’s-eye is not just the organized labor movement. Remember “shrinking government small enough to drown in a bathtub?” That’s at the heart of the deficits argument. Cutting programs that help the working class, like unemployment compensation, education and schools, environmental protection, health care, housing, food safety, and many more are the targets of the deficit hawks. Somehow deficits are not caused by military spending, corporate subsidies and in big business tax loopholes.

In any case, it is clear that the offensive against public workers has shifted to the state and local government arena for now. Now is the time for all good progressives to come to the aid of their local public workers. We have to, not only fight against this legal-legislative attack, but also fight against the ideological attack on workers.

Just as it took a broad democratic coalition to break the back of McCarthyism, so too will it take all who believe in democracy and basic labor rights to beat back this attack on public workers.

Scott Marshall is a vice chair of the Communist Party and chair of its Labor Commission and this article originally appeared on




    Scott Marshall is a vice chair of the Communist Party and chair of its Labor Commission. Scott grew up in Virginia where he first became active in the civil rights movement in high school, working on voter registration and anti-Klan projects in rural Southern Virginia and Tennessee. He was also active against the war in Vietnam.

    Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s.

    Scott has worked for the Communist Party since 1987 when he became the district organizer for the party in Illinois, a post he held until he was elected chair of the National Labor Commission in 1997. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.

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