FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The War on Public Workers

by JESSE JACKSON

The government shutdown engineered by the Republican tea party zealots in the House of Representatives is headed into its third week. The damage is spreading. Infants go without nutrition. Children are locked out of pre-school programs. Scientists are losing support and locking up labs.

The people taking the biggest hit, of course, are public employees — the workers who serve the American people. Some 800,000 of them were initially furloughed without pay. Ironically, those deemed the most essential are paying the highest price.

“Essential” government employees are now, as Jeffrey David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told me on my radio show, essentially “indentured servants.” They’re forced to work without pay. About half of AFGE’s 670,000 members are deemed “essential.” They are required to work, and face disciplinary action if they don’t. But they aren’t getting paid and won’t be until the shutdown ends and Congress decides to vote them retroactive pay.

These employees include nurses, food inspectors, janitors, firefighters and more. Most are not big earners. They have to buy food and gas, pay rent or mortgages, keep electricity and heat on. Most have to pay to get to work and back — in gas, in mass transit fees, in parking. They are drawing down savings or going into debt just to keep going.

This is unacceptable. We all benefit from dedicated and skilled public servants. They work for us. And now we’re punishing them, and no doubt, driving the best out of government. When private employers forced people to work without pay, it was called slavery.

As this is written, reports suggest that Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are close to an agreement. But House tea party Republicans continue to oppose a settlement. Shutting down the government has undermined America’s reputation across the world. Defaulting on our debts threatens a global financial meltdown. The time for these games has long past.

It’s time for a vote. A Senate deal can end a filibuster; an end to the shutdown would pass the Senate. That will put pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote in the House. The reality in this standoff is that a majority of legislators in both the House and Senate would support reopening the government and lifting the debt ceiling to avoid default.

In the House, a resolution would have to be passed with Democratic votes joined by a likely minority of Republican votes. In the Senate, the Democratic majority can pass it on their own, if Republicans stop filibustering it. It’s time for the majority to act.

For Boehner, allowing a vote may risk his position as speaker, as tea party Republicans would accuse him of surrendering. For Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, ending the filibuster would aggravate the zealots, and possibly strengthen the tea party challenge to him in the Republican primary for his Senate seat. But it is long past time for both to stop cowering and start leading.

Scorn for bureaucracy and government is a long-standing American tradition. But perhaps this shutdown will help people realize that we have a huge stake in an effective and efficient government. We should show far more respect for those we employ with our tax dollars. They are like all workers. They struggle to support their families. They go to work every day. Many live paycheck to paycheck, while laboring to put aside a little money to pay for their children’s education. Few can afford to work without pay and none should be forced to do so.

Shutting down the government and punishing the people who work for us should be unacceptable to all those who care about this country.

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail