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

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail