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The Dems' Tepid Approach to What's at Stake in Wisc. Is Helping Conservatives Destroy Unions, Defund the Democratic Party and Take over the Country

The Wisconsin protests are about a lot more than budgets and unions -- and the Dems need to get out on front or reap the whirlwind.

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What is standing in the way of having the real story told? It is the frame of collective bargaining itself, which only points to the parties that are doing the bargaining and what they are bargaining over.    

The real point of collective bargaining is the idea of fairness inherent in democracy. Without unions, large corporations have an unfair advantage in hiring individual workers: Workers have to take what is offered, a fair wage for work done or not. Unions help to even the playing field, enabling workers to have a fair chance against wealthy, powerful large organizations — whether corporations or governments.    

But public employees’ unions, in bargaining with governments, are raising deeper issues in which wealthy corporations and individuals play a huge role. The public employees’ unions are aware that the top one percent of Americans have more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent — a staggering disproportion of wealth. The wealthy have, to a large extent, amassed that wealth through indirect contributions to them by governments — governments build roads corporations use, fund schools that train their workers, subsidize their energy costs, do research they capitalize on, subsidize their access to resources, promote trade for them, and on and on.    

Meanwhile, over the past three decades, while corporations and their investors have grown immensely richer on the public largesse, middle class workers have had no substantive wage increases, leaving them poorer and poorer.  Those immensely wealthy corporations and individuals have, through political contributions, have managed to rig our politics so that they pay back only an inadequate amount into the system that has enabled them to become wealthy.    

The real targets of the public employees’ unions are the wealthy free riders who, in a fair political economy, would be giving back more to the nation, and to the states and communities they function in.   

That is the obvious half of what the Wisconsin protests are about. The other half concerns the rights of ordinary people in a democracy — rights conservatives want to deny, whether gay rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, retirement rights, or the right to the best health a nation can provide to all its citizens. Unions, through their political contributions, support the basic freedoms, protections, and resources we all require to have a decent life and live in a civilized society.  If those unions are destroyed, American life will become unrecognizable in a remarkably short time.   

Democracy as we know it is at stake in the Wisconsin protests, not just budgets and unions.

Progressives are organizing rallies to “Save The American Dream.” They are understating the case.

If Democrats are not talking out loud about these deeper issues, then they are, by their reticence and silence, helping conservatives destroy unions, defund the Democratic party, and take over the country. 

George Lakoff is the author of Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate ' (Chelsea Green). He is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Senior Fellow of the Rockridge Institute.