Feeling the noise in our cross-wired America

Ron Legro

Ron Legro
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, USA
October 12
A lapsed and reformed journalist, one-time for-profit soldier of fortune in the private sector, and political functionary, Ron is now re-learning the joys of hanging around while watching the microcosm unfold. But he's not above rising out of his enlightened stupor to call out perfidy and hypocrisy when he sees it. Ron was an award-winning reporter who worked at several newspapers, including the Milwaukee Sentinel and Wall Street Journal. His assignments took him aboard ice breakers and into the private lives of sexually miscreant clergy. In his years pounding the street with a notebook, he covered everything from tavern brawls to mob hits to political assassinations. He has contributed to various magazines, incuding Time. As editor-in-chief of a weekly public affairs journal, he led coverage of Wisconsin government down to every last legislative vote. Ron also pulled duty as a daily TV columnist and film critic, who spent most of his space examining the sociopolitical implications of mass media. He moved on to become a consultant to communities, nonprofit interest groups and government institutions on open networks. He's also worked for a power utility, several elected officials, a housing authority, and a university. He produced cable TV programming and once acted in a commercial, just to see what it was like. He and his dear wife enjoy beach combing on Lake Michigan near their home. They go bike hiking on city streets or trails. They like sailing and cross-country skiing, too, but never seem to find the time. They hang their laundry on clothes lines. That's them in the photo, regarding the ultra-modernist, bird-winged cathedral that is the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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MARCH 18, 2011 1:42PM

Dr. King would fight GOP anti-unionism

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King's book An increasingly frequent meme among Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere is that public employee unions erroneously refer to their collective bargaining "rights." No, shout the Repubs, collective bargaining is not a right, it's a privilege. And now, thanks to the current hegemony of wingnut Republican legislators, public employees in Wisconsin have (excepting some police and fire unions) far fewer such "privileges." All this from some of the most privileged elites among us, who, meanwhile, increasingly push to turn their own vast set of government-backed boons into permanent rights  (Take away tax cuts for billionaires? Horrors!).

This anti-unionism is sad, tragic and ironic, coming from the same partisans who in recent years have tried to appropriate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of them literally claim he was a Republican, and thus a member of the party that favored "true" civil rights against relatively conservative southern Democrats (while ignoring the fact that it was one such Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, who almost single-handedly engineered the 1964 Civil Rights Act). The revisionists edit King's words to imply he wouldn't be in favor of many modern civil rights laws. But of course, these are the same dudes who want you to think FDR opposed public employee unions, a conclusion they arrive at by -- as in the case of King -- mouthing only a very little of what FDR said while ignoring the larger, contrary context.

Regarding Dr. King: What did he really think about that rights-versus-privileges idea? Well, as it turns out, the GOP Ministry of Truth is especially egregious in its rewrite of Dr. King. After all, many of our constitutional (ahem!) rights were codified only after years of informal privilege, bestowed upon the people by the people themselves, until their increasing numbers forced legislators to catch up. Indeed, if conservatives in both major parties hadn't intervened, every citizen of America would, right now, have the right to a family-supporting job, thanks to FDR's proposal for a second bill of rights. Yes, that would be the same FDR who supposedly was against working-class laborers.

In Dr. King's case, it's very instructive to remember this: On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis. He had traveled there to stand with AFSCME sanitation workers demanding their right to bargain collectively.

That's right. Dr. King's last moments alive were spent fighting for the right of workers to organize
-- a right then resisted by government in Tennessee. If Dr. King were still alive and similarly stood with public employee union protests in Wisconsin and Ohio, governors Scott Walker and John Kasich would oppose him. Instead, their political party feels free to re-appropriate the slain civil rights leader's words and misrepresent his views.

Conservatives focus wholly on King's gargantuan efforts to win civil rights protections for black Americans. They ignore his equally determined push to win civil rights for rank-and-file workers, the people who really get stuff done in this country. King supported the right to bargain collectively for wages, benefits and working conditions. His goal: Family-supporting jobs, workplace dignity and a better democracy. Likewise, when Caesar Chavez organized poor, migrant field laborers into the United Farmworkers union, he, too, was promoting civil rights and labor rights.

The bottom line -- and this is often overlooked by weary, distracted, beseiged minorities who have never known the value of being in a worker's union -- is that there's huge overlap between general civil rights and labor rights. If you can be exploited, fired without cause, underpaid and literally worked to death, you have far less chance of obtaining a life-sustaining, family-supporting job. You may even become a wage slave. Simply put: Democracy is all about collective action. To oppose labor unions is thus to oppose democracy.

Without the vigorous protests of nascent labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American laborers in general -- even non-unionized laborers -- would not now have the 40-hour work week, overtime, rievance procedures, worker disability compensation, or many other workplace protections many conservatives prefer to suggest simply trickled down from corporate penthouses, without provocation.

Chavez boiled down the issue in his ultimately successful call to workers. "Make a solemn promise: to enjoy our rightful part of the riches of this land, to throw off the yoke of being considered as agricultural implements or slaves. We are free men and we demand justice."

And, as Dr. King said, and used as the title of his book, "All labor has dignity."

So say we all. Or, at least, so say we all should.

Note: the anniversary of Dr. King's death will be April 4. AFSCME will hold nationwide events honoring Dr. King's legacy and his efforts on behalf of organized labor. Check this web page for details:

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Of all the nerve of those yahoos.... to imply that Dr. King would EVER support those who seek to deprive other people of rights and dignity! And to try to imply that FDR would approve of what they're doing!

Do they have ANY shame? Whoops, sorry. I forgot who I was talking about. Their lack of shame is self-evident.

Thank you for an informative post.
they do the same to MLK, FDR, Jesus, and many others...twist and lie so they can claim to be on the side of the truth...we won't buy it, just like folks didn't buy it then...truth doesn't die with the person...this was a great post. But don't count us out in WI - they may have won the first round, but we have more resolve than will be a long fight that we are willing to wage...