FREE SPEECH ZONE | FINALLY, THE MIDDLE CLASS AWAKENS

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 If the state workers go, we are all next,” said Grabski, who was tired, tearful and in need of a shave. “This is a defining moment, a defining issue for all of us. They are at war with the middle class–Private sector worker Adam Grabski at Madison, WI demonstrations

Bravo, Bravo, Bravo.

I applaud and send my best wishes to public and private sector citizen/workers in Madison, Wisconsin who demonstrate as I write (Feb. 19, 2011) on behalf of the middle class and a sustainable future for America.

Mr. Grabski is right. The fight in Wisconsin isn’t about money: the protests are about the right of the powerless to bargain, they’re about removing organized labor as political opposition to Republicans, and they’re about Republicans taking another step to diminish the middle class  to benefit the super wealthy at the expense of the nation’s future.

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It’s not about the money: Wisconsin workers agreed to pay more for health insurance and pensions. But they should also get a pay increase because Wisconsin public workers and public employees across the nation are underpaid compared to private sector workers. If you believe different, you have been lied to by Republicans who want to demonize public employees and their unions to divert attention from those who caused the recession and are now benefiting from it.

While those on Wall Street make record compensation and benefits, the retirements of middle class Americans are threatened and their income and benefits falsely attacked. Doesn’t seem right does it?

Republicans in Wisconsin want to take away the right of people to join together to bargain to improve the quality of their lives. Someone asked me, “Why is collective bargaining so sacred to unions?” I responded, “Collective bargaining is sacred to union workers because that is the only way those will little power can stand up to those with great power-power often used to abuse the powerless.”  

Advocacy and self-interest aren’t sacred only to the powerless. They are also revered by Wall Street, big banks, insurance companies, the Chamber of Commerce, the oil industry, and special interest groups of every type who buy influence from politicians with much more effectiveness than unions.

Shouldn’t the right to join together to advocate for our human dignity be a right of every citizen whether in Cairo or Madison?

The law proposed by Republicans in Wisconsin is designed to destroy unions so that the Republicans can do what they want with public workers (now and in the future) and remove the political power of unions at the same time.

I’ve not been a fan of unions over my career. I didn’t like how the union tried to protect the guilty, stood in the way of business improvements, and was all take and no give. I understand the anger and frustration people can feel towards unions.

I was a successful executive at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Trained as a Secret Service agent, I beat the Newspaper Guild and other unions at every turn. But my feelings about unions began to change as I advanced at the newspaper. I saw in some senior executives the reason why unions came about in the first place: to protect the powerless from abuse and humiliation by the more powerful. Executives complained bitterly about entitled union workers, but they embraced the same attitude of entitlement for themselves. Mediocre and incompetent management was more the norm than the exception.

Later as a consultant to leaders, I saw the best and worst in the unions and in executives. I concluded that both management and unions need to reinvent themselves and move into the 21st century: leadership must learn to engage, involve, and empower employees-union and non-union-with a tough-love leadership style that is compassionate and holds people accountable. The more leaders utilize the talents of employees, the better their bottom line will be. Wisconsin Governor Walker should take a modern-day leadership class.

I disliked the reality of unions while an executive but came to like the idea of them as an advocate for the abused and powerless. The working and middle classes need strong unions to protect them against greed, abuse, and the selfishness that is pervasive throughout our society.

To endure and grow again, public and private sector unions have to make work rules and practices that are fast and efficient, realize that they are there to provide workers a fair disciplinary process, not absolute protection of the disengaged and destructive-cancers on every organization–and understand that their future depends on a successful enterprise.  (See Pamphlet 147: In Defense of Public Workers and Pamphlet 148: Managing Public Workers, for changes unions have to make.}

But the battle in Wisconsin is far more than a fight over collective bargaining and the existence of unions. The demonstrations are a fight for the voice and survival of the middle class. Never before in my life has the middle class so needed to become a strong force to fight against concerted efforts by Republicans in Washington D.C. and in states around the country to harm them economically on behalf of the super-wealthy.

Since the 1980’s the rich have gotten richer and the middle class poorer at a staggering pace. Google “middle-class decline” for all the evidence you’ll need. America cannot be a vibrant country without a vital middle class to fuel the economy and keep the American Dream alive.

It’s about time the middle class has a “moment of authenticity” and gets mad about the economic game that’s rigged against them and threatens to turn the American Dream into a nightmare.

Wisconsin may be a foreshadowing of conflicts and protests ahead. Many states will have serious encounters over their budget crises, not only do we need a federal budget for 2011 but also for 2012 and we need a plan to deal with our national deficit-a serious symptom of deeper dysfunction in America. Multiple government shutdowns are a possibility. Conflicts and demonstrations may come to America in ways not seen since the 1960’s.

Our financial issues are big; budget deficits must be eliminated; debts need to be repaid; entitlements adjusted; shared sacrifices must be made; but the soul of our nation must not be lost in the process.

We can resolve our financial issues and set the stage for the future by thoughtful increases in taxes on the most wealthy, fair adjustments to entitlements; strategic budget cuts, freezes, and increases in spending for key strategies (education, clean energy, innovation and infrastructure), and by the redesign of government agencies.

No organization or government ever cut their way to prosperity. We need to keep our eyes on powerful visions for our state’s and our nation’s futures and grow, change, and evolve to a new period of prosperity.

At their deepest and most noble levels, our conflicts are clashes of values and arguments over which ideals we hold most dear. Handled with maturity and responsibility, these are good struggles to have. The outcomes will hopefully result in a balancing of conflicting needs that serve all of America’s values and diverse citizens.

The difficult decisions in front of us should be thoughtful judgments that are vision and value-driven-not choices made by extreme political ideology, by the most marginal of our citizens, or by bean-counters who often lack the empathy and compassion needed to understand the human costs of their balancing of the books.

Republicans have a strategy for a quick-fix. They will take from the middle and give to the top. They will distract Americans while they do this by turning middle class Americans against one another by telling lies to citizens about their neighbors-they will blame the victims and re-victimize the middle class. Democrats don’t seem to have a strategy so the people will have to lead and give Democrats the kind of courage modeled by the Democratic state senators in Wisconsin.

I hope the passion on display in Madison, Wisconsin-regardless of the final outcome of the issues at stake there-is the great awakening of the middle class in America. If it is, the energy will spread, and we can be hopeful for the outcome of the great transformation we are in the midst of.

The next two years will be determinative of what kind of nation we want for future generations.

I’m on the side of the middle class-the people who make America great.