With the election of Ronald Reagan, who declared that government is not the solution, but rather the problem, resentment against those in government service would soon became a national obsession.
Using this Reagan mantra, there’s been a relentless set of attacks against effective services that helped the U.S. to maintain its status as a strong and compassionate nation.
Within Reagan’s two terms, he and his legislative allies began the first full-scale assault on such formerly untouchable federal programs, such as unemployment benefits, social security disability, food stamps, and even the government’s ability to tax corporations and wealthier citizens.
Reagan became the first president to destroy a labor union, specifically the one representing air traffic controllers who initially supported his election. Their brief strike wasn’t even about pay raises, but rather about improving working conditions in order to make air travel safer.
When Reagan departed office, he left his stamp on succeeding administrations, be they Republican or Democratic.
The G.O.P. used Reagan’s popularity to further their openly pro-Big Business, anti-worker agenda, and Democrats lowered their expectations for better wages and benefits in both the public and private sectors.
As workers rights diminished in the private sector, government employees voted for union representation and struggled to gain many benefits, making public-sector jobs more desirable.
In the meantime, emboldened corporations shipped their manufacturing operations overseas in order to avoid paying U.S.-mandated wages and benefits, resulting in closed U.S. company plants and shrunken union membership.
Yet in the public sector unions were able to hold their own, if not outright flourish.
Over the years private-sector worker incomes began to stagnate. The cost of living rose, but incomes declined. Many began to believe that workers in the public sector were living high-on-the-hog on the taxes paid by private-sector workers.
It wasn’t long before the idea took hold of doing away with government-sponsored programs and jobs, if only to get back at those piggish public workers.
Instead of blaming the real culprits, the greedy corporations and their doting, mostly Republican politicos, many cheered on as their programs were either drastically shrunk or eliminated. “After all,” many thought, “if I can’t have a decent job with good benefits and pay, why should those damn government workers is so lucky?”
Sullivan County has not been immune from the relentless assaults on its public workforce.
The previous County Legislature demanded and got union concessions leading to downsizing through attrition, no raises, pay cuts, and layoffs.
The present County Legislature has continued cutting. They have been struggling with trying to deliver on expensive state-mandated programs, while cutting costs and avoiding tax increases.
Yet the prospect looms that as Big Business continues to consolidate its grip on every aspect of American society, our county legislators will, if they haven’t already, eye the next bunch of government workers for the chopping block.
And the results will be the same: more unemployment, lower quality of government services leading to a much lower standard of living for the vast majority.
The solution lies in recognizing that public workers are like the rest of us.
They have families to feed, rents to pay, and aspirations for their offspring.
Their presence makes our lives better. They and the government are not the problem. Instead of resenting public workers, we should support them and turn our attention to the real problem causers: greedy corporations and the politicians they control.
Once we recognize who are the real sources of our woes, it will become easier to go after them and win!