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Stop the Lies

Near the end of the now-classic film Chinatown, set in Los Angeles during the 1930s, working-stiff private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) confronts the greedy land developer Noah Cross (John Huston) about his sinister, murderous behavior:

Gittes: I just wanna know what you’re worth. More than 10 million?
Cross: Oh my, yes!
Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?
Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

That scene’s been on my mind as I have listened to the repugnant rhetoric that’s recently spewed out of the mouths of some of our newly elected public officials and other right-wing representatives of the super-rich.

During his campaign, incoming Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said, “We cannot and should not maintain a system where public employees are the haves and the taxpayers footing the bill are the have-nots.” Now he’s talking about rescinding the right of government employees to bargain collectively.

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently told Fox News that public service workers — not the Wall Street CEOs who crashed the economy (and got rich doing it) — are the privileged class.

And, in a throwback to the dark days of McCarthyism, former ‘Morning Zoo’ shock jock Glenn Beck has the gall to say that AFSCME is synonymous with “commies.”

These statements are false and absurd. By blaming public service workers and working families, the right wing tries to divert attention from the simple fact that reckless, unregulated behavior of multi-millionaires on Wall Street caused unprecedented state budget shortfalls, the loss of 15 million American jobs and the collapse of our economy.

We’re not going to let them get away with it. At this pivotal moment in the economic history of our country – indeed, the world – we cannot stand by and let corporate CEOs and their flunkies define the debate and shape the future. . . .

Working families didn’t create class warfare. The facts speak for themselves: While median incomes in the U.S. have stagnated since the mid-1970s, incomes for those in the top 5 percent have more than doubled. In the past 10 years, with record-breaking tax cuts for the wealthy — incomes for the top 1 percent have tripled. Economic bubble after economic bubble benefited a small elite while private sector workers watched their retirement security and health care benefits dissipate.

Now, after capping private sector workers and their unions in the knees, the rich and the right have set their sights on public services and the men and women who provide them.

That’s why AFSCME has created a campaign we’re calling “Stop the Lies.” You can join us by watching our new video and adding your name to our Stop the Lies open letter.

We aim to remind the country that attacking public services and public service workers will not fix our broken economy, create jobs or solve the growing income disparity in America.

Recently, the former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote a column saying public employee pensions had “metastasized into grotesque shadows of their initial good intention.” He blamed workers’ pensions for all kinds of things and pushed private savings plans as the future of retirement. That just doesn’t make sense. So AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee A. Saunders set the record straight by demonstrating that pensions make sense while privatized retirement accounts put retirees at risk. He also made it clear that AFSCME would aggressively go after those who are “eager to do the bidding of the Wall Street firms that profit at the expense of workers.”

The campaign calls out right-wing mistruths on issues such as Social Security, the deficit and tax cuts for the very wealthy. We will use every communications tool at our disposal to dispel the myths and reveal the hypocrisy.

It won’t be easy – even as we begin, Beck falsely claims AFSCME is part of a conspiracy to silence right-wing media. But we are good at standing up and fighting. And what’s at stake for working families is nothing less than the future.

Watch our new video and add your name to our Stop the Lies open letter.

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Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.