Note: This piece was previously published in OpEdNews, in February of 2011, during the mass protests in Madison, Wisconsin.

By: Jeanine Molloff

“The pension mess in America wasn’t caused by workers having gold plated pensions–it was caused by Wall Street taking the gold out of our pensions!”

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This declaration made by Leo W. Gerard, United Steel Workers International President, ended a damning attack on the corporatist strategic dismantling of our rights as workers–and as Americans.  Speaking before a crowd literally bursting at the seams in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Gerard gave a blistering indictment against the corporate policies of the past 30 years.

Tracing the actions of the corporatists–Gerard reminded the crowd about past fiscal crimes, including the savings and loan debacle courtesy of the Bush clan, to the fraud perpetrated by Enron, the ‘tech bubble’ fiasco where …”it was easier to borrow money for any hair-brained idea than it was to expand a steel mill”–to the massive  Wall Street fraud via derivatives in 2008 which brought our nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

Gerard’s outrage is well placed, and so is his worry about public employee pensions.  Public employee pensions are currently protected by  law in a way that private pensions never were.  In short, a public employer cannot ‘raid’ the pension unless they want to face criminal penalties.  Now, there are several GOP strategists including Newt Gingrich, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, several other Tea Party Governors,  and Jeb Bush who are advocating changing the law so individual states can declare bankruptcy–and subsequently–raid the pension funds in the same manner that Enron used.  Gerard is well aware of these unethical attacks.  Both Gingrich and Jeb Bush claimed in a 01/27/11article in Politico that..

.”The lucrative pay and benefits packages that government employee unions have received from obliging politicians over the years are perhaps the most significant hurdles for many states trying to restore fiscal health.”
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None of these workers, police officers, firefighters, teachers, public works personnel along with steelworkers, Teamsters, members of SEIU, and various civil rights groups were willing to accept blame for the present fiscal crisis.  Gerard flatly stated that the fiscal crisis was engineered by outsourcing our manufacturing sector, followed by further outsourcing of any remaining jobs, which combined with tax abatement for corporate entities resulted in the present financial time bomb.   In short, these workers refused to be scapegoated for the crimes of Wall Street.

Gerard couldn’t have been more timely, as Pittsburgh had been the site of the G20 talks in 2010, hosting Kings, corporate heads, Presidents, and a militarized police which transformed the city into an urban jail for anyone not in the same tax bracket as Bill Gates or David & Charles Koch.  (Source: )   Gerard, like so many other working people were not interested in pretty speeches by President Obama as he conveniently pretended not to see the nation-wide civil disobedience, where the people demanded civil rights as workers.  It was a Dr. King moment; and the country’s first African-American President–was AWOL.

This was the tip of the political iceberg, as rallies took place all over the country–including–San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston, Carson City, Nevada, Montgomery, Alabama, Helena, Montana, Austin, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, Indianapolis, Indiana, Washington, D.C., New York City, and of course–where it all began–MADISON, WISCONSIN.  Workers from both the private and public sector unions were present, as well as progressives from other arenas such as gay rights and pro-choice groups.  To put it bluntly; the previously accused ‘limousine liberals’ had found their work boots and pick up trucks.  No social divide here–only the faces of America united against a shared villain–corporatist greed and lust for total power–economic and civil.

Ironically, just as these rallies were heavily attended all over the country–the lead corporatist Caesar–namely Koch Industries organized and sponsored counter-rallies, especially in Madison.  The counter-rallies were the work of the Koch funded tea party group–Americans for Prosperity.  In fact, the true goal behind Koch allies such as Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin (Walker received some $43,000. dollars in campaign contributions from a Koch Industries PAC in the 2010 election cycle); was articulated at the recent CPAC conference in D.C.  CPAC’s ‘Panel for Labor Policy’, featuring Americans For Prosperity Executive Director Scott Hagerstrom gave a  talk explaining the strategy specifically designed to destroy unions and ‘bring them to their knees.’

“It’s easy to go out there and fight taxes and increased regulation, you know we send out an action alert on taxes to AFP and we get thousands of people to respond.  You send out one on a more complicated issue and it just doesn’t resonate…We fight these battles on taxes and regulation but REALLY what we would like to see if to take unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”

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In fact, Hagerstrom admitted in his talk that he comes from a ‘union family.’  He very cleverly explains earlier in the talk the soft-sell strategy employed by AFP, ie. Koch Industries.  In Hagerstrom’s own words he describes how …”you say ‘Right to Work’ and the first thing people do is they just shut you down.”  After admitting to extensive work with various tea party groups in Michigan–Hagerstrom adds that …”you really can’t demonize the union workers, as the former speaker said, you really have to go after the leadership.”

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In other words, the strategy to ‘knock unions to their knees,’ is to destroy the leadership by whatever means available.  No mention or concern about fairness or justice is present at CPAC–just cold-blooded strategies designed to legally rape us out of our rights.

Apparently, the protesters in Madison and elsewhere didn’t get CPAC’s memo.  As Governor Scott Walker systematically turned the capital building into a makeshift jail, by closing upper floors to sleeping, restricting what could be brought inside–protesters were holding strong.  Saturday, Walker did not permit any food to be brought inside.  Responses from protesters were defiant.   As late as Monday 02/28/11, these conditions continued and deteriorated further as Capitol Police began welding the windows shut, in a desperate attempt to break the supply chain, as people had been passing food and other supplies through those same windows over the weekend.  (Source :  The situation had so deteriorated that,

…”a cancer patient needing a colostomy bag change–a medical emergency–was denied access to the Capitol building holding the patient’s medication, due to a surprise lockdown that lasted for hours past the scheduled and well publicized 8:00 AM doors-open time Monday morning”  (Source :

Steelworker Roy Vandenburg explained;
“First Governor Walker tried to take away worker’s rights, now he is trying to take away our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT AS AMERICANS to peacefully assemble.  I have a message for Governor Walker, your plan to silence us won’t work.  WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY, AND WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED.”
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Another protester, Reverend Leah Lonsbury of the Memorial United Church of Christ, put it in terms even Walker as a modern-day Pontius Pilate could understand;

“Clearly, this is about far more than a budget.  It’s a moral issue, and the rights at stake here are so basic to our common good and our common humanity, to the very idea of justice, that we are willing to risk arrest to protect them and have our voices be heard.  OUR FAITH CALLS US TO STAND WITH THE VULNERABLE AND SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER.  This is what we are called to do.”

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