Nude, Ohio, 2010
It’s been over a week since I made a posting here. I hadn’t planned to take that long, but I’ve been busy developing my big backlog of film and I’ve also been dealing with computer problems – so much so that I ended up restoring the computer to its original settings.
While the restoration worked in that my webcam is now functioning properly (it wasn’t before), I’ve had to re-install a number of programs such as Photoshop Elements and my photo browser, and just now the drivers for my scanner were reloaded. Unfortunately, some things still need to be done – I can’t find my list of Favorites and the music copied to iTunes was backed up but remains invisible – so hopefully another phone call to tech support in India will solve those problems.
Now, onto what I’ve been wanting to write about for these past few days.
“When the poor hunt the poor across mountain and moor, the rich men can keep them in chains.”
That’s a line from a song by the Scottish folk music group the Battlefield Band. While that song and that line refer to the many years of the history of Scotland, the line sadly remains in effect today – and I am not referring to Scotland.
We have all seen the uprisings for freedom from tyranny occurring in the Middle East and North Africa. I saw on 60 Minutes this weekend how it all began: a fruit vendor on the street in a small town in Tunisia had his expensive scale confiscated by a corrupt government official who wanted a bribe for its return. When the man refused and complained about it, the official slapped him. Enraged by this, he went to the local government office to complain, but they wouldn’t let him in.
The vendor’s next course of action was to return with gasoline, which he poured over himself and set a match to, asking how people could be expected to live under such conditions. Word got out in the town of the man’s story, inciting protests in the street there, which then spread across Tunisia, eventually forcing the country’s dictator to resign.
As we know, those protests spread across the region, forcing Egypt’s president to resign and bringing about violent government crackdowns in places like Bahrain, Iran and, of course, Libya. I hope the protestors succeed in bringing down the despots in the region, but I also hope that the people in those countries won’t simply replace secular dictators with religious ones, as happened in Iran. Only time will tell.
Still, that’s not what I want to write about. What I’m thinking of is another type of protest against a form of government tyranny – those protests going on here in the United States in places like Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, where employees of state and local governments are fighting to retain their rights as workers.
As you probably know, the governor of Wisconsin wants to take away that state’s public employees’ rights to collective bargaining. The members of those labor unions have said that they’re willing to talk about making concessions to balance the state’s budget, but that’s not enough. The governor is intent on busting the union. Who’s the tyrant now?
In the interests of honesty, I will admit that I work for the local government here in New York City and belong to a labor union. It’s not the strongest union in the country, but I’ve got a friend at work who calls himself a social conservative and a Republican, and who grew up listening to his father say that unions are bad, but even he admits that without the union, our employer would try to screw us for all it can and that the union is necessary.
Contrast that with the Republicans at their last presidential convention, who applauded everything that Sarah Palin had to say in her speech, except when she said that her husband is a proud member of the United Steel Workers. (I think that was the union he belongs to.) Contrast that with the Republican legislators who are making public employees out to be public enemy number one – all because they want a decent wage (which is typically below what private sector workers earn) and a decent retirement.
As one person wrote on the New York Times website in response to a story about pension reform, the question should not be why public employees are getting decent pensions, but why isn’t everybody else? Instead of raising themselves up, some people seem more intent on tearing others down.
Of course, while politicians are trying to convince the middle class general public that middle class public employees are the cause of all of our economic ills, millionaires are getting tax breaks given to them by those same politicians who claim they have no money in the budget. When it comes to common sacrifice, who is really doing the sacrificing?
I’ve got another friend who’s a conservative. He tells me that we have to give tax breaks to rich people so they can invest that money (even though a study by Moody’s showed that they typically stash it away, which is not what our economy needs now, or can invest it in places like China), but that it’s okay to lay off middle income government workers for budgetary reasons. “In other words,” I said to him, “you think it’s wrong to deprive rich people of some of their income to balance the budget, but that it’s perfectly fine to deprive middle class people of their income to do the same?” He could not answer that.
To be honest, this wave of anger at public employees reminds me of another form of hatred: anti- Semitism. For two thousand years, mostly in Christian Europe, Jews were singled out as the cause of the world’s problems when things got tough. Jews were successful merchants, and as the Church prohibited Christians from lending money, Jews were the money lenders. Who better to blame?
In other words, when times are tough, find a relatively defenseless minority group that has something going for it better than you’ve got for yourself and blame all the ills of society on them. In the present case, public employees like myself have accepted the financial limitations of working for the government in exchange for a secure retirement. (I actually got an MBA several years ago to try to get a better job, recognizing the limitations of where I was, but was never able to do so.) When times are good, we don’t benefit the way the private sector people can (especially those on Wall Street), but when times are tough, people want us to suffer like everybody else. Is that fair? Is that American?
To those who may say that the people of Wisconsin – the same state that also elected a U.S. senator named Joe McCarthy – voted in this governor and this legislature and that those people support them, may I also remind readers that the people of Germany elected a man named Adolf Hitler and supported him in his quest for mass murder. While I certainly am not comparing union busting to genocide, I do want to point out that just because a majority wants something doesn’t make it right. In a true democratic society, the majority may rule, but the rights of the minorities must be protected, too – and depriving workers of their rights to collective bargaining is violating their moral rights. (Remember what my Republican friend said about our employer being able to screw us royally without our union representation. Do you think it’ll be any different in Wisconsin?)
I’ll end by saying that my grandfather used to work for the Department of Sanitation here in New York. I’m told that he used to clean up after the horses that used to walk in the streets in the old days. My father told me that my grandfather said this: “when you work for the government, you’ll never be rich, but you’ll always have a piece of bread on the table.” Now there are people who want to take some of that bread away, while the people living on Park Avenue dine on their filet mignon at the taxpayers’ expense.
At the top is a photo of Revielle in Ohio. Like the union people there, she is on the rocks.
I’ll get back to writing about photography next time, with a story about the photo shoot I did this past weekend.