Monday, October 04, 2010

A tale of two protests

I'm not interested in comparing the Glenn Beck rally and the One Nation rally that labor unions organized this past weekend. People can argue over how many showed up for each and how clean each left the National Mall when they left. To me, there isn't much comparison between a rally where individuals came because they like the message of a radio and TV host and one where unions organized their workers and hired the buses for them to come to Washington.
Looking around the rally, there were Teamsters Local 311, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, Communications Workers of America Local 2336, American Federation of Teachers Local 1, United Auto Workers Amalgamated Local 171, Transport Workers Union Local 100, and representatives of many, many other unions. That's a lot of diversity.

Karnell Dorris and Rose Anderson work in a nursing home in Detroit. They're members of Local 79 of the Service Employees International Union, which chartered buses to bring them and hundreds of others to the rally. They left Detroit at about 8:00 pm Friday for the 13-hour drive to Washington. After spending all day at the rally, they were scheduled for a union dinner, after which they would overnight at a hotel, also paid for by Local 79. For Dorris, the main reasons for coming to the rally were "jobs, justice and education." For Anderson, it was health care, along with a desire to "stop taking from us, trying to make the rich richer."
There was a time when Nancy Pelosi was making fun of the tea parties as as Astroturf. Well, who had the Astroturf this weekend?

No, the comparison that worries me is between the One Nation rally of union workers and the ones that have been roiling France for the past few days. In France, workers are taking to the streets to protest the proposal that the Sarkozy government has put out to raise the official retirement age from 60 to 62. And they're dang mad about it.
More than 200 protests were planned throughout the country.

It is the third day of demonstrations against the proposed reforms, which go before parliament on Tuesday, in the last month.

The government wants the retirement age to rise from 60 to 62.

President Sarkozy says this is essential if the French pension system is to be viable in the long term.

His opponents say society's poorest people will be hit hardest by the changes.

Trade unions in France are proclaiming a success their day of mobilisation against planned reforms of the pension system, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.
Yup, unemployment is high in France, though not as high as it is here. But these workers are complaining that they should be able to maintain getting over 20 years of paid benefits in retirement and that any effort to cut down on those taxpayer-funded retirement benefits is unacceptable.
French workers can expect to spend more of their life in retirement than those in any other country, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Under current rules, both men and women in France can retire at 60, provided they have paid social security contributions for 40.5 years - although they are not entitled to a full pension until they are 65.

The government says it will save 70bn euros (£58bn) by raising the retirement age to 62 by 2018, the qualification to 41.5 years, and the pension age to 67.

Unions and opposition politicians say the plan puts an unfair burden on workers, particularly women, part-timers and the former unemployed who may struggle to hit the 41.5 year requirement.

They have made counter-proposals, including calls for taxes on certain bonuses and on the highest incomes to help fund the pension system.
Now there's the typical solution - tax the rich so they don't have to work as long. People are living longer and in better health but that is no reason why people should have to work any longer in order to get their nice retirement benefits. And when the pool of younger voters is shrinking, there just aren't enough rich folks to pay the taxes to pay for those generous pensions. The workers in the French streets are protesting against reality. They don't like it.

Now what are the people at the union rally at the National Mall rallying for? They want a bigger government are angry that tea partiers are trying to slow down the growth of the federal government, especially as we've seen in the past few years. But the big message from their rally, in addition to bashing conservatives, was that they want more government help for those who are needy.
The crowd Saturday, which stretched down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial then petered out down the sides of the reflecting pool, heard repeatedly that voters must band together to keep the country from going back to conservative policies. Speakers also called for a more robust jobs program funded by the federal government and the passage of big legislative programs, such as overhauling immigration laws and providing more money for education.
They don't seem to have gotten the message that there just isn't the money for those big federal programs that they want. Give them a few years in charge and we'll be facing more of the questions that France is facing now - how can we roll back generous benefits that people have gotten used to even when it's clear that those benefits are unsustainable. Heck, we're there already. Local governments are going broke trying to pay for benefits paid out to their unionized public employees. Any attempt to slow down that landslide to bankruptcy will be met with similar protests. Any attempt to bring some sanity to the health care benefits that we're now on the hook for will bring the elderly and sick to the streets. And the unemployment rate will stay high. But hey, they have theirs now and they won't give up their benefits no matter what the impact it's having on the rest of the community or on our next generation.