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  Public Employee Press

PEP May 2006
Table of Contents
  La Voz

Public Employee Press

The World of Work

Right-wing assault on the cities

Since occupying Washington, D.C., right-wing forces have been bombarding the nation’s cities with an arsenal of reactionary public policy blueprints.

The same interests that helped engineer the takeover of the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House and both houses of Congress are now promoting privatization and charter schools and pressing to cut public services and close public hospitals nationwide.

Public employees, their benefits and their unions are among the chief targets of this coordinated attack.

“Washington think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute are well-known,” said Lee Cokorinos, a political analyst who monitors the right-wing agenda. “But the right has also built up think tanks in the cities.”

In New York City, the conservative Manhattan Institute provided the Guiliani administration with blueprints for social policy. It helped the administration introduce restrictions that led to the dropping of hundreds of thousands of needy people from the welfare rolls.

Public employees: inviting targets

A fixture on the right since the 1930s, the Citizens Budget Commission beat the drum again last month for cuts in public employee benefits. Decades of deregulation and globalization have shriveled wages in the private sector, making the public sector a more inviting target for right-wing ideologues.

“Most government workers are paid more than their private sector counterparts, so more generous retirement benefits are no longer justified,” the CBC report, “Old Assumptions, New Realities,” declared on its cover. The report calls for the city to

  • Replace the guaranteed retirement income of traditional pensions with a 401(k)-type plan in which workers assume the risk of their own investments.

  • Make retirees pay half their health insurance premium.

  • Stop reimbursing retirees’ Medicare Part B contributions ($904 per person in 2004).

In his January budget address, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that he would press city unions for pension changes and health-care premium contributions.

Cokorinos documents what he calls the “right wing assault on urban democracy and smart government” in a study he prepared for the Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego, Calif.

Beginning in the early 1970s, the nascent conservative movement initiated a bold campaign to attack progressive reforms. With financial support from major corporations, it has built a coordinated network of think tanks, media outlets, legal groups, consultant and lobbyist networks and integrated political operations, according to the Cokorinos report.

“If the radical right wants to preserve its gains and entrench its power, it must now strike hard at the social and economic base of the resurgent progressive movement in the cities,” the report states.
The principal right-wing forces leading the assault on the cities include:

  • The American Legislative Exchange Council: ALEC is a nationwide network of conservative state legislators. Its summer conferences draw thousands of politicians, lobbyists and business executives to map campaigns to implement conservative social policy through state legislation.

  • The State Policy Network: SPN brings together about 50 state think tanks. In addition to holding workshops, it provides members with media packages that promote conservative causes like privatization.

  • Americans for Tax Reform: For 20 years, ATR has sponsored the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” in which political candidates promise to oppose business and individual tax increases. In New York, one state senator and 10 Assembly members have signed the pledge. ATR works with state taxpayer coalitions in every state to promote tax rollbacks and freezes.

Labor needs a new message
Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of the AFL-CIO-supported group American Rights at Work, said that at the state and local level, unions are a principal target of right-wing groups.

Maxwell and Cokorinos appeared March 16 on a panel at DC 37 sponsored by New York Public Library Guild Local 1930 and the Metro New York Labor Communications Council.

“Until we get back to our basic message of economic justice, we are going to lose,” said state Sen. Diane Savino, a former SSEU Local 371 vice president, at the forum.

Panelists said a resurgence of the labor movement — including union funding for progressive think tanks — would be a crucial part of an effective fight-back against the conservative forces, who won’t be satisfied until they have killed off the progressive social legislation of the 20th century.



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