B S Raghavan

Shades of Egypt in the US

B.S. Raghavan | Updated on March 04, 2011

The Republican Party of the US, which has historically been for minimal Government, has for long been voicing its objection to the astronomical rise in the expenditure on ‘bloated bureaucracy'.

By virtue of their number and their collective bargaining power, public employees manage, in the people's eyes, to fatten themselves on pay increases disproportionate to their output. Besides, they are also entitled to a number of direct and indirect benefits such as health insurance, pension, severance payments, and so on. Also, rankling in the minds of Republican legislators is the fact that in 14 states, taxpayers pick up 100 per cent of the premium for retirees, who often collect benefits for a decade or more before going on Medicare.

In the rest of the States too, the percentage of the amounts lavished on employees is not inconsiderable. This is seen to be grossly unfair to taxpayers, for whom free health care is usually a pipe dream.

The net result is that most States are drained of resources, leading to a virtual ban on any worthwhile investments on developmental schemes. In short, the public employees had become objects of revulsion as grab-as-grab-can vested interests.

As one Republican Governor said, “….there can no longer be two classes of citizens: one that receives the rich health and pension benefits, and the rest who are left to pay for them”.

The Washington Post put it in a nutshell: “… no group of employees has a presumptive right to across-the-board pay hikes year after year, regardless of individual performance or the employer's ability to pay…”

The Republican Governors have introduced legislation to restore the financial health of the States by putting a check on the insatiable demands of the public employees, and to curb their right to form unions and extract their pound of flesh by collective bargaining. Some Republican-ruled States are even proposing to extend the restriction to private sector employees as well.

No wonder, the entire unionised workforce in the US public sector has risen in revolt. From February 16, protesters in their tens of thousands are laying siege day after day to the government offices and Capitol buildings in one State after another in the US, reminiscent of the turmoil witnessed on the streets of Tunis and Cairo in the past month.

Firestorms

The unrest started in Wisconsin, where, as The New York Times graphically described the scene, “…. protesters, scores deep, crushed into a corridor leading to the governor's office…., their screams echoing through the Capitol: ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!' ”, while the Governor was plotting his next moves inside his office chamber.

The unrest is now sweeping across the States of Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey which, as in the case of Wisconsin, are under the control of Governors belonging to the Republican Party. All the major national unions have rallied to the support of the protesters, but they are being checkmated by equally determined counter-rallies on behalf of the people.

So far, the 20 Democratic Governors have kept out of trouble and been content to watch from the sidelines the predicament of their Republican counterparts. Many of the Democratic Senators and Congressmen are reported to have fled the affected States, unnerved by the employees' wrath and not wanting to be seen as part of whatever the Governors are doing.

However, the Governors of two Democratic Party ruled States of California and New York seem to be bracing themselves to grasp the same nettle as the one that had sparked off political firestorms in four States so far.

Since the ‘uprising' is against a Republican Party plank, on which all its Governors are united, and that Party is in power in 29 States, it should not be surprising if the news from the US for some time to come is reminiscent of the Egyptian upheaval, unless, of course, normalcy is restored soon by arriving at some viable settlement.

Published on February 25, 2011

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