Global Public Sector Crisis and Clawbacks

International Labor Organizing

FRANCE-PROTESTS/Mumbai It’s one thing to read the headlines about general strikes in France around the push up of retirement age for public service workers, but flipping the channels on BBC World News, which is the benchmark in India and elsewhere, I get the sense all of Europe is marching behind a union of protest as workers try to face down politicians in the global recession. In Great Britain commentators were labeling the strike as pro forma and more for show than strength, but the attack was real and the rage was righteous. In France unions were more clearly pitted against the government itself, and less resigned. In Germany there was push back as well. In the United States the precipitous fall in employment last month by 95,000 was driven by a public sector slashing of over 154000 jobs around the country.

Perhaps there should be more protest around the USA though that would require more solidarity. Union seem to have chosen to curb their voice nationally in favor of trying to impact the midterm elections, though no candidate anywhere to my knowledge is talking about a recovery plan for public employment or a bailout plan for city and state governments. Unions are trying to cut the best deal at the bargaining table in terrible times of

draconian budgets. The huge California State Employees Association (CSEA/SEIU) with over 100,000 members cut a deal on concessions with the long 3+ month stall on approving a budget.

The real changes are likely to be more profound and enduring. I worry that these cutbacks if they continue and deepen will also ravage cities and the low and moderate income community nationally lengthening even further any economic recovery. As the service sector has replaced manufacturing as economic drivers in the jobs sector, the best of the service jobs with decent wage standards, real benefits including insurance and pensions, and job stability have been in the public sector. If these jobs are significantly diminished and in some cases eliminated by deep tax revenue losses created by fewer jobs and less property taxes due to the housing meltdown, many cities will be especially racked in crises. At one level because many cities and districts require or incentivize public employees to live within their limits. The other level will be the damage to minority worker employment stability since the level of job discrimination in the public sector is less. In places like New Orleans, which I call home, the public sector has virtually created the black middle class. The slow recovery after Katrina, a preview to the recession, can be seen in the loss of teacher jobs by the thousand coupled with the loss of city jobs as well.

If you want to look for signs of more disaster, follow the attack and slashbacks on the public sector. If you want to look for signs of any recovery, look for whether or not public jobs begin to rebound.

I have a terrible feeling reading these numbers that we have a long way to go, and it’s a global problem.