Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
Last week I reported on AB 353, a bill that would change the composition of the sixteen technical college district boards to exclude workers and mandate a majority of business people. During the public hearing, several members of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities pointed out the irony of Republican complaints about the “product” of the Tech College system at a time when they voted to cut $71 million from there budgets.
If Republicans value tech colleges as key players in workforce development, why are they cutting their budgets so drastically? It appears to be all part of the grand scheme to “Starve the Beast” and make public institutions vulnerable to takeover by private entities. Starving tech colleges of state funds shifts the burden to property tax payers and students through increased tuition and fees.
Tech college district boards are then forced to make the decision to raise the money required to run the colleges through tax and tuition increases, by cutting programs, salaries and benefits of workers, or by seeking out “partnerships” with the private sector in order to keep their institutions afloat. Reducing state aid and stacking boards with business owners assures that the public has a diminished voice in how these choices are made, and gives private corporations an inordinate amount of power over staffing and programming.
Blogging Blue ran a brilliant report on a recent Americans for Prosperity rally in Waukesha, ground zero for the rightwing in Wisconsin. Phil Scarr and Lisa Mux braved the irony of “Come Together,” a John Lennon song, being played over the sound system and the dangers of close embraces with Mark Block, GOP operative and former campaign manager for Herman Cain, to attend and report out on the event. One thing they point out is the dramatic decrease in the amount of money private companies have spent for worker training since 2005.
Now these companies are clamoring that the workforce is not prepared for employment. Rep. Mark Honadel and Katy Venskus, lobbyist for Metropolitain Milwaukee Association of Commerce, both raise the specter of an insufficient number of trained welders – a complaint they both attributed to Tim Sullivan, former CEO of mining equipment manufacturer Bucyrus (now owned by Caterpillar). When Rep Louis Molepske asked for specific data on this alleged lack of welders, both demurred.
It turns out that Sullivan’s complaint dates back to 2006 when he launched a successful campaign to get a certificate program in flux core welding started at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. But Bucyrus wanted more. They pushed the board to expand the program by leasing space from Esperanza Unida, an agency that provides job training and placement for workers in the Hispanic community, and to purchase more training equipment. The MATC board voted that proposal down. After the vote, Sullivan revealed that Bucyrus didn’t need as many welders as they originally thought, and stated that the new in-house program was sufficient to meet their needs.
Fast forward five years when Caterpillar seals the $8.6 billion deal to purchase Bucyrus and moves its mining equipment division to Milwaukee, with one of its factories in the heart of Rep. Mark Honadel’s district. In North Carolina, Caterpillar was the recipient of millions of dollars in state aid for training and custom curriculum for workers in its Winston-Salem factory. If they could convince North Carolina lawmakers that the jobs they planned to create were worth this kind of taxpayer subsidy, what about in Wisconsin under Scott Walker?
Enter Mark Honadel who recently introduced AB 450, a bill that the Oshkosh Northwestern called, “a pilot program to provide unpaid, part-time training with employers that may lead to full-time work.” They left out the part about how it will be paid for: by an extension of the workers’ unemployment compensation benefits.
The bill establishes a kind of corporate serfdom. That is, the state pays for a worker's probation period at a private corporation with a paltry amount of unemployment insurance. The corporation receives the value of the workers’ labor, and gets a chance to vet them before deciding if they actually want to offer the worker a job. Since the worker is not actually employed by the company, they have no rights with regards to injury, working conditions or grievance processes.
In addition to promoting labor expropriation, AB 450 is yet another direct corporate handout paid for by Wisconsinites who earn enough to owe income taxes, but no so much that they can spirit their income and investments away into offshore tax havens.
Initiatives surrounding technical college boards and subsidies for corporate training programs are all part of Scott Walker’s plans to create 250,000 jobs in four years: a more and more formidable goal in an economic climate where Wisconsin leads the nation in job loss. More of his plans are described in this just-released working report.
According to this 10-page color brochure that features many photographs of Scott Walker wearing safety glasses in a variety of shop floor locations, a key component to this strategy will be establishing a “College and Workforce Readiness Council” that will involve:
“Designing shorter, less costly degree programs aimed at filling high need positions while promoting and supporting technical career pathways for students beginning at a young age, and;
“Encouraging students to pursue trades and professions in high demand or of particular importance to the State of Wisconsin.”
This “aligning” of public education at all levels with the needs of corporations reveals a dark, dystopian vision of people as cogs in a production machine and society as little more than a marketplace.
But as outrageous as the legislative and economic agenda promoted by the Walker regime is, the will and passion of the people of Wisconsin are rising to resist and forge a different path toward a more civil, compassionate society.
The petitions to recall Scott Walker as governor will be submitted to the Government Accountability Board tomorrow. Those signatures and the massive grassroots efforts that went into collecting them paint a very different picture about the value of people and the communities they create. It is one of dignity, creativity, humor, tenacity and above all, solidarity across superficial divisions of geography, age, religion, ethnicity, gender and ideology.
Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and as the President of the Dane County TimeBank.