It’s 1968 All Over Again, and King’s Fight For Unions Is Still Essential

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Michael Honey is a historian and Haley Professor of Humanities at the University of Washington, Tacoma. He is editor of “All Labor Has Dignity” (Beacon Press, 2011) and author of “Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike: Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign” (W.W. Norton, 2007).

In light of the clash of wills in Wisconsin, we should remember the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of King’s slogans that we rarely hear is this one: “all labor has dignity.”

King spoke these words in Memphis on March 18, 1968, in the midst of a strike of 1,200 black sanitation workers that had lasted over a month. After rousing them to a fever pitch, King called for a general strike by all workers to shut the city down on behalf of the sanitation workers.

What was the demand of these workers? Improved wages and benefits, yes, but their key demand was that the City of Memphis grant collective bargaining rights and the collection of union dues, without which they knew they could not maintain their union.

These are the very two items that Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker wants to take away from public employees. He knows, as did Mayor Henry Loeb in Memphis, that if you can kill union bargaining rights and dues collection, you can kill the union.

Also like Loeb, Walker is a fiscal conservative. As he cuts taxes for business he raises costs for workers and says ending union power will benefit the fiscal health of the state. Walker wants to end the right of public employees to bargain collectively, even though the workers have accepted a tripling of their health-care costs and a wage cut to help offset the state’s fiscal crisis.

In nearby Ohio, Gov. John Kasich wants to take away the right to join a union for 14,000 state-financed child-care and home-care workers, among the most overworked and underpaid of public servants. In other states, Republicans want to adopt “right to work” (for less) laws that would take away the requirement that workers in unionized jobs pay union dues. This would undermine the unions while, in King’s words, providing “no rights and no work.”

Even in Midwest states that have been union strongholds, Republicans now have public-employee unions in their cross-hairs. This is the latest and potentially most deadly phase of government assault on unions. Ever since the Reagan counterrevolution, government policies joined with private sector profiteers have vastly worsened racial-economic inequalities, created a gambling casino on Wall Street and paved the way for the current economic crisis.

Conservatives rationalize their attacks on unions by saying unionized public workers are unfairly privileged. But they only look privileged by comparison to the rest of the working class, which is suffering economic catastrophe and has almost entirely lost the benefits of unionization. Yet class envy is an easy means to divide and rule.

Racism is another part of the Republican arsenal of divide and rule. Thanks to the destruction of manufacturing jobs and unions, black and Latino workers in manual occupations have disproportionately suffered high rates of poverty and incarceration as many of their families disintegrate. The one toe-hold many black and minority workers (and especially women among them) still have in the economy is in unionized public employment. Now, the Republicans want to take that away.

In one stroke, by eliminating both bargaining rights and union dues, Republicans can insure that organized, dues-paying workers and particularly minorities and women will no longer provide a potent base for the Democratic Party. There will be few grassroots organizations left to counter the huge infusion of money into politics by the rich.

Workers in Wisconsin have agreed to make sacrifices to get state government out of its budgetary hole. But it would be a huge mistake for anyone to go beyond that and buy into attacks on public employee unions. Loss of unions will further decimate the spending power of working people, thereby intensifying the economic crisis while further removing the voice of workers from politics. That’s a downward spiral.

Republicans most especially wants to undermine the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Founded in Wisconsin, AFSCME flowered after King died in the fight for union rights in Memphis in 1968. AFSCME became one of the largest unions in the country, with King regarded as an honorary member and practically a founder of the union.

In King’s framework, killing public employees unions today would be immoral as well as foolish. He said the three evils facing humankind are war, racism and economic injustice, and that the purpose of a union is to overcome the latter evil. King said the civil-rights movement from 1954 to 1965 was “phase one,” to be followed by a second phase—the struggle for economic advancement. We are not doing very well in phase two, and unions remain essential to carry it out.

I’ve recently finished a new collection of King’s remarkable speeches, titled “All Labor Has Dignity,” which shows that throughout his life, King stood up for union rights. There is no more important time than the present for us all to follow his lead.

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Peter Kovachev - 3/7/2011

There you are! What took so long, Arnie? What a droll forum of astounding revelations this one turned to be, eh? I get "outed" as an artist, Maarja finally flakes off to reveal her rage and biggotry and you, of all people, reveal yourself as a defender of US and Israeli policies!

Peter Kovachev - 3/7/2011

Hoo-boy; melt-down time at the local library. Didn't like me warning off Andrew? I guess that would convert the trendy "lulz" into the old-school demented cackle. Sorry, but any chap who likes some of my art deserves some of my mercy. Anyway, I see the ever-lurking Arnold is working on getting him back, so have hope...remember that hopey-changey thing?

Truth be known, Maarja, I had you figured only for an egocentric nutter with an internet account and poor social services supervision, not the the creepy, ethnicity-obsessed biggot you've revealed yourself as. Wow, that's some pretty ugly stuff. Pity the poor stars-and-stripes you try to cover your nastiness with. You even got me to cringe in embarrassment for you, and I guess that means you win this round.

Arnold Shcherban - 3/6/2011

Mr. Todd,

Don't get insulted or surprised, Kovachev and Co. calls every Jew who criticizes some Israel's and US policies "self-hated Jew", and everyone else from the same opinion category - anti-semitic.
However, his sense of humor and sharp satiric style cannot be denied.
Once I called him "clown off politics". I think this was one of the best characterizations of his epistolary productions: content-empty, but entertaining.
It's actually a pity, but this HISTORIC and POLITICAL forum is not a place for his type.

Maarja Krusten - 3/3/2011

Once again you demonstrate that you really don't understand the West. I'll spell it out one more time and then we are done. I don't deal in hate and fear the way you do, my country, faith and friends don't warrant tht. And I can't begin to fathom what you are so terribley afraid of, other than the obvious points that come through as metamessages. You're only hurting yourself and conservative men but I don't think you'll ever see that. Not my game, don't care.

Here in the free West, it is OK for people to be different. We don't believe in groupthink. We don't fear different ideas and ideologies. It's not like "Back in the USSR." You don't have to be so afraid of diversity of thought or gender or profession, all those things that make the U.S. so strong. It's not your fault, you don't live here, you may never understand us. None of those things are as big a threat to you as you imply in everything your write here.

It's an "I'm ok, you're ok" vibe here in the U.S. It's fascinating to observe so much fear in everything you write. Being afraid of the U.S. is the one element that defines your writing. If you want to do that, go ahead, but it sure hurts conservatism here in this great country. You don't even understand why I said, stop being such a thug and beating up on Dr. Bornet. Becaue I really did think before I posted under Dr. Bornet's line, do I really want to draw the attention of that Peter guy who struggles with the democracy thing. The one who sounds as if he would make a good commisar in totalitarian country.

Of course you wouldn't understand why I would call Andrew "a good man." I'd be disappointed if you said you did understand, LOL. Your loss, not mine. The marriage proposal line reeks with fear, why you would want to display such a quality in public, when your schtick seems to be bravado, I sure don't know. Don't care, actually.

In any event, we're done here, I can't relate to people who live in fear of democracy and who come across as such haters of Americans. Write what you want on HNN, I won't click on anything with your name. You've established the hate and fear thing and I have no expectation you would add anything to it. If hate of a country you don't live in and fear of its democratic culture is what you want to display, go right ahead, others may get some lulz, I'll take a pass from now on.

And lulz there have been. Because you your hate and angst filled presentations are better arguments for having unions than anything the AFSCME could make. It's funny that you whined I haven't answered Dr. Honey when I put up a response to him well before you came back to throw some more hissy fits. U.S. union members should be giving you a payment in thanks for strengthening their arguments.

Perhaps this is a false flag operation and your are a liberal Democratic operative out to make conservatives look bad. Got it! That must be it. Carry on, I won't intefere with the game, good one.

Peter Kovachev - 3/3/2011

Gosh, Andrew, or "Andrew," that's quite a bombastic "expose" ....on info I've made public here and elsewhere. My advertising dollars at work, I guess.

I don't recall you, but calling someone a "self-hating Jew" does seem like my style and, anyway, I was most likely right. It's that right side/left side brain stuff, as you opine. I think, btw, Maarja is about to offer her hand in marriage to you for all the juicy bits you fed her. Get a pre-nup and a get-away vehicle.

Can't help you with the "mudak" term, old boy, but my site (www.barzel.ca) should be up again soon, so you can continue to enojy that portrait of the 12 year-old girl.

Peter Kovachev - 3/3/2011

No need to apologize to me, Maarja; be flippant, insulting and outrageous if you will, that's always fun ... just spare me the dreary ego-focussed, pseudo-analytical blabber.

My occupation and background are irrelevant, but your digs about me being an authoritarian greenie from a commie country do amuse quite a bit. So, now that you've established without a challenge from me that I'm some sort of a tyrannical Hun, while you are a paragon of American democratic virtues, mom's apple pie and whatever, any chance you'll actually address any of the salient points? Any chance that you even have a clue by now what they are? Or is all of this still all about you?

As for your friend, Dr Bornet, who you say is in his 90s, the first thing I'll say is: Congratulations, a long life to him, and may we all be blessed with such vigour in our old age. As for what he wrote in his reply to me, however, age and status are irrelevant, and I'll gladly continue to take gratuitous digs at his silly scolding. What may be deeply insulting and patronizing to him, though, is your ludicrous plea for me to "spare him," and your melodramatic self-sacrificial offer to "take the fire" for him, as if he were a feeble old nitwit and I a Dzerzhynsky Square commissar with an attitude. "Nyet, nyet, comrade kapitan, take me instead, let grandfather Bornetsky live!" Good heavens, lady, get some sense.

Maarja Krusten - 3/3/2011

Dr. Honey,

I read your essay with interest, as I have studied Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement as a hobby. (My field is federal government history, with a specialization in modern presidential history.) I am a federal employee, not a state or municipal employee. I don’t belong to a union, my particular position precludes that. I have, however, observed union representatives in action at the government agency at which I once worked (the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.)

Your focus on Dr. King and the Memphis sanitation workers is commendable but there are additional points which would strengthen your presentation, if you had a chance to expand on it. Having published articles at HNN, I understand about the space limitaiton. I would have touched on an examination of some of the most contentious issues that surround public sector workers at the state and local levels. Michael Bloomberg addressed some of those issues in an op ed he wrote this week, “Collective Bargaining Can Lower Deficits.”

Mayor Bloomberg noted that “the scale has been increasingly tipping away from taxpayers” on some wage and benefit issues. As a federal employee, I take no position on that. I lack the ability to comment, for a number of reasons. At any rate, those of my federal friends who do belong to unions in executive branch agencies do not bargain on issues of base pay.

What I can comment on is something else Mayor Bloomberg said. He wrote, “Correcting this imbalance is not easy, but in a growing number of states, budget deficits are being used to justify efforts to scale back not only labor costs, but labor rights. The impulse is understandable; public sector unions all too often stand in the way of reform. But unions also play a vital role in protecting against abuses in the workplace, and in my experience they are integral to training, deploying and managing a professional work force.
Organizing around a common interest is a fundamental part of democracy. We should no more try to take away the right of individuals to collectively bargain than we should try to take away the right to a secret ballot.”

I saw first hand at NARA how union representatives played the type of role in handling *non-financial* issues to which Mayor Bloomberg alludes. And I also saw them act as mediators and facilitators. In one instance, a colleague of mine became verbally abusive towards a manager. A union rep, who had more street cred than any of us in the office, was able to calm the man down and to explain what was reasonable in his assertions about the boss and what was not. It was a pretty tense environment in which to work.

Some of my colleagues thought the disgruntled employee might physically harm the boss. Many avoided being in a room with the two men I did the opposite, I tended to hang around, to ensure there always was a third person present. I had talked to the disgruntled employee myself, to listen to his take on things. This was decades ago, early in my federal career. I didn’t think the disgruntled employee would harm the boss, although they never saw eye to eye. But I was not as effective in serving as a sounding board as the union rep, who was fully versed in workplace rights and procedures and had a lot of experience in talking to employees in difficult situations. Far from stirring up trouble, the union rep helped soothe a troubled situation.

I know of other instances at NARA where the union reps spoke up courageously for people whom others were afraid to defend. That impressed me, I learned about moral courage that way. They played a useful role that way, in a way that actually benefited employees, but not in a way that affected taxpayers, except positively in that it helped boost morale and unit cohesion. People such as Mayor Bloomberg seem to understand that.

Although we are right to honor Dr. King, and the desire of the downtrodden working men in Memphis to have their labor treated with dignity, the situation with public sector unions at the state level deserves a more nuanced take than you offered. You may find this article from an expert on education of interest, since teachers’ unions are involved in these issues. I’ve never been a teacher, I never worked in academe but am a research historian for the federal government. But I found the points in the article in the Washington Post’s Outlook section interesting, as you perhaps may, as well:

Maarja Krusten - 3/3/2011

Andrew, old friend, thanks for clarifying that. I really did mix him up with someone else, if I thought he was a lawyer. Wow, what an error on my part, I must have read someone else describe himself that way and mixed it up with him. Very poor form for an historian, I really blew that one, didn't I?

I can't help you with anything Slavic, my people are from one of the many countries once subjugated by the Soviet Union but are not Slavic.

It's interesting how differently people process information. I learned a lot from Myers Briggs Type Indicators, when I was tested in the early 1990s, along with my colleagues. It helps at work to know how people are "wired," you learn to be less frustated by different approaches to communication, at least intellectually, if not always viscerally, ha! Thanks for weighing in. In a quote from one of my favoarite movies, The Lives of Others, which is set in East Germany, you are "a good man." I highly recommend Das Leben Der Anderen (the film's title in the original German). It provides a pretty vivid depiction of life under totalitarian Communism. We Americans truly are blessed never to have endured what so many in Europe once did.

Andrew D. Todd - 3/3/2011


I took the trouble to look Peter Kovachev up on the internet, a couple of months ago, after he had called me a "self-hating Jew." I thought that was sufficient provocation.... As Athos says to Young D'Artagnan: "You can find me without running, Sir. Me, you understand!" and later, at the meeting place, "I'm glad to see you-- even though you aren't running." If he wants to return the compliment, I am entirely at his service. For clarification of search results (only about half of the Google hits refer to me), I should say that I am not the Cambridge medievalist, nor yet again the SUNY neurologist. I am the man of Morgantown, WV, associated with the Rowboats of San Diego website, have posted comments on HNN, on Techdirt.com, on Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor site, on the Washington Monthly site (previously on Calpundit), and a few others; have had letters published in various paper magazines, before the internet, (Dr. Dobbs Journal, Byte, The Atlantic, Harpers, The World & I, The Whole Earth Review, The Futurist, American. Historical Review, Technology and Culture, and a few others).

At any rate, Peter Kovachev admits to being the owner of the "nom de brush" Avi Barzel (Kovachev is Bulgarian for Smith, Avi Barzel translates from Hebrew as something like "father of iron," i.e. Smith, in short, the standard process of adopting a Sabra name).


Zoominfo says that his undergraduate majors were in History and Judaic Studies, at York University and University of Toronto, and I understand that he makes his living as a graphics designer or website designer. Artists seem to think in different dimensions than we do. It's this left-brain-right-brain stuff. I don't know whether he is old enough to have been liable to conscription under the Warsaw pact, or at what age he arrived in Canada. His art website seems to be down for the time being-- which I trust he will correct. But I looked at it a couple of months ago, and I rather liked some of his pictures, especially the "Bat Mitzvah" painting.

Incidentally, on Techdirt, there's a Russian American character using the pseudonym of Angry Dude, who disagrees with me about software patents. He keeps calling me a "mudak," (*) and telling me to write his latest dogmatic assertion on my forehead. By that standard, our Peter is at least housebroken. Does the business of my forehead have some obscure slavic significance which means something to you or Peter?

(*) Yes, I looked it up.

Maarja Krusten - 3/3/2011

My apologies for the flippant tone in my earlier note. I had just replied to a couple of text messages from a younger friend and was still oriented towards a environment of lulz. You didnt' deserve that type of response, my fault entirely.

I believe I also erred in telling Dr. Bornet you were a lawyer and describing your style as that of a litigator. That was impressionistic on my part and I should not have relied on what evidently was a false memory or second hand account. My memory apparently being wrong, I don't know what field you work in. Not history, perhaps not a data reliant field, but given Dr. Bornet's stated hope that you aren't an historian, that probably is all that matters within the framework of my response.

My response was directed to Dr. Bornet, not to Dr. Honey. He raised the question of tone, which is what I addressed. I may reply to Dr. Honey as I have more time. Indeed, I probably shall, simply because the same feistiness that led my parents to resist Communism motivates me to speak freely in open forums. That you mistake pushback or the offering of counter views for efforts to silence or control you, which is how I interpret your Uncle and Aunt references, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how we roll here in the US of A.

People look at things differently. Very differently. There are no winners or losers, it's not a zero sum game. I have no objection to your representing the right as you do, although I find your tactial choices puzzling. Take your reference to "retired Presidential Librarians." Someone tells you she is not retired and that there is o job such as Presidential Librarian. Instead of asking what the actual facts are, you repeat the error. That raises the question, what other misunderstandings or misperceptions you may repeat, when talking about other issues. Why raise such doubts by unnecessarily repeating demonstrably untrue assertions that you would lose no face at at to correct?

I asked where you grew up, because the way you debate issues reminds me of what my parents resisted when they lived under Soviet occupation. There were good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys were demonized and no argument or pushback was permitted. That simply isn't the way we do things in the free West. While you are of the right, the way you present seems a mirror image of Soviet-speak. Hence my wondering if you once had to go to school under a Soviet system, rejected the ideologogy, but embraced the intimidation and demonization as acceptable tactics.

Finally, Dr. Bornet is a respected academic historian who is in his early 90s. He doesn't deserve the insulting references to him that you worked into your response to me. If you must hurl insults at someone, I'lll take the fire -- as I said, anti-Communism and a love of liberty of the type we embrace in my country, the United States, makes me feisty -- but please spare him. I regret only that I addressed him and thereby drew your fire at him. That was a miscalculation and for that, Dr. Bornet deserves an apology from me. I should have addressed you, not him, and spared him your insults. I see no way to talk to you, however, as I am acculturated very differently than you, it seems.

Peter Kovachev - 3/3/2011

More trashed electrons on the side of the "information super-highway." And, still no argument.

"Party on, dude"? Yeah, ok, party-on!

Maarja Krusten - 3/3/2011

As someone once said on the Washington Post’s website, "Your fixation on President Obama is sad. I am a Republican, and it's negative people like you who make us look like fools." You, sir, are Barack Obama’s Best Friend. And that of the Democrats as well. And it looks as if you are determined to be O’s BFF 4 evah. It is people such as you who will guarantee his re-election by making conservatives look bad. Too funny. Party on, dude. I belong to neither party. If you want to campaign for Obama and for stronger unions and more regulation of men and woman, because, as scripture teaches us, humans are weak, then carry on as you are. I once asked where you grew up because you seem so unaccustomed to democracy. The way you argue makes it sound as if you grew up under one party rule somewhere and think that’s the way to roll. You just don’t understand us freedom loving Americans, at all. There is nothing to fear in democracy. Nor are facts and data your enemies. Go back and look at your response to me on museums—you countered nothing I argued, just whined about my profession and gender, neither of which is a characteristic to fear. Your rejection of facts and data is fascinating (I must have been mistaken in thinking your were a lawyer.) You continue to refer to Presidential Librarians when there are no such things. A lawyer would lose every case he was involved in if he pulled stunts like that. I was certain that I could not draw you into a serious adult convo; thanks for proving me right. You are the biggest foe of conservatism I’ve seen here on HNN; too bad, because it really isn’t as awful as reading your posts suggests.

Signing off, 2 tuff 2 use my Smartphone

Peter Kovachev - 3/3/2011

I guess you're done with expending electrons on fixings which few will miss, much less appreciate, Maarja, so perhaps I can throw in my two-pence?

First, a tangential observation. The contentious, adversarial approach, together with a few hyperbolae and mild ad hominems thrown in, provokes a much more revealing and enternaining discussion than other alternatives. People react to it according to character; strong, confident and knowledgeable types are rarely thrown by it, whereas those lacking such qualities get bogged down in a sorry mess of their own making. The latter type loses focus, gets overly defensive, bristles with pomposity, becomes obsessively formal and detailed, bitter, vindictive and hilariously irrational. The impact of this phenomenon on historiography and history-themed debates has been woefully under-appreciated. Methinks so, at least. The phenomenon needs to be studied (with proper funding, of course), preferably by someone who has nothing better to do...or by someone looking for a Master’s thesis.

Anyhow, with Uncle Vaughn’s classically passive-aggressive snubbing by addressing me as “The Writer of this Intemperate Reply,” his paradigm-shattering observation that English does what every language on the planet does, and Auntie Maarja’s peevish tick over urinating cats, there is plenty of hilarity to be enjoyed by all. In terms of substance, though, the cupboard is rather bare. No attempt to refute my charge that Mr Honey’s essay is crude, emotional and biased, and that it rudely slanders a state governor and his government, a national party and a majority of the US electorate. And, no evidence that I’m personally against unions and workers' rights either in practice or in principle. Instead, Uncle and Auntie circle the proverbial wagons in defense of irrelevancies such as age, stature, status, style and of course, privilege. We get scolding, polyanish advice, soporific prose, and psychologically revealing but otherwise pointless personal anecdotes. Yes, we know that the times have changed. Duh! But, we can all now enjoy how some of the changes deliciously mess with the once-privileged and unassailable elites (the old *nomenklatura,* to borrow from Soviet terminology), from the current Commander-in-Chief, the protected special interests, entitlement junkies....all the way through to ensconced or pastured academics, and even retired presidential librarians. I, for one, like these changes.

Maarja Krusten - 3/2/2011

That should be men, not mean, I still didn't get it right. I should have had more coffee before I posted. Well, I'm not a conservative, and my faith and my life eperiences have taught me that it is perfectly ok to admit error, LOL. That there sometimes are typos in my posts may draw some flaming, as may my posting here at all. If so, then so be it. As I said, there's so much to learn in how people apply Barack Obama's observations about how we treat each other. As I've observed here before, we all shall meet our Maker one day.

Maarja Krusten - 3/2/2011

Sorry, spellcheck didn't catch some of my errors. That should be "mean who served George W. Bush." And, of course, "be well, sir." May apologies for not proofreading, Dr. Bornet.

Maarja Krusten - 3/2/2011

Dr. Bornet, it’s always good to see you posting here. You represent an older generation, so I feel confident that I can offer the response to you that I am about to post. Unlike some of my younger friends, you are unlikely to harrumpf, Too Long: Didn’t Read, or TL:DR in social media-speak. I often use a long essay approach similar to that of historian Timothy Burke, whose blog, Easily Distracted, is one of my favorites among those written by academic historians. So I’ll take a few minutes of your reading time to share some of my past interactions with Mr. Kovachev.

I remember your thoughtful HNN front page essay in 2008 about voting, which you composed in the form of a letter to your grandaughter. I also recall with warm gratitude your tribute to Dr. Norman Graebner, an advisor and mentor to me early in my career as a federal historian.

In your essay about voting, you wrote, “Extreme expressions dot the party landscape. They inflamed emotions in yesteryear but now have less power to arouse.” Some of that has changed, of course. People use different approaches to advocacy. Still, as President Obama observed in Tucson in January, “how we treat each other is entirely up to us.” His tribute to the murdered child, Christina Taylor-Green, exemplified America at its best, with its thoughtful references to a good, decent, people. As does the President, I see America as a force for good. Different peoples’ values are modeled in their everyday actions. That includes how they approach advocacy. Tactics that work with some backfire with others. There are many lessons to be learned about people and what they say and write and what they might do, if they had power or could influence those that do.

If I remember correctly, Mr. Kovachev is neither as an American nor an historian. As I understand it, he lives in Canada. I believe he is a lawyer. He argues issues here as a litigator and advocate rather than as a salesman. Whether that is effective or not is up to the individual reader. I’ve previously argued that his approach hurts conservatism, which in my view has some good principles and deserves much better than the angry, grievance based image created by the Limbaughs and the Hannitys. (I once considered myself a Republican in Reagan’s day but have been an Independent, voting sometimes for Democrats, sometimes for Republicans, since 1989.)

My observation about the strength of conservative principles came up after Mr. Kovachev observed of my background as a federal historian-archivist that “I'm not likely to ever manage a museum, but if I ever wind up with a multitude of yowling and urinating stray cats in my flat, I will immediately seek your expertise with regard to their care.”
Bada ba bada bing to some. A content-free and transparent effort at conversational domination to another. To each his or her own.

In a more recent comment after I praised Richard Dreyfuss’s call for more civics education, Mr. Kovachev suggested I wanted to shut down cable tv and talk radio (a common right wing talking point but way off the mark here) and dismissively appeared to suggest that I might join “Cathy Couric” in a classroom, with “comfortably retired presidential librarians to take attendance and to make sure no one snickers at the wrong things.”
It was a revealing exchange, as I am neither retired (I’m in the 38th year of my working career). Nor is there such as thing as a “presidential librarian,” whatever stereotypes of women and taking attendance (as also the reference to curating urinating cats) may conjure up. Rather, it is history-trained federal archivists who do disclosure reviews.

As to talk radio, cable, and Mr. Kovachev’s comments here, I say, the more exposure to the values of those who support conservatism or liberalism (as opposed to the underlying principles) themselves, the better. Why not see what lies beneath? There’s no better way to decide the extent to which workers may or may not need protective measures in the workplace than to see how people deal with each other. If I were facing ethical issues in the workplace, and were a state worker, which I am not, I can see going to a Mitch Daniels to work them out. Mr. Kovchev? Not so much.

I read with the greatest interest opinions by those who have worked as executives in the private and public sector, such as Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/opinion/28mayor.html?_r=1&;emc=eta1
But there is much to be learned from voters, too, even ones outside the United States who join our conversations here on HNN. Seeing verbal abuse and ad hominems on the issue of non-financial collective bargaining may trigger a desire to hold on to protective measures by some liberals, which I am not. I don’t know what the response would be by conservatives, as I don’t view them as monolithic. I distinguish between the David Frums, Peter Wehners, Michael Gersons – mean who once worked with George W. Bush and who often offer useful observations – and the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Becks.

Perhaps there are readers here who would feel comfortable working for a boss who approaches discourse and human interaction as Mr. Kovachev does, without the right to collectively bargain on any issues and with a sense that as in a country with one-party rule, there’s only one side to issues and that people who speak up from other viewpoints must be crushed or beaten down. Of course, if a right-leaning boss is replaced by a left-leaning one, you can’t say, “oh, never mind, give me back my regulatory protections.”

Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons:

“William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

Be well, serve. It's an honor to discuss issues with you here, as always.

vaughn davis bornet - 3/1/2011

I comfort myself by thinking that maybe the writer of this intemporate reply is not a trained historian.

Reading this I thought of the many thousands of pages of trade union material I read, 1949 to 1952, and of the tranquil prose I used to write of unionists, socialists, and communists in our System.

Invective and strong words of insult are not the way to win points in this environment. English is a remarkable language for putdowns and praise alike.

I thought this a good, sound, substantial account of its subject matter, frankly.

Vaughn Davis Bornet Ashland, Oregon

Peter Kovachev - 3/1/2011

...perhaps this essay is a desperate, misleading and insulting jeremiad against the over-burdened citizen tax-serfs of Wisconsin and elsewhere? As in the ones who once politely kept their mouths shut, but now seem to be having their own, far more genuine, "1968 moment," albeit with peaceful counter-rallies and the honest ballot, rather than brass knuckles or behind-the-scenes politicking.

Face the facts, Mr Honey, it's the lucrative, sickly incestuous affair between government and powerful, wealthy and corrupt civil service unions that's at issue for most people today. Not M.L. King's legacy you are pathetically exploiting, the job-for-life bureacrat drones you confuse with "working people," or the small business owners and a fiscally conservative electorate you crudely villify and dismiss as sinister Republicans and "private sector profiteers," who of course must be "racists" to boot.

Big Labour is losing ground for many reasons (least of all the ones you make up), but repugnant union cleptocrats, nutty ideologies and aggressive demands for special entitlements and benefits seem to come up quite often. No amount of patronizing drivel or out-moded pseudo-Marxist gobledeygook will hide the fact that when government functionaries in the form of civil service employees conspire to hold their own membership, elected governments and the voting public with their hams over a barrel, a clear conflict of interest and a serious danger to liberal democratic principles emerge. No, this is no longer the proverbial "working people" and the beatified and unassailable "women and minorities" against a nasty (i.e., Republican) "government" scenario, but quite the opposite; it's an ugly power play of government-protected, predominantly White, white-collar civil service monopolies against ordinary, hard-working, over-taxed and fed-up citizens. Lest you forget, a famous community organizer once did say, "elections have consequences," didn't he? So, eat this one up with grace, Mr Honey, and show at least a modicum of respect for the real people out there.