President Bush, a scion of great wealth who has never had to earn an honest living, has abruptly wiped out the job and retirement security of 850,000 blue- and white-collar federal workers. Always bailed out of losing business ventures by his daddy or a family friend, Bush apparently finds it easy to play games with the livelihoods of ordinary Americans as a way of punishing unions that opposed him at election time.
The move to privatize half of the federal civilian jobs is shortsighted, with negative consequences likely for the economy and democracy, and potentially for national security.
It's politics and not policy as the administration launches yet another partisan strike at its opponents, this time in the form of a presidential edict that takes effect in 30 days, without being debated by Congress.
Government civil service has been a central mechanism for ensuring the growth of a stable middle class, a cornerstone of a stable democracy. And it is this middle class that drives the strong, steady consumerism that economists have cited as the key to why the sputtering economy has not snowballed into something worse. Yet to compensate for sinking the national budget deep into the red by throwing money at the upper class through regressive tax cuts and at defense contractors with boondoggles pushed through in a post-9/11 haze, Bush wants to cut the income and benefits of nearly a million civil servants.
While the jobs affected range from military logistics experts to computer programmers, working-class jobs at the lower end are especially targeted. Entry-level government jobs are frequently the basis of a family's ascension to a life of dignity and opportunity. When we note that high-ranking civilian officials will not see pay cuts but instead hope to see political gains, it becomes clearer how fitting this edict is for an administration run by ex-CEOs.
Workers holding secure jobs that provide a living wage can and will be replaced by low-paid crews without benefits because that is the only way to get the big "savings" Bush is after. But is it really better for the nation if the president's house is painted by men and women hired from a street-corner hiring hall at minimum wage? What if subcontractors use foreign or undocumented labor? And will it be easier for terrorists to infiltrate the government?
This is especially galling, although not surprising, coming from an administration run by veterans of rip-off companies like Enron, the vanguard of an unchecked pandemic of greed that has wiped out so many pension funds and jobs. Now the ax will again fall on the middle class, in the form of elimination of jobs in which wages and working conditions are guaranteed by enlightened social legislation rather than the vagaries of a spot labor market.
This "race-to-the-bottom" budget gimmick is as phony as it is repugnant. Low-paid workers without medical benefits will pay less in taxes, spend less at the mall and clog emergency rooms when their children have strep throat. And without unions to monitor workplace safety and environmental regulations, the economy will suffer as more sick and injured workers become a drain on productivity.
So why would the White House pursue such a policy? Simply put, the Bushies hate unions because they are the steadiest opponents of corporate consolidation, the transfer of jobs overseas and the thievery of greedy accountants and CEOs. In other words, strong unions are still anathema to the corporate gravy train that fattened Bush, Dick Cheney and a historic number of fellow administration honchos.
The mostly stable prosperity of the post-Depression era is not an automatic byproduct of the free market. It must be credited in large part to smart government regulation and the work of strong unions that protect consumers and workers.
For Bush now to launch a full-scale attack on the gains of the labor movement is to subvert the foundations of the American dream.