Phil Orchard

Britain’s public sector unions are set to unleash a wave of strikes starting on June 30 in response to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s attack on workers’ pensions. Unions have called a national day of action for June 30. Nearly 1 million public sector workers will strike for 24 hours.
The United States media remain enthralled by Congress’s partisan battles over the national debt ceiling, while the assault on public sector workers across the US intensifies. On June 14, Wisconsin’s state supreme court overturned an earlier legal challenge to the state’s anti-union “budget-repair” bill. The bill will ban collective bargaining for most of the state’s public sector workers. The bill sparked sustained mass protests in Wisconsin in February and March, including the occupation of the Capitol building in Madison.

A subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney on June 3 has added to a growing list of official probes into investment bank and securities firm Goldman Sachs. Reuters said on June 3: “Goldman Sachs Group Inc now faces probes by several government authorities into derivatives trades it executed in late 2006 and 2007. “On Thursday, sources close to the matter said Goldman received a subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney, who joins the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission in examining Goldman's actions.”

The response of the British Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government to the economic crisis, which has been to implement billions of pounds worth of public spending cuts, is intensifying the effects of the crisis on the British people. Austerity measures are worsening mass unemployment. Chief British and European economist at forecasting company IHS Global Insight Howard Archer has predicted unemployment will reach 2.67 million people by the end of 2011.
The United States' gross domestic product (GDP) has returned to its pre-financial crisis levels of about US$14.3 trillion. However, this figure obscures a grim social reality. Fareed Zakaria reported in a May 19 article that while the economy is “producing the same amount of goods and services as in 2007”, it is doing so “with 7 million fewer workers”. Zakaria said: “Usually, productivity gains translate into higher economic output, higher incomes and thus rising employment. That was the experience in the 1990s.
A federal budget containing the largest single-year spending cuts in US history was grudgingly passed by Congress on April 14. The cuts, amounting to US$38.5 billion, will be implemented until the end of the financial year on September 30, 2011. President Barack Obama hailed the budget agreement as a victory. He said: “This is an agreement to invest in our country’s future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history.”
Wall Street has continued erecting monuments to its own greed. The British Guardian reported on April 12 that Goldman Sachs’ paid its top five directors almost US$70 million in 2010. The latest United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report, released on 27 July 2010, said civilian workers’ median hourly wage was $16.55. Private industry workers received $15.70 and state and local government workers received $22.04. The top Goldman Sachs directors, on the other hand, earned an average $38,356 each day for 2010.
The bad news for Ohio’s 350,000 public workers is that a new law bans them from striking — the good news is at least they will no longer risk jail for doing so. A March 30 Reuters article said: “Ohio’s legislature on Wednesday passed a Republican measure to curb the collective bargaining rights of about 350,000 state employees, and Governor John Kasich said he will sign it into law.” The new law will ban unions from striking in support of public workers and limit workers’ ability to collectively bargain.
Ireland’s new Fine Gael (FG)-Labour Party (LP) coalition government has set out an agenda of continuing the savage austerity and spending cuts of the Fianna Fail (FF)-Greens coalition ii has replaced. The cuts are enforced by the International Monetary Fund-European Union bailout of the Irish government. In the February 26 elections, FF and the Greens were thrashed in a backlash against the bail-out and the anti-worker austerity that goes with it. The Greens failed to win a seat in the Dail (Irish parliament) and FF slumped from 77 seats to 20.
Union supporters have taken their message of worker solidarity and resistance from Wisconsin, all the way to the White House. said more than 1000 trade union activists and students gathered in Washington D.C. on March 23. The protests targeted a Republican Party fundraising event organised by several of Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers. The fundraiser was held at the offices of major lobbying firm BGR Group. Mississippi’s Republican governor Haley Barbour founded BGR Group, whose clients include energy, pharmaceutical and defence companies.
Thousands of people packed into Sydney’s Town Hall on March 16 to hear journalist John Pilger, independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Julian Burnside QC speak out in support of WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Assange fears he may be extradited to the US and face Guantanamo Bay-style incarceration for publishing leaked US embassy cables. Sydney Peace Foundation chairperson Mary Kostakidis presented the forum. She asked the audience to send a message to politicians in Canberra saying, “Hillary Clinton says WikiLeaks is a danger to the world … what do all of you think?”

Legal action was launched on March 16 against Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers in an attempt to repeal the anti-union bill that was signed into law on March 11. The law bans collective bargaining for most public sector workers in Wisconsin. Associated Press reported on March 16 that a legal challenge was mounted by Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne. AP said: “Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly had alleged that Republican leaders did not give enough public notice that a committee planned to meet to amend the bill.”