Oct 8, 2001
On October 1, the two big unions representing nearly 28,000 state employees in Minnesota, AFSCME (the Association of Federal State, County and Municipal Employees) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, went on strike in one of the largest strikes of state employees in this country in many years. They were immediately condemned by business leaders, editorial writers and politicians. Said Governor Jesse Ventura, who had been elected to office as a supposed political independent, “This strike comes at a most unfortunate time. Our citizens are still hurting from the devastating attack on September 11. We are coping with the possibility of a long and difficult war, and we are facing the prospect of an economy that is on the brink of recession.”
Of course, the unions did delay the strike for two weeks, since it had originally been slated to begin almost immediately after September 11. But Ventura and other state officials did not use that extra time to avert a strike by making a decent contract offer to the unions. Instead, the government officials stuck to their earlier demands that employees accept a few tiny wage increases, which would more than be offset by much higher co-pays in health insurance and prescription drug outlays. Under the new terms of the government contract offer, an average employee, making about $30,000 per year, would have to lay out almost $4,000 in out-of- pocket medical costs.
Such demands by state and city governments are nothing new. As Murray Cody, a union official, told the New York Times, “We sacrificed back in 1993, when we took a zero% raise. We were told back then to sacrifice to help the state out, and they promised that when times got better, they’d take care of us. But they never came through on that.”
The same government officials who never did come through when the state ran big surpluses, are now whipping up patriotism as an excuse to continue attacking workers’ living standards.
The demands for takeaways will not end until more people do what the workers in Minnesota are doing right now: showing that they are ready to fight.