Attacks on public workers put women in bulls’-eye

The movement for women’s equality is calling for fightback against Republican budget cuts as well as the GOP’s attack on public employees, which they denounce as a double-barreled “war on women” waged at both the federal and state level.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, features on its website an article headlined, “The Dirty Secret of Public Sector Union Busting,” by Oxford University graduate student Alyssa Battistoni.

“Amid all the rightful outrage over Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to do away with collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in Wisconsin,” she writes, “one important point has been neglected: The demise of public sector unions would be most detrimental to women and African Americans who make up a disproportionate share of the public sector workforce.”

She points out that the Walker law exempts law enforcement, 70 percent male, and firefighters, 95 percent male, while wiping out union rights for school teachers, 80 percent female. African Americans comprise 14.5 percent of public employees but only 10 percent of private sector workers, so Black workers too suffer a sharper blow from the busting of public employee unions.

The National Women’s Law Center charged that in the orgy of budget cutting by state legislatures, 426,000 public service jobs have been eliminated and a whopping 83.8 percent of those pink slips were handed to women including 154,000 public school teachers.

From the start of the so-called economic recovery in July 2009 through February 2011, men have gained 622,000 jobs – a sluggish rate of job growth. But in that same period, women lost 300,000 jobs, an employment gap of 922,000 jobs.

Over the course of the “recovery” the public sector lost 327,000 jobs according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, and 79 percent of those have been jobs held by women workers.

The National Organization for Women urged an outpouring of protests against what they called the  “War on Women,” demanding that the U.S. Senate and President Obama block the Republican budget rammed through the House on a party-line Republican vote. That budget “slashes funding for programs vital to women, families, and low-income people while asking few sacrifices of wealthy individuals and corporations,” NOW charged in a statement.

NOW pointed out that the White House and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill agreed to $4 billion in cuts to stave off a shutdown in the federal government for two weeks. “NOW believes that the House Republican leadership will keep pushing for many more multi-billion-dollar cuts to these vital programs, using the threat of shutting down the government as a way to get Senate approval,” the statement said.

The Republicans’ cuts that especially impact women are the termination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other attacks on programs that protect women’s reproductive rights, NOW charged. Also slashed to the bone are nutrition programs for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and infants. The Women’s Education Equity Act is being “zeroed out” in the GOP budget.

The assault on women is not limited to the U.S. On March 8, International Women’s Day, the 176-million-member International Trade Union Confederation released a report, “Living With Economic Insecurity: Women in Precarious Work.”

The report shows that transnational capitalism is forcing women to bear the brunt of the worldwide economic crisis in which unemployment has soared to a combined total 205 million. The soaring joblessness is “leaving more and more women without employment and income security and further driving their wages down,” the ITUC report says.

It adds, “A major concern at the moment relates to retrenchment measures taken in the public sector where women make up the majority of workers. In several countries, austerity measures to reduce public deficits are implemented without any assessment of their gender impact. Women are not only the majority of workers in the public sector, they are also the major beneficiaries of public services and programs.”

In the UK, for example, the “gender gap” in wages is “twice as high in the private sector as in the public sector.” Thus the loss of public jobs will sharply aggravate the male-female wage differential, the report charges. (Here in the U.S. women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men).

This led the British Fawcett Society to challenge the legality of the UK government Emergency Budget. “Of the 8.0 billion pounds worth of cuts made through changes in the tax and welfare in the budget, it is estimated that 70 percent is to come out of women’s pockets,” a flagrant violation of race and gender equality statutes in the UK, the women’s equality group said.

Photo: “Proud to be an educator,” say the T-shirts worn by these Wisconsin teachers as they sat in at the state Capitol in Madison, Feb. 18, during protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. (People’s World)



Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.