The confrontation between freedom and power has an indeterminable history. One hundred and fifty-two years ago, John Stuart Mill, in his famous essay, On Liberty, examined the “struggle between Liberty and Authority… between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the Government” (Mill 1). A question he might have asked today is, what should be the limits of power that legislators have over their constituents, such as public employees, when some of these lawmakers’ decisions border on political despotism?
How can public employees guard against such arrogance, self-interest, prejudice, and prevarications? In a democracy, there must be dialogue, for “[the] silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility” (17). This revival of absolutism today forecloses the right to be heard and exiles truth from being openly canvassed. Moreover, it extinguishes critical thinking and the understanding of the relationship among ideas and matters of fact. In regards to creating and passing any legislation, the closest we can arrive at an acceptable course of action, such as in the establishment of a just law, is by posing counterarguments to any arguments that might be presented before it can become a law.
No doubt, teachers and other public employees have become the culprits for the mismanagement of the States’ budgets all across the country. “Shared Sacrifice” has become the new slogan of ignorance that is repeated with the regularity of a fast-food commercial. Many individuals and legislators have adopted this tautological jingo and tabloid thinking as tactics designed to terminate further discussion of any complicated bill that requires a thorough examination and analysis of its ramifications.
To call public employees whiners, un-American, and other ridiculous names is also an attempt to further suppress any knowledge of the cause-and-effect relationship between a State’s budget deficit and the State pension systems. Name Calling is an ignorant, fallacious scheme. To stigmatize and blame teachers, firemen, policemen, and other State employees for the financial mess is reprehensible and alarming. Perhaps some people have not learned how dangerous scapegoating is. Have we already forgotten the attempted assassination of Congress woman Gabrielle Giffords? It does not take long to realize how dubious and perilous some ploys are and how indefensible and unethical they might be.
To threaten or to change public employees’ constitutionally-guaranteed pensions with the passage of a law that mitigates certain benefits and to deprive public employees’ rights to bargain is an encroachment of their right to human dignity and justice. It is a calculated infringement of those principles, made evident by the lack of reciprocity and obligation for those legislators who knowingly create and pass such laws and by those who willingly support such inequity and fabricated causality.
In Illinois, “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois State Constitution). Nevertheless, the current House Speaker, some legislators, and their lawyers will continue to challenge the denotations and connotations of some of the Article’s diction even though there are existing case laws that state that “Any attempt to unilaterally diminish the State employee’s pension after [an employee] is hired and enters the system would violate the Pension Protection Clause” (Memorandum to Hon. Pat Quinn, Governor of the State of Illinois, from Gino L. DiVito and John Fitzgerald, 12 April 2010). In a world of freedom, justice, and peace, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his [or her] interests” (Article 23, No, 4 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly of the United Nations, Resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948). In Wisconsin, however, one governor does not believe “human rights should be protected by the rule of law” (Preamble to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and that conviction is unethical, injudicious, and discriminatory.