[This piece was originally published on the old Home Yesterday in January, 2015.]
Bosses used to pay mine guards to beat workers with clubs. Now, they buy politicians to whip workers with paper. Last week, the bosses marched 54 of their own into the West Virginia House and 18 more into the State Senate to try to wring some more money out of our state’s working families. But you wonder if the old mine guards bothered to scribble “Workplace Freedom” onto their weapons.
Why would Republicans work so hard to pass bills that lower wages? Why would they endure the political disaster of a GOP State Senator calling union workers “free riders” on the Senate floor and announcing “our wages in West Virginia are too high” a few days later? What’s in it for them to treat middle class people this way?
The answer of course is money, and lots of it. Senator Bill Cole’s mid-session junket out to Palm Springs made news, but that’s just tip money if we’re being honest. Republicans have been promised millions by corporate interests, and behind every vote, there is a greased palm.
Look at Republican Woody Ireland — the champion of “forced pooling” legislation that takes your mineral rights and forces you to sell out to the gas companies. He cut himself a sweetheart deal first — getting 18 percent royalties when his bill says people get 12 percent — then he decided he would run the corporate bill that steals rights from West Virginians who don’t sell.
Asked about his royalty rate being 50% higher than what the bill says you get, Ireland said it “was the result of negotiations with Antero in which he actually gave up a higher royalty in order to get surface protections.” Got that? The gas companies liked Delegate Ireland so well they not only offered him sky-high royalties, they said they’d leave his surface alone too! “We’re giving you four-wheel drive here, but don’t worry, we’re throwing in a deluxe tow package too so it doesn’t look bad in the papers.”
Meanwhile, we’ve got billionaire moguls like Bob Murray suggesting his taxes be lowered by more than 50%. Here comes the eternal Republican jobs program: tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, lower wages and benefits for workers. Bob Murray (and company) enjoy a warm welcome in Bill Cole’s office, while our school children are beggars at his door.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” as the Joplin lyric goes. During debate at the Capitol, Republican after Republican told workers they were tough people, and had survived worse. Republicans described themselves as challenging working families with anti-worker legislation, saying they’d “overcome” it. Some of the GOPers even pretended they were doing workers a favor with wage-killing bills.
Judging from the reactions in the audience, being patronized by politicians just added insult to injury. But it’s good to see where the Republicans are coming from. I mean, Bill Cole isn’t here to say no to the Chamber of Commerce — he told us so himself. The Chamber has money and will get its way in Bill Cole’s West Virginia. Workers have . . . not so much, so they saw it coming.
Folks expected this kind of legislation from Republicans. That they are the party of rich corporations, and the wealthy elite, is common knowledge. But the total disrespect — the open contempt, in fact — for working people has come as a shock. After a Republican on Bill Cole’s leadership team openly taunted union workers in the Senate Chamber, neither he nor any of his colleagues apologized.
After a little more than a year of GOP rule, ordinary West Virginians have lost wages, union protections, and property rights. But what’s worse is that their own legislature no longer even treats them with dignity or respect. A chief GOP consultant speaks of putting a “boot on their throats.” Cole puts up velvet ropes to shield himself, and his guards, from citizens. When his Senate voted to reduce workers’ wages he said on TV that he feared looking like he was “spiking the ball” on workers.
Meanwhile the real needs of working families get ignored. Middle class tax cuts, fixing the roads, teacher pay, law enforcement requests, paid leave: everything the people need gets circular filed while Republicans tell us they’re delivering “freedom.” Sure your wages went down, you lost your benefits, and the best teacher in your kids’ school left for Maryland, but hey, “freedom isn’t free.”
You have to wonder why Republicans don’t want any of that freedom for themselves. Woody Ireland got his deal done up front, before he helps the gas companies take over with forced pooling. Bill Cole didn’t care for “Car Dealer Freedom” — he kept Tesla out of WV and wrote himself some special laws on warranties. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
The bottom line: Republicans don’t want your freedom. They want your money. If they take much more, you really will have nothing left to lose.