The Corporate Rot Eats Away at Wisconsin
By Rebecca Kemble, July 28, 2012
Plainly speaking, they want to make the argument that public K-12 schools, tech colleges and universities should be aligning their curriculum and programs of study with the jobs demanded by manufacturers in the defense, medical device and mining industries, with health care as an afterthought. The results of this study will then be reported to lawmakers, perhaps through the Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School that met for the first time last week, and then legislated into policy next year.
That is also the goal of Tim Sullivan and his workforce development groups. Although on the face of it they seem to be bipartisan policy research groups, these councils and consortia are actually private clubs of the corporate elite and their allies in government agencies where they build consensus about how to best pursue their interests. In this case, the interest is focused on the jackpot that is the $33 billion biennial public K-12 education budget.
Sullivan wasn’t pulling any punches on Thursday during a meeting of the Workforce Investment Council. After a presentation of a map of all federal and state workforce development money available for job training and work-readiness programs, the group’s conclusion was that $406 million a year is not nearly enough to meet the training needs of companies that claim they can’t find qualified workers, and the unemployed workers themselves.
But Tim Sullivan has a plan, and it involves getting access to some of that $33 billion of the public education budget.
Never mind that it was slashed by $1.6 billion in last year’s biennial budget and that local school districts are scrambling to get their staffing and programming requirements met for this coming school year.
Never mind the reduction in property tax receipts and the legal cap on how much local units of government can raise that Scott Walker imposed last year.
After pointing out that out of the $11.5 billion spent on K-12 education every year, “only $280 million goes into Career and Technical Education,” Sullivan said, “That’s only 2.4% and that’s not right."
Sullivan isn’t talking about moving money out of the education budget; he’s talking about getting political influence within the K-12 system so that the resources already being used in public schools will be devoted to the requirements of corporations.
They’re planning to do the same with technical colleges and the state university system. At the Competitive Wisconsin meeting, the Madison Area Technical College President, UW Colleges Chancellor and the UW-Madison Provost were practically begging the business people in the audience to let them know how they could be of service.
Back at the Workforce Investment Council meeting, Sullivan continued to detail the endgame of a starve-the-beast campaign: "I committed to the Governor that we weren’t going to concentrate on governance changes because governance doesn’t need to changed, nor would we be looking for new taxes.”
No governance changes are required if the leaders of those institutions are already on board with your plan.
No need to raise taxes to empower the people working in those institutions with adequate resources so they aren’t so desperate that a hostile corporate takeover seems like charity.
“We’ll find the money,” Sullivan went on. “We need better focus and efficiency. Thirty-three billion dollars a biennium on K-12 education. That’s a lot of money even for the private sector, and you got to know that with focus and looking at things a little differently, there’s money everywhere." Just hand over the power to drive curriculum and programming, and we might chip in a little for employee training too.
What would this look like?
In addition to public schools, colleges and universities providing curriculum and courses specifically tailored to the needs of individual employers, the Youth Committee of the Workforce Investment Council is talking about taking more teaching and staff resources out of classroom instruction and redirecting them towards organizing more internship and apprentice programs in private businesses for high school kids.
"Typically, experienced machinists don’t have the right personality skills we’re looking for,” said Ron Polum of Pointe Precision, a company that makes parts for jet engines. Pointe Precision has worked with twenty-two youth apprentices over the past several years. “If kids have a good attitude, we hire them… Apprentices are making money for the company running machines just like an entry-level employee hired off the street does" he added.
Robin Kroyer-Kubicek, Youth Apprenticeship Curriculum Coordinator for the Department for Workforce Development, is a big booster for increasing child factory labor. She said, "Manufacturers told us that child labor laws would not allow them to work with youth, but we are working on a new child labor law guide to make it easier for manufacturers to work with youth legally." That guide is being written with the help of Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation as part of the WMC’s PR campaign to promote manufacturing careers.
You know things are bad when agents of the state are promoting the exploitation of child labor to businesses.
But wait, that’s not all. In addition to cheap labor supported by public school dollars, corporations are also asking for more tax credits.
Kent Olsen of Olsen Tire & Auto service in Wausau tried to put it in a cost-benefit terms. "We need to differentiate the value and costs for using Youth Apprenticeships. I don’t need resources to pay their wages, but I need some kind of tax credit to make the investment.” Betraying his business’s larger goal, he said, “The Youth Apprentice program is the single best use of money for gaining traction in education. I cannot state that enough."
During a live chat on Billmoyers.com last week, Chris Hedges talked about how oblivious most Americans are to the corporate coup that has already taken place in this country. “If we continue to deny reality, then we cannot talk of hope. Our reality may be bleak, but once we face it honestly we can begin to talk about the capacity for change.”
Wisconsin is a special kind of reality. It is one in which global political and economic forces have been sped up in the past two years by the concentration of power in the hands of a faction of capitalist businesses hell-bent on turning the state into a labor and natural resource extraction colony. Until a critical mass of people face this reality, no electoral campaign or attempt at reform will have the power to stop it.
The best those of us whose eyes are open can do is to pay close attention, chronicle what we witness, and hope that information spurs others to action.
“We may feel, in the face of the ruthless corporate destruction of our nation, our culture, and our ecosystem, powerless and weak,” said Hedges. “But we are not. We have a power that terrifies the corporate state. Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up or how heavily it is censored by a media that caters to the needs and profits of corporations, chips away at corporate power. Any act of rebellion keeps alive the embers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative. It will, as the rot of the state consumes itself, attract wider and wider numbers.”
Let’s hope so.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.