No one doubts that we are living through difficult economic times. For many working-class Vermonters, the current economic crisis is simply an intensification of the long crisis that we have been experiencing long before the recent financial meltdown. For the last several decades, there has been a shift in government and public policy towards helping the rich get richer at the expense of working people. Working people have born the brunt of this crisis in the form of stagnant wages, downsizing and outsourcing, cuts in public services, a dysfunctional healthcare system, and an increasingly regressive tax policy that rewards the wealthy with income tax breaks while driving up fees and regressive taxes like the property tax.
We believe that, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” We believe that these are fundamental human rights, rights that we have by virtue of being human beings, of being born into human society.
A strong and robust public sector is essential to provide all Vermonters the services they have a right to receive in order to maintain basic human dignity. Every other industrialized country, as well as many developing ones, guarantees healthcare – and often other human rights – through the public sector. The profit motive simply cannot be trusted to ensure rights, or, as recent events demonstrate, even economic stability, and private charities do not have the scale or coordination to provide a real social safety net. The last thing we need are cuts to services or more layoffs, but this is exactly what Governor Douglas’s proposed budget would bring us. The current “crisis” is not a budget crisis, it is a revenue crisis caused by repeated give-aways to the wealthy in the form of tax breaks. Using this state revenue crisis to lay off workers and cut services for the people is not only unjust, but will also actively undermine President Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy.
We are facing a worldwide economic and ecological crisis, which demands transformative change. A stimulus package from the federal government that focuses on creating “green jobs” to rebuild our physical infrastructure and make it more environmentally sound and sustainable is absolutely necessary, but it is only part of the solution. We also need to rebuild our social infrastructure, guaranteeing quality healthcare and education for all and rebuilding our tattered social safety net. Relying solely on economic growth to take care of social needs is no longer an option – we can’t afford to be forced into making choices between jobs and the environment as the planet warms.
The Vermont Workers’ Center believes that the following principles need to be followed as we face this crisis:
- Public services are necessary for a just and sustainable society.
- Among the roles of government is to guarantee the human rights of all residents.
- A revenue shortfall is a reason to change revenue policy not budget policy.
- Public services, including education, should be funded based on ability to pay, not fees or regressive taxes like property and sales taxes.
- Only by concerted collective action can people ensure that government/public policy serves the needs of the people.
- Healthcare is a human right, and by establishing it as a public good it will not only be more just, but by eliminating the waste of private insurers, we will save tens of millions of dollars.