Thursday, November 2, 2017

In New York, Nobody Expects A Bloody Constitutional Convention by Dr. Michael Flanagan

This Election Day, for the first time in 20 years, New Yorkers will vote on a referendum to decide whether or not to hold a state Constitutional Convention. To the average observer, this  "Con Con” may sound like a good thing. Being able to amend the constitution might allow for reinforcing abortion regulations, strengthening campaign finance laws or improving the mass transit system. Others might look forward to a convention that would discuss easing gun control laws, or increasing charter schools. But partisan possibilities aside, one result is certain: a Constitutional Convention would hand the fates and futures of New York workers to corporate interests, further deteriorate our economy and civil rights -- and most alarmingly, decimate our hard-earned pensions.

New York has a constitutionally guaranteed defined benefits pension system, making it one of the strongest pension funds of all the states, but opening the New York Constitution invites Wall Street investors to carve up our retirement savings and divide them amongst themselves. It would be like injecting a Trojan Horse virus into our pension system, and it would be following the national trend. There are currently 43 states that have faced attacks on public employee pensions. Many of these formerly strong union states such as Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey have seen their pension funding cut by trillions over the last 15 years. As soon as that pension money is put back into circulation, it becomes red meat for the hedge funders who are eager to invest it for their clients -- with  little thought of fiduciary responsibility to their investors. Suffice to say, when Wall Street gets its hands on public sector pensions, union workers are left unprotected and robbed of their retirements.  

The Constitutional Convention referendum could potentially further erode our labor unions. Anti-union laws throughout the country have systematically destroyed workers’ wages and rights, culminating in the pending Janus vs AFSCME Supreme Court case, perhaps the final nail in the coffin of unions. By putting an end to unions collecting mandatory member dues,  Janus will annihilate unions on a national level. In politics, it has long been practice to convince people of something detrimental by making it sound like the complete opposite of what it is. For instance, “Right to Work” is a perfect example of this Orwellian doublespeak. It sounds empowering for workers. It is not. It is the right to work for less. Less money, less job protections and less rights.

Special interest groups on both sides of this referendum are trying to make their case. Labor unions, such as the New York State Teachers Union, are in strong opposition to opening up the Constitution, because they fear the legal protections of teachers’ defined benefits pension program will be gutted and turned into 401k’s. On the other hand, the New York State Bar Association supports opening up the constitution so the court system can be streamlined and to simplify the voter registration process. However, due to lack of information to the general public, these two groups are largely preaching to their own choirs.

There is a staggering lack of awareness by the average voter to the potential ramifications of opening up the Constitution for amendments. This scarcity of information means that many New Yorkers may well be voting against their best interests. One factor causing this ignorance is the virtual media blackout of the event. Since this is an off year election, the issue of the Constitutional Convention has been minimized into a mere curiosity. Thus, as with most elections with low voter turnout, a motivated minority may well turn the battle. Most people in the state have no idea this referendum is even happening, and the few who do are obtaining their information from dark money funded lawn signs and 30 second television commercials.

We need to get together to wake up the working class.

New York workers need a modern day Paul Revere, riding up and down social media newsfeeds, warning: “to arms, to arms, the Constitutional Convention is coming!”. We are in desperate need of the Minutemen and women to take up the fight against the monied special interests and their propaganda machine, trying to sweet talk us out of our pensions. It is not the Redcoats that are coming but the hedge fund managers, and they are coming to put us in debt. They are coming for our retirements and our rights, and they are counting on people’s ignorance of the potential damage that could be caused by opening this Pandora’s box of a Constitutional Convention.

To paraphrase Monty Python, in New York, nobody expects a bloody constitutional convention. But if the November 7th ballot referendum passes, and New York’s Constitution is opened for amendments, that is what it will be for teachers, their unions, and the rest of the working class in New York. Spread the word; Vote NO for the ballot question: New York Proposal 1, on November 7th.

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