That Good Ol’ Spartan Government!

By John J. O’Grady, President, Local 704, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE Local 704), Chicago, Illinois

Sparta: Government and classes

I’ve worked in both the private and public sectors, but always in environmentally oriented businesses or concerns.  In the final analysis, the mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – to protect human health and the environment – meant more to me than making lots of money, and having a life outside of work was and remains compelling.  Besides, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no major studies that have stated that employees are happier when they work 60 plus hour weeks, have no personal life and risk losing their families so they can have a high-powered career and make lots of money.  “Gee, I wish I spent more time at work than with my family” said no one ever on their death bed.

Having a strong, well-staffed, and sufficiently budgeted U.S. EPA used to mean something to a lot of ordinary American people.  It took a while for us “commoners” (read taxpayers and voters) to awaken; e.g., the Cuyahoga River in northeast Ohio had to catch on fire at least 13 times before it captured the attention of most Americans.  Eventually, as a result of a number of environmental disasters and certain champions of the common folk like Rachel Carson, the U.S. EPA was born on December 2, 1970.  Up until recently, it was one of the finest environmental protection agencies in the world, but thanks to many elected leaders in Washington, war has been declared war on the U.S. EPA, oftentimes referring to it as the “Job Killing Agency,” for which there is no financial or statistical basis.  Yet, somehow bashing the U.S. EPA became the battle cry of the elected misinformed and now has been expanded to include all of government by attacking America’s Federal employees.

But I understand…yes … I really do.  For if only there were fewer regulations on corporations and less tax on the rich, surely the economy would improve?  We all just need to be more patient and give the trickledown economic theory more time to work!  If only those darn poor people would pull themselves up by their own bootstraps!  Those doggone unemployed should just simply get motivated and start working!  The sick and hungry?  Well, if we don’t pay too much attention to them, maybe they will simply die off?  Perhaps, like Spartans of old, we should leave our crippled and diseased on a hill – exposed to the elements to die?

We recall that in Sparta, there were contests of endurance in which adolescents were flogged – sometimes to the death.  This was a test of a Spartan boy’s bravery and resistance to pain.  It later became an outright blood sport after Sparta went into decline and fell under control of the Roman Empire.  So, it doesn’t surprise me that Federal employees are the whipping boys (and girls) of Congress, now that America has fallen under the control of corporations, I mean, persons.  Ah, what sport! Bring on the Federal employees!

Unfortunately, Federal employees have largely withstood that initial flogging, so now on to the Spartan concept of agōgē!  The hope of the mythical law-givers is to encourage us to fight amongst ourselves to determine the strongest member of the group – a brilliant Darwinian challenge!  Yet, I think there may be an ulterior motive!  In order to better prepare Feds for the strain of future budget cuts, Congress shall dole out pay and benefits that are always bland and slightly insufficient.  Maybe those Feds will get a life and get a “real job” outside government?  Until then, we shall publicly loath them and ridicule them until they simply go away.  Surely, government will be better off with contract employees!  After all, there are only 8 to 10 million such employees contracted to do the work of government.  And, the companies they work for give sizeable donations to political campaigns!

Well, like the Spartans you have made us into, we will not have fear of you or your corporate minions.  We will not surrender.  We will return with our shields or on them for we know that there are only two classes of people who can have their names inscribed on their tombstones: Politicians who died in childbirth and Federal employees who die fighting for the Constitution we vowed to uphold.

John J. O’Grady is the President of Local 704 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) representing 1,000 employees at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago, since January 2004.

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