The Battle of Wisconsin

30,000 working men and women, college students and high school students descended on the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin to defend the human dignity and rights of public sector workers.

You might have missed this in the press reports that seem to only mention pension funds, but the Governor’s proposal does the following:

  • Remove collective bargaining rights (except for wages, but with a cap imposed by the Consumer Price Index)
  • Require Unions to re-certify every year
  • Deny Unions the ability to collect dues through payroll deduction
  • Create open shops and allow free-loading
  • Create a State mandated termination if a worker misses three consecutive days of work
  • Prohibit any government agency (Cities, School Boards, Counties) from voluntarily engaging in collective bargaining.
  • Impose an average 8.5% paycut by requiring increase payroll deductions for health insurance and pension funds

Amazingly, he actually claims that he is not “union-busting”, but that it is the Union’s fault for trying to ratify their contracts in November before he took office. These contacts that were defeated by turn-coat Senators (Jeff Plale who got a job from Walker and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker) would have covered the period from July 1, 2009-June 30, 2011. They were already 18 months overdue!

This bill is anti-business–it creates a hostile work environment and will usher in a generation of labor unrest. It is obviously anti-worker. It is also anti-clean government. It will create the environment for corruption and machine politics. If workers have to “pay to play” in order to get a promotion it will create two dynamics:

  • Brain drain–the professionals and top employers (nurses, computer programmers, etc) will simply leave for greener pastures.
  • The lowering of professional standards–as pay lowers corruption increases. Added to that, without protection, workers have no reason to act other than in their personal self-interest. Unions (like worker co-ops) instill principles into the workplace because workers are part of something bigger than themselves.

The protests started on Sunday with about 250 people picketing the Governor’s Mansion and the Capitol. On Monday, the UW Teaching Assistants Association managed a 700 person protest on 48 hours notice. On Tuesday, 13,000 people showed. Today, the 30,000 in Madison (the Chief of Police, Noble Wray commented that he has never seen that many people on the Square in his 27 year career). In addition, protests occurred throughout Wisconsin at the district offices of Sen. Darling and other republicans. Most of this was ignored by the national media.

Police and Firefighters arrived (even though the Governor cynically protected them to help smooth passage) arrived. I am proud to say that my co-op, Union Cab, arrived with about a dozen of us on the square. The Interpretor’s Co-op also issued a statement of support. The energy on the Square was electric. The sound was deafening. Later in the day, WI 2nd District Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, stood in Congress and denounced Governor Walker.

The Joint Committee on Finance threatened to vote at noon, but as of this writing they are still debating passage despite a GOP lopsided 12-4 majority. Rumors of compromise existed all afternoon but have yet to materialize. The talk is about recall. Wisconsin can recall legislators after they have served for one year. Eight Republican senators fill that bill. The rest of the Republicans will have to wait for their turn at recall until January 3, 2012.

This isn’t about Wisconsin, this is about the future of the labor movement in the United States. Today it is the public sector workers. Tomorrow it will be the private sector. Will worker co-ops be next? Can any of us believe that if Unions lose, that the powers will allow our labor movement to succeed?

If we lose this battle, Ohio and New Jersey are ready to follow suit. The goal isn’t fiscal responsibility, it is destroying the ability of working people to engage in the political debate and have a voice against those of the bosses. This is the Shock Doctrine coming home to the US.

Walker faked a fiscal crisis which is being exposed as I type. The “deficit” for this budget year, if it exists is the result of actions taken by the Walker administration since his ascension on January 3rd. This fake crisis is being used to attack the strongest unions in the state and may even jeopardize basic services such as mass transit.

Tomorrow the unions will show up in mass. The United Council of the University of Wisconsin System has called for a mass walkout by the 27 UW campuses. The Teacher’s Union has asked their members to show up at the Capitol, attend a house of worship and pray for the protestors or be a scab. The Teacher’s Union made this statement.

What can you do? If you are in Wisconsin (or within driving distance), you need to get to the Capitol tomorrow. If you can’t make it to the capitol, you need to call the Wisconsin Legislators: 1-877-752-8878 or the office of Governor Walker: (608) 266-1212.Tell them this bill is bad for business, bad for clean government, bad for Wisconsin and bad for America. There are about 400 people who read this blog regularly (from mostly Wisconsin, Texas, California). You all need to do something tomorrow to stand with us.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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