The political quake that shook all those Dems out of office in November 2010 did a particularly nasty number on Wisconsin. The state's legislature was stormed by the GOP, which now has majority control both the assembly and senate, and the governor's office was seized by yet another Republican candidate. These conservative victories have rolled out the red carpet for austerity measures to advance, and have painted targets squarely on public employees.
Newly-elected governor Scott Walker's plan to address the state's $137 million deficit calls for public employees to assume a roughly 7 percent pay cut through increased contributions to their pensions and health insurance costs. Walker is also working to push a union-busting bill through the legislature, which would strip public employees of an obscene portion of their collective bargaining rights and threatens striking workers with termination. The starkest example that the good governor is ready to play rough is his willingness to respond to an uprising by calling in the National Guard. (Makes me wonder where he's getting his leadership advice.)
While it's disconcerting to see how much Wisconsin can resemble an autocratic nation, it's electrifying to see its people rising up. More than 25,000 people stormed the state capitol and every Democratic senate member fled the state to prevent a vote on the anti-union bill (at least one Democrat has to be present for a vote to be held).
State Rep. Alberta Darling defended the Republican plan, saying, "We don't have a lot of options here folks. It's not like we're choosing to do this. We are broke."
Of course, that's if you don't consider raising taxes on Wisconsin's most financially enriched – who are most able to help preserve the state's services and infrastructure and narrow the deficit – to be an "option." Corporate tax loopholes allow two-thirds of Wisconsin's corporations to pay nothing into the state coffers, so it's not hard to see why that revenue stream has dried by half in recent decades. A failure to act on that fact begs the question of who or what Gov. Walker is representing.
The question of what collective bargaining has to do with balancing the budget has been raised on several fronts. Georgetown University labor historian, Joseph McCartin, asserted:
"If it had simply to do with the budget there doesn't seem to be a need to eliminate collective bargaining...In other states where state's municipalities have faced difficult times, unions have helped negotiate the way forward."
Russ Feingold, former U.S. senator for Wisconsin, was unequivocally opposed to the Governor's anti-worker agenda. He even provides insight into the mystery of on whose behalf Gov. Walker is acting:
"I don't think there's any question that what Gov. Walker is trying to do here is not simply outrageous -- one of the worst things I've ever seen a Wisconsin governor do -- but he's just acting on a long-time corporate wish: the fantasy of destroying unions."
Interestingly, it's not just the usual suspects speaking out against the Governor's plan. An organized group of veterans have condemned Walker's use of the National Guard as an "intimidation force." And, members of the Super Bowl winning Green Bay Packers have come out in support of the AFL-CIO's efforts to fight back.
Our focus and admiration should be on the actions and resolve of the protesters and state legislators who have chosen to support the working people of Wisconsin.
This isn't just their battle, it's all of ours. If the sadists among the Badger State's legislature succeed in passing this bill, we should expect more of these battles to emerge across the country as copycat legislation gets drafted.
The stakes are high, so we need to support their efforts, spread the word, take good notes and be ready to prevent what could come to our states next.
Here's some footage of a rally at Wisconsin's statehouse. You don't get a turnout like this without good reason.