Wisconsin Cheese Has a Bitter Taste Today
This morning Governor Scott Walker signed the bill that cuts bargaining rights. The State Assembly passed the bill yesterday and on Wednesday the Senate passed the bill in a move that will live in infamy.
After three weeks of high drama in Wisconsin, the home of Robert La Folette and the Progressive Party, 50 years of public employee bargaining history was brought to a screeching halt in the dead of night.
In a political maneuver oozing with sleaze, Senate Republicans stripped the labor provisions out of the so-called “Budget Repair Bill” declaring them “non-fiscal” and thus allowing them to act on them separately without the quorum necessary for budgetary measures. After three weeks of declarations that these proposals were necessary to balancing the Wisconsin budget, suddenly they are “non-fiscal”.
The Democratic Senators who fled the state said that their only hope was to buy time in hopes that the public would have an opportunity to see what is in the bill. This they did accomplish.
Citizens in Wisconsin, as well as around the nation, came to see the measure for what it actually is: an assault on the public employee unions.
Wisconsin polls have shown that the citizens of Wisconsin disagree with their newly elected governor. In a recent poll conducted by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Center:
Almost two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) say he should compromise with Democrats and public employee unions while one-third (33 percent) say he should stand strong no matter how long protests last.
This apparently unleashed a flurry of emails between Governor Walker and the Democrats in which he hinted at elements of compromise and a short-lived feeling that an agreement might be possible. The Democrats said the compromise did not go far enough, and Wednesday night what has come to be called the “nuclear option” was hatched and implemented.
If there is any of light in all this, it is that the American public in repeated polls has shown a sense of fairness and opposes these assaults on the rights of public employees. The latest Bloomberg National Poll on Wednesday found that 64% of respondents — both Democrats and Republicans — say public employees should have the right to bargain collectively for their wages.
The second positive outcome may be a reawakening among union members as to why they belong to a union in the first place. We are at our best when we are “a movement of people with a common purpose,” and an injury to one is, in fact, an injury to all.
When Governor Walker thought he was talking to one of the billionaire Koch brothers, he was talking to a soul mate. Sadly, he is just a pawn in their game. They, the billionaires who fuel the conservative movement, will jubilantly celebrate this evening. In their view they will be one step closer to neutralizing the biggest remaining countervailing force to their free market agenda. Public employees, after all, are the only vestigial remnant of the robustness that was once the Middle Class in America – and if their unions go away they will see a precipitous decline in their standard of living.
“Its legality is dubious,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “Its intent is mean spirited. It is perhaps the most grievous example of how democratic decision making should not take place. The Governor and his legislative minions should be ashamed of what they’ve done.
“In exercising the nuclear option to impose their will on Wisconsites, Governor Walker and Senate Republicans attacked middle class families, from students to seniors, in their state,” said Van Roekel. “This is an affront to teachers, nurses, students, firefighters, construction workers and other everyday people who stood up, spoke out, and learned how much their voice mattered to their elected leaders. The response will be unified and the collective voice of millions of working Americans from all across this nation will only grow louder.”
Today was an important, if tragic, chapter in a story that is far from ended. The question is, what can we do to influence the ending? Stay posted.