Why Wisconsin Matters

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Five daysEight Days.

The protests in Wisconsin have entered their fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth day. Teachers in Madison have again organized a sick-out and will be at the Capitol on Friday and Saturday (as of Tuesday, teachers are teaching again).  Democratic Senators left the state yesterday to ensure that there would be no quorum in the Senate.  Governor Walker, who threatened to call the National Guard on striking public employees, had the gall to use those same public workers in an attempt to shame the Democrats.

Their actions by leaving the state and hiding from voting are disrespectful to the hundreds of thousands of public employees who showed up to work today”

High School students are walking out of class and 25,000 people demonstrated at the Capitol yesterday.  The Tea Party is planning a counter-rally tomorrow.  This is democracy! Governor Walker’s union busting bill and the public’s reaction is important.  It shows where the Tea Party wants to takes us and where the public is ready to go.

This bill is not about austerity.  If Governor Walker had simply wanted public employees to pay more of their health care and contribute a larger portion to their pension, he could have introduced that bill.  Instead he proposed a bill that will strip the unions of their collective bargaining rights.  Collective bargaining is the entire point of unions.  It’s how the 40-hour work week was created and it’s what helped the middle class in the U.S.  to rapidly expand in the mid-twentieth century.  Collective bargaining is just about unions and their members, it’s about all of us.

The unions still would have screamed and fought if the proposal was only about benefits,  because that’s their job  They most likely would have agreed to changes.  That’s how it went down in King County, Washington.  The County Executive worked with the unions, making his case that the health of the County relied on concessions from the unions in the negotiations.  The Unions agreed to forgo COLAs for the year.  The one union that refused, the Sheriff’s Union, faces cuts.  Executive Constantine hasn’t stopped talking to the Sheriff’s Union, as Governor Walker has done, and even proposed a .1% tax increase to stop the cuts at the Sheriff’s Department.  The public voted on the increase in November.  The Tea Party was supposed to return government to the people, but Governor Walker decided to rule by fiat and rush his bill through the Legislature.

What happens in Wisconsin is vital to the rest of the country.  There are proposals across the country that are fraternal twins to Governor Walker’s bill.  Everyone has their eyes on Wisconsin.  The President made comments, as did Speaker Boehner.  Even Senator Orrin Hatch, who is apparently not conservative enough for Utah and has the shore up his credentials, had this to say:

“The only assault is from a bunch of self-interested government union employees who are putting their interests ahead of the interests of the Wisconsin taxpayers who have been funding their runaway spending.”

These self-interested government union employees are teachers, DOT workers, prison guards.  They are the people who make our states and our country go, educate the next generation, and keep us safe.  Governor Walker cynically did not include police and firefighter unions in his bill hoping to keep them out of the protests.  It didn’t work.  Republicans say the word unions with a sneer and want the public to think Tammany Hall, the corrupt dock workers from The Wire, and monocled fat cats counting their ill-gotten public money.  Unions go overboard at times and fight battles that were lost a long time ago.  They also need to be more open to change, especially teachers unions, but they are important.  Unions fought for, and won, the labor conditions that we all enjoy now.  They continue to fight for our rights today.

Though we are only two months into the next four years of Tea Party governors and the next two years of Tea Party Members of Congress, this week has been instructive.  Rick Scott turned down job-creating High Speed Rail money and Wisconsin exploded.  The protests for the last three days are a sign of things to come.  We are waking up to what Republicans and the Tea Party mean for our future and it’s not good.  These demonstrations, those in Ohio and Tennessee and the organizing in Florida are bookends to the healthcare protests that ostensibly propelled the Tea Party into prominence and power.  For liberals, Wisconsin shows us that meaningful demonstration hasn’t been bred out of us.  It shows us that we can organize quickly and keep the focus where it needs to be.

There’s also this.  The Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature are seeking to disenfranchise student voters.  They are proposing a voter ID that will effectively keep students out of the voting booth.  Apparently students need even more barriers to civic engagement.  Though no one can ever really make the case the voter fraud is ruining elections, that the reason being cited.  It has absolutely nothing to with students tending to vote Democratic say the Republicans.  This is one effort out of many across the country.  Wisconsin matters.

Wisconsin means that 2012 might be more important than 2008.

Update:

Protesters are still in the State Capitol on Tuesday, February 22nd.  The 14 State Senators are still MIA across the border in Illinois and State Senate Republicans are threatening to take up other matters.  Teachers appear to be back in the classroom, heeding a call from the head of their union.

Governor Walker is threatening layoffs, as early as next week, if the State Senators do not return to allow his Union Busting bill to pass.

A pro-union/demonstration website was apparently not accessible from the State House Monday and today.   Protesters are blaming Gov. Walker and the Republicans, but the State’s DOA spokesperson claimed that the security software blocked the website, “as it does all new websites”.  Whatever the reason, it couldn’t look worse.

The Tea Party showed up, in large number over the weekend. Despite appearances by right-wing luminaries like Andrew Brietbart, opponents of the bill vastly outnumbered counter-protesters.

The protests and similar bills are spreading.  Activists are packing the State House in Ohio to oppose similar measures by Governor Kasich and Indiana Democrats are leaving the state to avoid a losing vote on an anti-union bill.

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  1. […] supporting documents.  Meanwhile, the State Assembly has begun to debate Governor Walker’s union-busting bill.  Democrats in the Assembly, who are in the minority as well, are vociferously fighting the […]



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