I know someone who voted for Scott Walker for governor of Wisconsin three times–his first election, the recall, and his most recent gubernatorial win. She is not a big fan of unions even though her husband is a union employee. Despite her husband’s union status she thought that Walker and his cohorts did the right thing four years ago with Act 10, a bill which stripped public employee unions of the right to collectively bargain. Of course, her husband is not in a public employee union, so I don’t believe she was thinking of the larger picture when Act 10 was passed. A devotee of Martin Niemoller she is not.
But now they are coming for her. Now, Walker and his Republican allies in the State Legislature are going after the unions again–this time by scheduling an emergency session to fast-track a bill making Wisconsin a “right to work” state. Now she is angry. Walker’s union bashing antics are going to affect her more personally this time around. Now she is talking about taking off work so she can go to the Capitol to protest. Now she is upset with Scott Walker for this latest action (even though she made it clear she still supports much of what he has done over the last several years). It’s possible that people like her may now join those who fought Act 10 in a desperate bid to stop “right to work” from coming to Wisconsin.
Even with new fighters against this latest attack on Wisconsin the battle against the bill may still not have a chance and Scott Walker may fare well no matter what happens. The Republicans apparently have the votes in the Senate to pass the bill. The Assembly is so overwhelmingly Republican there is no question of its passage in that house. Walker has already promised to sign it, regardless of all of his public statements about it not being right for Wisconsin at this time (and those statements were despite the fact that he himself introduced a “right to work” bill in the Assembly back in 1993). If it passes there could be legal battles but the Wisconsin Supreme Court is controlled by conservatives who could easily beat back most challenges. It looks like win/win for Walker and his allies. On the opposing side there is talk of a general strike, but almost everyone has to be on board with that and it is not an easy thing to pull off. It can be done, but it would take a lot of work, and it may not have much of an effect. Check that. It would have an effect, but it may not change anything in the long run. There is also talk of protest. If tens of thousands of union members and allies come to the Capitol again and the bill still passes then Walker has scored another talking point about how he fought down the evil unions in 2015 after already defeating them once back in 2011. If nobody protests and the bill just glides through to passage then it looks like nobody has the will against him anymore. Either way he looks good to those like the Koch Brothers who support his time machine ride back to the nineteenth century days of the robber barons and poorhouses.
If a general strike can be organized that may have enough of an effect that other citizens end up demanding change and killing “right to work”. The other possibility is that the threat of a general strike or the impact of protests, letters, phone calls, and other actions will create enough pressure that a couple of the Republican Senators turn against their bosses and vote with the people (an unusual concept, but I’m an idealist at times), stopping it in its tracks. The Republican leadership, in fact, is clearly afraid of this one possibility, so much so that Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald admitted in an interview that he fast-tracked the bill specifically so that there would not be enough time for opponents to put pressure on Republican senators.
An interesting side note to this whole sideshow is that the Republicans do have the votes to pass “right to work”. The timing, however, seems suspect. They could do it now or they could do it during the regular legislative session, or they could even wait until after Walker has become the unchallenged front runner as the Republican candidate for President (dear God, I never thought I would hear such horrifying words; then again, it’s the Republican party and it’s often a question of which clown is the least terrifying to the greatest number of people under that circus tent). So why now? Perhaps one only needs to look at the budget. Suddenly there is no news reporting about the cuts to the University of Wisconsin or public education. There are no stories about cuts to recycling, borrowing money for highways while delaying debt payments, eliminating dozens of state jobs, rearranging the Department of Natural Resources Board, or any of the countless other awful proposals in Scott Walker’s latest budget, many of which have nothing to do with budgetary considerations at all. In fact he doesn’t seem very concerned about the financial situation of our state as he continues to give tax benefits and other gifts to his supporters. As noted he has already delayed one debt repayment to try to help balance a budget that has gone totally out of control on his watch. With that, he is “kicking the can down the road”, as so many Republicans like to say about the Democrats, and leaving the debt for others to deal with in the future. The reality is that it is not just one debt repayment. He is doing the same with the entire economy, and “right to work” is just a small part of it. What does he care what happens to our economy if he has already satisfied his corporate puppet masters and gained more Tea Party notoriety in his bid to destroy the country the way he has destroyed one state? Suddenly all of the surprising budget items and economic issues are back page news or no news at all. Perhaps that is an unfair consideration, but I don’t put anything past the villains in power in Wisconsin right now.
Those who don’t see how they will be affected by both the budget and this sudden “right to work” proposal, directly or indirectly, need to open their eyes and join the fight. They need to lose their myopic vision and see beyond their own insulated worlds. The “right to work” law will affect more than just the unions. Studies have shown that those states where “right to work” legislation has passed have a lower average wage for workers. It brings the whole economy down. The only ones who benefit are the owners and shareholders of large manufacturing facilities and those who hire men and women in the trade professions, the kind of people who donate massive amounts of money to candidates like Scott Walker who will act as lap dogs in return for the money and the perception of power. Those who suffer would include pretty much everyone else. Workers with less money to spend will not spend it at small businesses that need the income. They in turn will have less disposable income. All of that will also bring the tax base down and the state will have to cut more money from critical budget items like education just to stay afloat.
The current budget seems to be remarkably similar to 2011’s “budget repair bill”, in that it is a hodgepodge of right-wing dreams that have little to do with the budget that were snuck into the middle of a huge proposal. When the 2015 budget was released the university folks were all upset with the cuts to the UW system. Public school teachers were trying to decide how to fight cuts to public education. There were things for every special interest group to fight, so everyone was trying to figure out how to save their piece of the pie. The only thing that caught everyone’s attention was the attempted sleight-of-hand undermining of the Wisconsin Idea which was quickly withdrawn with lies about it being an oversight. Everyone wanted to save that piece of pie. The problem is we should all be fighting for the whole pie. This is the lesson of Niemoller and the lesson of the power of unions. If I only fight for the things that directly affect me then I might save those things for now–but they also might fall next. We need to look out for each other. The citizens of the state need to act like a large union. We need to fight to keep our piece of the pie, but we also need to fight to help our friends and neighbors keep their pieces of the pie as well. If we all fight individually we will lose–if not today, soon. If we all fight together we can win. At least it gives us a chance.