On Friday, Egyptians again gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate the success of their movement & to remind the military forces who took over that they are still there & watching. It was still a huge celebration, though withprayers to commemorate those who did lose their lives. Meanwhile – this sign was spotted & photographed in the square:
Yep – Wisconsin! The birthplace of unions. With a newly elected Republican Governor and large majorities of Republicans in their state house & senate. Gov Walker has proposed an emergency budget resolution which increases the contributions from public employees – who are unionized – for their medical & retirement benefits. This isn’t popular, but given the state of the economy everywhere, it also isn’t impossible to understand or, something that the employees are completely unwilling to accept. The Big Issue is that his proposal will ALSO strip them of their right TO organize and collectively bargain. Line, crossed. So what did these workers do? They took to the streets and marched on Madison straight to the capitol building. It was peaceful – but raucous. Still, the house passed the resolution. Then each day MORE people joined the demonstrations until they were filling up the capitol inside (capped at 5000 by the capitol police) and swarming outside in the tens of thousands. The Democratic state Senators knew they had no way of stopping the legislation by a vote since they were so outnumbered. But, they realized that they could PREVENT a vote from happening. At least delay it while the people had a chance to be heard and perhaps persuade the Gov to negotiate with them. So they left the state. Without a quorum, no vote could be held and with all 14 of them out, it was just enough to stop the voting process. They left on Thursday & have not returned.
Meanwhile stories are swirling about Gov Walker. Are the budget woes really this bad? Did he hand out tax cuts to businesses that *created* this deficit which he is now using as an excuse to try and bust the union? Is this part of some larger national GOP plan to whittle away at union power? After all, as Rachel pointed out in her show Thursday, after the recent Citizen’s United case int he Supreme Court which opened the floodgates to corporate contributions, only THREE of the top ten corporate donation groups during the 2010 campaign gave to Democrats. Those three were ALL unions. And they were in bottom five. The top 5 groups and 7 of 10 total were all GOP groups. She believes the GOP saw that and are now seeing a way to clear out ALL big money contributors to Democrats and thereby secure their grip on elections for years to come. Break the unions. Use the governors of key states to break the union’s influence there. Reduce membership – which means reduced dues – and a continuing decline in their political power & influence.
Certainly if this were not true, then you would think that Gov Walker would at least concede on the collective bargaining point, right? Union leaders – and the AWOL Democratic Senators – have pledged to accept the salary reductions & increased benefits contributions. The ONLY thing they want is to keep their bargaining rights. Rights which do not impact the bottom line in what is supposedly an EMERGENCY budget resolution needed for THIS budget year. So Walker should be good with that right? He gets the budget cuts he needs & everyone goes back to work? Yeah…no. On Friday Walker gave an address that sound eerily like one now exiled Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. Right down to accusing the demonstrators of being “pushed by outside forces” to be there! Sure, several days in, some outside union leaders & Democratic supports groups joined in Friday to provide greater numbers to the cause. But those first few days were ALL Wisconsin voters & union employees & supporters. Students showed up to support their teachers. The unions who were *exempted* from Gov Walker’s proposals (coincidentally the three unions which supported him for Gov…hmmmmm), showed up in support of their union brothers & sisters. Today, some national Tea Party groups bussed in counter protesters from various surrounding states – and only managed to muster up about 1/10th the size of the original crowd. I’m sure Gov Walker wont be complaining about those “outside forces” who were there to support him!
For some very solid analysis on the budget issues in Wisconsin, along with a great section of comments in the posting on “Tell me if you’ve ever been in a unions & what was good or bad and why” question – check out Ezra Klein’s blog posts the last couple of days on the Madison protests.
Union issues, like just about all others in politics are just not black & white. Yet, I can see from my Facebook feeds & comments & reactions all over the internet that folks feel very passionately one way or the other about them. Shoot, I remember hearing a few heated union debates in my own house growing up! Personally, I don’t have experience with them. My summer job as a union member when I worked at the San Diego Wild Animal Park really doesn’t count since I was only 18 and it was only for three months. I’ve been blessed to work at only one place since & unions don’t play a part in my industry. I’m fully aware of course, that the Democratic Party is tied very closely to unions (as evidenced by the contribution situation I mentioned earlier), but I’ve never felt particularly passionate about them one way or the other. The percentage of workers represented by unions has been in steady decline over the last few decades. They rose from a marketplace need (worker’s rights, fair wages, safety etc) and thrived during the post WWII years. But, as companies have evolved, and the marketplace itself has demanded a certain standard for employee rights, the need for unions has diminished. So, being the pragmatist that I am, I don’t see a huge need for them to grow beyond what already exists and I do sometimes see the issues that union regulations put on employers (be they private or public).
HOWEVER – what Gov Walker is trying to do is precisely WHY we need unions! He is attempting to take control & abolish the rights of these workers. He has become just the type of employer that unions were created to fight against. And the movement to forcibly break unions will spread. It is already being mimicked in Ohio (protests beginning there as well).
So yes, I pretty much believe Rachel Maddow’s theory. This is a push by the GOP to break up a leading contributor & organizer of Democratic Party interests. They succeeded through truly dishonest means to get rid of ACORN, and now they are tackling a much bigger fish. One with a much more numerous & vocal constituency. I really hope the unions prevail here. I also really hope that those people who voted in 2010 are watching this. More specifically I hope the people who DIDN’T vote are watching! Because I know a lot of folks stayed home. Voters who normally would have pulled the lever for Democrats. I’m fairly sure that not all of the estimated 70,000 demonstrators in Madison voted, or voted Democratic in Nov. I AM betting that every one of them is wishing now that they had!