The crisis in Wisconsin has the potential to drastically diminish the rights, salaries, and working conditions of Americans throughout the country. Whether they are public employees, private sector employees, union members, or non-union workers, America’s working families will suffer if the conservative efforts in Wisconsin are successful.
Public-sector employees are entitled to collective bargaining rights, as we all are. This is essential to a healthy democracy. The accomplishments of labor unions have helped to improve salaries and conditions for all workers. America’s middle class has truly been built by the labor movement. Conservatives have been trying, for years, to reverse these gains. There is now a concerted, national effort by conservatives and their corporate backers to increase the power of corporations to influence our domestic policies, by weakening organized labor and by diminishing the rights of working people.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has called for a major, national campaign to diminish the effectiveness of labor unions. The RNC cites the situation in Wisconsin as a rallying point for its efforts to achieve its goals. Working people, through their unions, have so often been effective in countering the efforts of corporations to determine our laws and to eliminate essential regulation. Unions have, time and again, been essential in protecting the rights and working conditions of America’s workers. The conservatives know that by reducing the influence of organized labor, corporations will have nearly limitless power to control our government and to implement changes that will generate huge profits at the expense of jobs, working conditions, salaries, and our environment.
In Wisconsin, the unions have agreed to Governor Walker’s demand that public employees increase their contributions to their pensions and health care costs. As a matter of fact, they have agreed to increases that would amount to the equivalent of a 6% reduction in salary. Money, of course, is not really the issue. Walker, his political allies, and his corporate backers want changes that would essentially eliminate collective bargaining rights and would threaten the very existence of labor unions. That is why Walker has not agreed to a settlement.
Michael B. Keegan, President of People for the American Way, points out, “Wisconsin’s budget shortfall was not caused by greedy government workers. It was caused by the current recession combined with Governor Walker’s massive tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy. Walker’s demonization of teachers, public safety workers, and other public employees conveniently deflects attention from the people who are really benefiting from the state’s current budget priorities: the corporations that are bankrolling Republican campaigns.”
U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) states, “The neo-conservatives, rightwing billionaires and corporations that are behind this attack want unions out of the way so that nothing stands between them and deregulation and privatization of every aspect of life, driving wages and living standards ever lower in a furious race to the bottom.”
USLAW has created a flyer that calls for solidarity with the Wisconsin workers. The flyer also explains the need for new spending priorities. It presents a helpful chart that shows the cost of war for several states, comparing this to the states’ budget deficits. To download a PDF of the flyer, click here.
Paul Krugman explains, “In recent weeks, Madison has been the scene of large demonstrations against the governor’s budget bill, which would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers. Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.” Krugman points out, “The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses.”
There has been substantial speculation that Koch Industries might wish to purchase some of Wisconsin’s power plants, under these no-bid provisions. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has indicated, “Koch Industries denied last night that it was interested in purchasing power plants here to go along with its pipeline, refinery, and coal companies in the state.” CMD wonders, however, “It’s curious that the Kochs have apparently expanded their lobbying presence just as Walker was sworn into office and immediately before a budget was unveiled that would allow the executive branch unilateral power to sell off public utilities in this state in no-bid contracts.”
The Madison, Wisconsin Chief of Police, Noble Ray, has pointed out another cause for serious concern about the conservatives’ strategy in Wisconsin. Speaking with a reporter who pretended to be David Koch, Governor Walker stated that he had “thought about” planting troublemakers among the crowd of pro-worker demonstrators. Chief Ray said, “I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers.”
In the same conversation with the reporter, Walker proclaimed his hope that his efforts to eliminate collective bargaining rights would help to spur a national anti-labor movement. He agreed with the Koch impersonator that he might be “the first domino” in a series of successes for the anti-labor movement.
I think it is also important to note that the amount we currently spend to keep just 151 of our 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan is equal to the amount that Governor Walker says he needs to cut from Wisconsin’s budget. Congressional Republicans recently voted to cut 60 billion dollars from the federal budget, eliminating a massive number of jobs and services. If we brought home 60,000 of our troops from Afghanistan, we would be able to save 60 billion dollars. Imagine if we then brought the other 40,000 troops home from Afghanistan. At one million dollars per soldier per year, we surely could create a lot of jobs here at home.
In this two-minute video compilation, by Brave New Foundation, Rachel Maddow points out that much of the press coverage about the Wisconsin demonstrations has been misleading. The video also makes clear the influence of the Koch brothers and their Tea Party allies.