Autocrats Bust Unions

By Jim Goodman

The Wisconsin State Capitol sits in the center of the Isthmus in Madison, a narrow funnel connecting the East and West sides of town. 80,000 protesters jam things up. I’ve seen crowds on the Isthmus, never like this, not since Vietnam. Wisconsin is again rising to challenge oppressive government.

I do not belong to a union, never have, never will. By my own choice I do not have collective bargaining rights, no benefits package and no weekends off. I wish I did. These are things that should be a right for everyone, rights won by union workers putting their lives on the line for everyones future. My work, farming, does offer other benefits, but that’s not the story here.

Gov. Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill” will supposedly save $150 million by cutting wages and benefits for public employees, money he claims is needed to offset a $137 million deficit. Is it a coincidence that, in just over one month in office, he has run up a tab of $140 million on new special interest spending?

So, I can understand that he would want to keep his credit score clean in the new job, and go after someone to pay the bills, why not the public employees?

And as long as he has carte blanche to write whatever onerous language he wishes, why not get rid of collective bargaining, leave some room to scrap Medicaid and BadgerCare at some point and, in time, shift more power away from the Legislature to himself. This is how you impress the Republican National Committee. This is what Autocracy looks like.

Walker is talking a big lie, the unions have said they are willing to negotiate wage and benefit cuts, exactly what he said was needed to fill the budget gap.

Still, he won’t negotiate. Obviously this bill was never about saving money or balancing a budget, it’s about shifting money from the middle class to corporate interests and the wealthy — a payback to those who funded Walker’s rise to power. It’s about busting the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions; it’s about getting rid of unions.

Wisconsin is a test case; if the public employee’s union falls here, other states will try union busting as well. If the union falls here, all unions are at risk, Teamsters, IBEW, SEIU, all of them.

The Republicans and corporate America want unions to go away, and Scott Walker is apparently the point man. Flushed with power from the November elections they see no need to compromise, no need to debate, no need to listen to the people — just humor the Tea Party, the conservative bloggers and Fox News.

So, why should I or anyone else care what happens to union members pay and bargaining rights? Well, because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone should care — we all owe the union movement. I know the power of corporations and how government works in their interest. They don’t like small farms, they don’t like unions, solidarity! We fight the same battles.

What about cooperatives; health cooperatives, farm cooperatives, they were formed to bargain collectively, will they be targeted as having an unfair advantage over private enterprise?

In the long view we come to this — targeting one group, dividing and conquering the middle class helps no one in the middle class. “Everyone does better when everyone does better.” That’s why everyone should care. No doubt about it, Walker is smooth, he has good coaches and aspirations for a future in national politics.

Wisconsin’s Republican Legislature, like Walker, has plenty of hubris and an agenda targeting unions, social programs and a deep passion to shift more wealth to the wealthy. But in this fight, they are dead wrong. They are not, as Molly Ivins would say, “dancing with them what brung ya.”

The protesters have shown us what Democracy looks like. Gov. Walker is showing us what autocracy looks like. The Republican Legislature is showing us what dupes look like.

And the Tea Party wants to show us how tearing down over 100 years of union organizing for social justice will somehow better their lot (logic is apparently not their strong suit).

Making health care more expensive, cutting wages, putting pensions out of reach will not repay decades of no holds barred military spending. It will not bring back jobs and industries exported in the name of higher corporate profit. It will not stop the economic spiral to the bottom, indeed, it will only hasten it.

Cutting wages and benefits to teachers will not give us better schools, nor will we have better hospitals and municipal services if we allow Governor Walker to crush collective bargaining. It comes down to this, will Wisconsin continue to be a “Laboratory of Democracy” or will we become a Laboratory of Autocracy?

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wis.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011

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