Stateside,  Trade Unions

Wisconsin union members fight back against Republican governor

CBS News reports:

For six days now, all eyes have been on Madison, Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of impassioned protesters having been marching on the state capital – and the battle over one state’s budget bill has become a fiery national referendum on public employee unions.

It all began when newly-elected Republican governor Scott Walker declared he would cut costs by cutting pension and health care benefits – and curtailing collective bargaining rights for the state’s 300,000 public employees.

As the majority Republican legislature prepared to vote on the controversial proposal, demonstrators began gathering – slowly at first, then by the thousands.

By Thursday, word came that Wisconsin’s 14 Democratic senators had fled the state in a last-ditch effort to postpone a vote they were bound to lose.

Here are a few facts which are not being widely reported, but which are essential to understand what’s going on.

–To the extent that Wisconsin faces a budget crisis, The Cap Times reports, “it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes — or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues — the ‘crisis’ would not exist.”

–If the dispute were simply over benefit reductions, it could be resolved fairly quickly. But it’s not— it’s about forcing public employees to give up their rights to bargain freely over wages and benefits in good times or bad.

Top leaders of two of Wisconsin’s largest public employee unions announced they are willing to accept the financial concessions called for in Walker’s plan, but will not accept the loss of collective bargaining rights.

Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, said in a conference call with reporters that workers will do their fair share to narrow Wisconsin’s budget gap.

Walker’s plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, the governor has said.

The measure also would prohibit most unionized public employees, except local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol, from bargaining on issues besides wages. Wage hikes could be negotiated only if they don’t exceed the consumer price index.

“We want to say loud and clear — it is not about those concessions,” Bell said. “For my members, it’s about retaining a voice in their professions.”

–Although Walker cynically exempted local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol from the bill in an effort to divide public workers, it didn’t work. Fire fighters are standing with their fellow government employees:

–Republicans in Wisconsin and throughout the country no longer feel that they even have to pay lip service to the role of unions in a free society.

Can you imagine a leading Republican saying, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in the 1950s:

“Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society… Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of their right to join the union of their choice.”

And when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, his campaign featured the fact that he was a past president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Consider by contrast South Carolina’s new Republican governor Nikki Haley, who said “There’s no secret I don’t like the unions” and has promised the state would try to keep unions out of the Boeing Inc. plant in North Charleston. If any Republicans have criticized her for this, I’d be happy to recognize them.

Poor Sarah Palin may be behind the GOP curve on this. When she became the Republican candidate for vice president in 2008, she made a point of mentioning that her husband Todd was “a proud member of the United Steel Workers’ Union.” And she wrote about herself and Todd in her book “Going Rogue”:

We know what it’s like to be on a tight budget and wonder how we’re going to pay for our own health care, let alone college tuition. We know what it’s like to work union jobs, to be blue-collar, white-collar, to have our kids in public schools. We felt our very normalcy, our status as ordinary Americans, could be a much-needed fresh breeze blowing into Washington, D.C.

That is, she associated union membership with being an ordinary American.

Tell that to Nikki Haley, Sarah.

Or to Glenn Beck, for that matter.

Update: And no, Gov. Walker doesn’t deserve to be equated with Hitler any more than Barack Obama does.

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