Wisconsinites v. Governor Scott Walker – by Stephen Lendman
Last winter’s epic battle between Wisconsin public workers and Republican Governor Walker ended badly for social justice. Nonetheless, struggling for it continues.
As issue was old-fashioned union busting. It included eroding collective bargain rights before ending them altogether. In addition, draconian wage and benefit cuts were imposed.
Brazen politicians conspired with corrupt union bosses. Rank and file interests lost out. Wealth and power ones prevailed. It’s the same story nationwide at federal, state and local levels.
After draconian Wisconsin legislation passed, collective bargaining’s only permitted on wage issues. In addition, health insurance and pension contributions doubled. Things got tougher for workers already hard pressed to make ends meet. Wage cuts ranged from 8 – 20% ahead of more coming.
The epic battle ended along party lines after State Assembly members passed Walker’s bill 53 – 42, following the Senate voting 18 – 1 with no debate. The measure read in part:
“This bill authorizes a state agency to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit-down, stay-in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the operations or services of state government, including specifically purported mass resignations or sick calls. Under the bill, engaging in any of these actions constitutes just cause for discharge.”
In addition, the governor may unilaterally declare “state of emergency” authority to fire striking workers, and under the section titled, “Discharge of State Employees:”
“The Governor may issue an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the state or any portion of the state if he or she determines that an emergency resulting from a disaster or imminent threat of a disaster exists.”
In other words, he can dictatorially do what he wants, especially regarding public worker rights and job security. They’re gone unless resurrected by mass action, including statewide shutdowns for rights too important to lose.
Other provisions stipulated worker responsibility for half their pension contributions, and minimally 12.6% of healthcare premiums. In addition, future pay raises are pegged to annual CPI increases, a rigged index not reflecting true inflation. Greater ones may only be approved by statewide referendum. The cumbersome process takes time and often fails.
Moreover, unions must hold annual votes to let workers decide whether or not to be members, and state authorities no longer will collect union dues from paychecks.
Voter Recall Drives
Last March, voters launched recall campaigns to replace anti-union politicians. At the time, Boise State University Professor Gary Moncrief called what went on unprecedented, saying he couldn’t recall a times when “pretty much everyone” was potentially vulnerable to recall.
He and others said multiple state lawmakers were recalled only four previous times for the same issue. University of Iowa Professor Caroline Tolbert called recall “an extreme measure (under) extreme circumstances.” UC San Diego Professor Thad Kousser said Wisconsin was in unchartered territory.
In state history, only two lawmakers were recalled. Attempting to remove a governor is unprecedented. Only two previous times it succeeded nationwide – in 2003 in California ousting Gray Davis for Arnold Schwarzenegger and 1921 in North Dakota.
Wisconsin law requires signatures from 25% of voters in the most recent gubernatorial race in districts of targeted legislators. In addition, recalls aren’t allowed until after one year in office. On January 4, Walker became eligible. In his case, over 540,000 statewide signatures were needed.
Last July and August, recalls were held. Democrats lost four of six races. Republicans retained legislative control. Good efforts went for naught. Despite turn-out-the-vote campaigns, only 43% of eligible voters participated.
Moreover, union bosses allied with Democrats who made no secret about supporting draconian wage and benefit cuts. In other words, both parties and union officials sided with corporate interests and their own. As a result, rank and file workers lost out. Even so, their struggle continues.
On January 5, Walker told a Washington, DC right-wing American Enterprise Institute audience that he expects a June recall election. He was in town for a fund raiser, anticipating what’s coming.
On January 17, United Wisconsin (UW) broke the news. Its UW to Recall Walker site headlined, “Over One Million,” saying:
Over a million Wisconsinites signed petitions to recall Walker. The achievement represents “the most-participated-in major recall effort in American history, and a number so significant” it’s beyond legal challenge. UW board member Ryan Lawler said:
“The collection of more than one million signatures represents a crystal clear indication of how strong the appetite is to stop the damage and turmoil that Scott Walker has caused Wisconsin.”
On January 17, they were filed along with another 845,000 signatures to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefish, Walker’s running mate. In addition, petitions were also submitted against four Republican state senators, including leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Of course, Democrats aren’t blameless anymore than in Washington, and that’s the real hurdle to overcome. Nonetheless, over 30,000 state volunteers canvassed street corners, shopping malls, places of worship, dinner tables and sidewalks “to take their state back.”
One million signatures represents about 30% of eligible voters and nearly Walker’s 2010 total (1.12 million).
The state Government Accountability Board has 31 days to certify requirements were met. If so, a late spring election will follow, including a primary to select Walker’s Democrat opponent. So far, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s favored. Walker defeated him in 2010. After signatures were filed, he said:
“I stand with the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Wisconsin citizens who have had enough of Walker’s cynical politics that try to divide the people of our state. It’s time for a new direction that will heal our fractured state and move Wisconsin forward again.”
He stopped short of saying how. In fact, as Milwaukee mayor, he instituted his own anti-worker measures. If elected governor, expect no reversals statewide. According to Marty Beil, executive director of Wisconsin AFSCME, Barrett’s “an unacceptable candidate. From our perspective, (he’s) been doing the bidding of Walker.”
Of course, Beil and other union bosses express pro-worker sentiments for political cover. In practice, they ally with hostile forces for their own self-interest.
As a result, Wisconsinites can’t rely on electoral choices for change, at least in the short-run. At federal, state and local levels, the system’s too broken to fix. Only people power for the long haul has a chance.
That’s what OWS is all about, marshaling organized people against organized money. It’s the mother of all struggles, but more than that. It’s one too important to lose.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.