Unions under attack in Wisconsin

That America is not like Europe, although Europeans often think they are one and the same and become disappointed or confused when it does turn out to be the case, has not so clearly been exemplified in a long time than in today’s big battle in Wisconsin between the unions and Governor Scott Walker .
The Republican governor’s clearly stated plan to disarm the unions and reduce their power and influence by abolishing the right to collective bargaining for public employees, is difficult to imagine having its equal anywhere in Europe today, where the trade union movement remains strong as an accepted and integral partner in the community.
Governor Walker argues that his proposal is necessary to overcome the state’s large budget deficit. So far, he has stood its ground, despite a storm of criticism. He has referred to President Reagan, when he simply sacked thousands of air traffic controllers during their strike early in the 1980s, and has become something of a new star among Republicans. Our time has come, says Walker. It is a battle for America’s democracy, according to his opponents, a decisive battle for the future of trade unions in America.
What is sometimes forgotten in this battle is that the unions have already agreed to the Governor’s demands for concessions on pensions and health care in the name of budget savings, but sacrificing the right to collective bargaining is out of the question, they add. The 14 Democratic members of Wisconsin’s Senate support the unions and have fled to neighboring Illinois, making impossible for the governor and the Republicans to push through his proposal – without the 14 Senate Democrats there is no quorum. The governor, they say, must retreat on the collective bargaining issue; otherwise they will not return from their “exile.”
Unions in America have played a crucial role in the years to create a 40-hour work week, rights to vacation, pensions, health care, etc., but they have for decades, maybe especially since President Reagan’s years in the White House, been under attack. The result today is that only seven percent of America’s private sector employees are unionized.
The unions in the public sector have fared better and have been able to better maintain their position and influence. They are precisely the ones now in the Wisconsin governor’s focus, a strategy that has led to a storm of charges against him for “union busting.”
The fact that the public sector trade unions consist of some of the Democratic Party’s strongest supporters has, of course, contributed to the battle’s now clearly partisan overtones in spite of Governor Walker attempts to frame this as solely a budget issue. The mass demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, clearly show how the budget battle in Washington has now spread well beyond the Beltway. It is, fundamentally, at battle for political power in the 2012 elections.


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