Unions energized after Wisconsin defeat

The three-week long and bitter battle in Wisconsin is over, at least for now. Governor Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues in the state legislature got their way in the end. Wisconsin’s public employees no longer have the right to collective bargaining.
A clever parliamentary maneuver, which outraged the Democrats, paved the way for their victory. In a hastily called evening meeting, without debate and without the participation of the 14 Democratic state senators still in exile in Illinois to prevent a vote on the budget, the Republican majority stripped public employees of the right to collective bargaining, which has been a fact in Wisconsin since 1959 — the first state to give public employees such a right.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne reported the other day on a nationwide poll in which a clear majority supports the unions and while the governor is supported by only 31 percent of the respondents. Dionne points to that numbers and draws the conclusion that these could have serious political implications for the Republican Party in next year’s election.
The governor did not give in. A ban is necessary, he said, to overcome Wisconsin’s budget crisis. But the New York Times says it “was always about politics.”
It is hard to imagine that something similar could happen in Scandinavia or Western Europe today, where the unions are not only stronger but also a more acceptable part of the social machinery than here in America. Still today, in nearly half of the States, public employees have no right to collective bargaining.
However, Wisconsin governor’s victory may be short-lived. The trade unions – having faced headwinds for many years – have new and strong winds in their backs. They believe that Walker, who was elected last fall with 52 percent of the vote, may have gone too far. Donations to the unions are up, so is recruiting. The union leaders, who admit that they lost this battle, now see that loss in as a clear political advantage for next year’s election. It remains to be seen. But there is new energy and new hope in the air.

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.