After Wisconsin — the assaults on the unions will increase

Republican Governor Scott Walker’s easy victory in yesterday’s recall election in Wisconsin means that the conservative efforts to kill off the American labor movement will not only continue but likely increase in intensity.

It means that Walker is the only governor in three American recall elections that survived a recall effort.

It means that conservatives win recall elections, this time by successfully defending a conservative governor, while in the two previous recalls, 1921 and 2003, defeating sitting liberal governors.

It means that corporate money, allowed after the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling, which came in from out-of-state in huge amounts to Governor Walker, does make a difference. Walker outspent his challenger Tom Barrett 8 to 1.

It means little for the general election in November in Wisconsin, where Barack Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by 14 per cent. The Democratic presidential candidate has won in Wisconsin in every election since 1988, albeit narrowly in 2000 and 2004, and the State seems a pretty safe for Barack Obama in the fall.

The exit polls in Wisconsin confirm this. They show Obama beating Mitt Romney 51 to 44, and that 18 per cent of those who voted for Walker support Obama. Writes Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast:

“Folks, if ever there was a day in the history of Wisconsin polling that should have shown Romney within spitting distance of Obama–or even ahead, given the obviously massive pro-Walker turnout–it should have been yesterday, which was the biggest and most enthusiastic day for Republican politics in recent state history. Yes, Romney should have been ahead, or at the very least tied. Instead, the same electorate that gave Walker this huge win said it would reelect the president handily.”

But the Republicans certainly hope that Walker’s victory will have national implications for the fall. And they will, not the least for American labor, which lost an important battle. As Jonathan Chait writes on his blog in New York Magazine:

“Walker’s win will certainly provide a blueprint for fellow Republicans. When they gain a majority, they can quickly move to not just wrest concessions from public sector unions but completely destroy them, which in turn eliminates one of the strongest sources of political organization for the Democratic Party. And whatever backlash develops, it’s probably not enough to outweigh the political benefit. Walker has pioneered a tactic that will likely become a staple of Republican governance. Fortune favors the bold.”

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Wisconsin today: it’s do or die for the union movement

For the hard-pressed American trade union movement, with a membership of only 7 percent in the private sector while 36 per cent of public sector workers are union members, today’s recall election in Wisconsin is a moment of do or die.

Wisconsin’s voters will decide whether the Republican Governor Scott Walker, elected governor in November 2010, is fired or allowed to serve out his term after ramming through a new law revoking the collective bargaining rights of the State’s public employees.

The battle in Wisconsin has been going on for over a year and has mobilized all the political forces in the State, where in 1959 as the first State ever, the right to collective bargaining for public employees was established. In the process, Wisconsin has become the epicenter of the fierce ideological struggle in today’s American politics.

Only three times in history have American voters gone to the polls in so-called recall elections to decide on whether the State’s governor will be fired or get to continue to serve out the term.

The first recall election took place in North Dakota in 1921, when voters ousted Governor Lynn Frazier. Then followed California in 2003, when Democrat Gray Davis was voted out, paving the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger as the new governor. In both states, the recall elections were the result of angry conservative Republicans, while the Wisconsin election is the result of an angry union movement. All three elections resulted in fierce battles between the right and the left — in the first two, the right won.

The campaign has become the most expensive ever in Wisconsin. Over 63 million dollars have been spent in the fight between Walker and the challenger, Democrat Tom Barrett, Mayor of Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee. Lots of money has rolled in from across the country. Of Walker’s 30 million dollars, two-thirds come from wealthy conservative forces outside of Wisconsin, while Barrett is far behind with 4 million, a quarter of which from out of state.

Walker leads in the polls by an average of 6.7 percent, so he is favored to win, according to the New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight. An unusually high turnout is expected, about 65 percent, which usually favors the Democrats. But in Wisconsin, voters on both sides so motivated that it is difficult to say who will benefit from voter mobilization.

A Walker victory will encourage the Republicans leading up to the presidential election in November, but President Obama’s victory in Wisconsin is probably not in danger. He currently leads over Mitt Romney in the polls by an average of 4.7 percent. Obama won there in 2008 and in Wisconsin, the Democratic candidate has won in every presidential election since 1988.