Sourced from: thinkprogress.org
Two months after taking office, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has launched one of the most aggressive attacks on union rights since the 1960s. Purporting to rein in the state’s budget deficit, Walker is pushing legislation that marks “a lethal threat to public-sector labor” by threatening “to strip state employees of the right to bargain collectively for anything besides their pay.” Walker’s radical policy has sparked eight days of protests in Wisconsin from a range of parties, including firefighters, teachers, the Green Bay Packers, and even Egyptian unions. President Obama recently called Walker’s policy “an assault” on workers’ rights. Despite the unpopularity of his position, Walker has refused any compromises offered by the unions and members of his own party unless collective bargaining rights are eliminated. To prevent such a calamity, 14 state Democratic lawmakers took a page out of President Abraham Lincoln’s playbook and fled the state last week to prevent the bill from moving forward. Rather than following any fiscal principle, Walker’s crusade against workers betrays a political calculation to gut the rights and organizing capabilities of his political opposition. Rather than shy away from such blatant anti-democratic policies, Republican governors are following suit and threatening to derail and destroy the few remaining political voices for the middle and working class.
THE BUDGET BUSTER: The stated motivation behind Walker’s union-busting ambitions is Wisconsin’s looming deficit: “We’re broke and it’s about time somebody stood up and told the truth,” he said. The state budget has a $137 million shortfall in the current fiscal year and faces a $3.6 billion projected shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 biennium. Citing this projected $3.6 billion deficit, Walker insists “we’ve got to balance the budget and fix it once and for all” which requires public employees ”to help us out” and make “shared sacrifice” by paying a greater percentage of pensions and health care premiums. While unions offered to make those concessions, Walker still demands eliminating collective bargaining rights because it “costs local governments money.” But a closer look at Wisconsin’s deficit reveals Walker’s budget woes don’t stem from workers’ collective bargaining rights. The claim that public employees must sacrifice their bargaining rights to balance this year’s budget is misleading as there is no obvious relationship between union membership and state budgets. Indeed, “the biggest savings Walker is proposing for the current budget have nothing to do with public employees. His bill proposes to save $165 million this year by simply refinancing state debt.” But the $3.6 billion deficit Walker is apoplectic over is actually exacerbated by his own tax cuts. According to Wisconsin’s nonpartisan fiscal office , Walker’s three tax cut bills “will reduce general fund tax collections by $55.2 million in 2011-12 and $62.0 million in 2012-13.” And, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ Nick Johnson states, “the governor is likely to propose a LOT more tax cuts” in his proposed budget, including a total repeal of the state’s corporate income tax. As Johnson notes, the tax cuts are “worsening the state’s overall budget picture, and it is the state’s overall budget picture — not the current-year picture alone — that [Walker] is using to justify going after the workers.” Thus, the real fiscal truth behind Walker’s deficit woes reveals Walker — not workers — as the budget buster.
THE UGLY TRUTH: As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein notes, what Walker is doing is not attacking the budget but “attacking the right to bargain collectively — which is to say, he’s attacking the very foundation of labor unions, and of worker power — and using an economic crisis unions didn’t cause, and a budget reversal that Walker himself helped create, to justify it.” By doing so, the Republican governor will strike a severe blow at long-standing allies of his political opposition. Unions have typically been “an important part of the core Democratic coalition” and Walker is creating an opportunity to land a blow at his opposition by attacking the political participation on behalf of those who support workers’ rights. Any question of whether Walker’s attack on unions is politically motivated can be answered by the fact that he exempted the police and firefighter unions from this power grab — two groups that supported his candidacy. Certainly, Walker’s anti-union policies didn’t arise in a vacuum but were orchestrated and buttressed by notorious right-wing political players including Koch Industries and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation — “a $460 million conservative honey pot dedicated to crushing the labor movement.” Indeed, the Bradley Foundation’s CEO, former state GOP chairman Michele Grebe, headed Walker’s campaign and transition. What’s more, media and astroturf organizations ginning up support for Walker’s power grab include the MacIver Institute (which produced a series of videos attacking anti-Walker protesters) the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (which funded polls, policy pieces, and attack videos against Walker’s opposition) and Americans for Prosperity (which not only helped elect Walker but bused in Tea Party supporters to hold a pro-Walker demonstration Saturday). All of these groups receive funding from the Bradley Foundation. As the New York Times’ Paul Krugman notes, “billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; [and] they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views.” Given this political reality, unions “are among the most important” of the institutions “that can act as counterweights to the power of big money.” Nancy MacLean, a labor historian at Duke University, said “eliminating unions would do to the Democratic Party what getting rid of socially conservative churches would do to Republicans.” “It’s a stunning partisan calculation on the governor’s part,” she said, “and really ugly.”
ANTI-UNION TIDAL WAVE: The high-stakes battle against union rights is gaining momentum in other GOP-led states. While “Wisconsin is moving the fastest and most aggressively so far,” Wisconsin Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe points out that “this is a national push, and it’s being simultaneously pushed in a number of states.” Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, who believes public employees should be fired if they strike, is backing a similar bill in Ohio to roll back collective-bargaining rights for about 400,000 public employees. Kasich will see at least 5,000 protesters today at the statehouse to protest his efforts. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is ahead of the curve as he has already “aggressively gone after the state’s public-sector unions, taking away their collective-bargaining rights on his first day in office in 2005.” He is also pushing the legislature to weaken tenure protection for teachers. “The new crop of governors is even more bold,” said Walker ally and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R). Incredulous over state employee benefits, Branstad indicated “he was anxious to reassess Iowa’s public employee benefits and had brought in an official from the private sector to examine the state’s collective-bargaining law.” Currently, 16 states are “now weighing, or expected to weigh, laws to trim unions powers or benefits” including New Jersey, Michigan, Tennessee, Idaho, Indiana, and Florida. This tidal wave of contempt that Republican controlled states hold against unions marks more than a blind power grab, and more than “a violent break with a bipartisan consensus about government workers that has operated unquestioned for four decades.” Should it succeed, this Republican onslaught on unions will eradicate the existence of “the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans.” As SEIU president Mary Kay Henry points out, “it’s not just union members at risk; it’s the services these members provide-whether that be as teachers, public safety personnel or home health care workers.” Whether Walker and his cohort will succeed is unclear, but as Krugman notes, “anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.”