On and on Wisconsin

The stand-off in Madison continues:

Firefighters playing bagpipes lead labor's march

Activists organized by, or supporting, the state’s major labor unions continue to march in and around the State House.

Importantly, the firefighters, police officers, and other public safety employees, exempted from this harsh budget bill, have stood with the teachers, nurses, and social workers.  Some are camping out in front of the state house.  (In Madison in February, this is a serious commitment.)

The Tea Party opponents, who visited Madison and marched over the Presidents’ Day weekend, have mostly gone home–and to the internet.  Online, they’re talking about the great deals organized workers have.

I’ve seen comments like:  “June, July, and august off?  I’d take that.”   But would you take the 34 fourth graders for nine months leading up to that time off?

Governor Scott Walker is cultivating a national presence, arguing that sharp restrictions on labor’s capacity to organize are necessary to balance any kind of state budget.  Emphatically, he refuses to negotiate or compromise.

Fourteen Democratic state senators continue to hide out (and give interviews) in Illinois, denying the Republican majority the quorum it needs to vote on budget bills.  They emphasize their willingness to compromise on everything but the right to meaningful collective bargaining.

Governor Walker and the Republican Majority in the State Senate have resumed their legislative work, and have urged the Democratic minority to return to the State House to vote (and LOSE) on the budget bill.

The state senators remain out of state, cheered on by the demonstrators in Madison.

Who’s got leverage?  The quorum is preventing the Wisconsin State Senate from doing budget business.  (It has, however, passed a resolution commending the Green Bay Packers on their season.)

Governor Walker says that without a budget he will commence lay-offs to balance the budget.  He hopes that there are enough threats and incentives here to peel off the support of some Wisconsinites–and at least one Democratic Senator.

But it’s way bigger than Wisconsin now.  Indiana and Ohio are now considering similar bills restricting public employees’ unions.  Large business interests, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers (via Tea Party groups), supports the Republican governors, and has worked to mobilize opinion and activism against the unions.

Liberal activists have also responded.  Moveon.org is mobilizing nationally in support of the Wisconsin workers.

It’s not the whole world, but lots of people are watching.

In effect, there is every pressure on both the governor and the Wisconsin Democrats to continue the standoff.  Outside Madison, activists see this as an early battle in a much longer struggle about organized labor.  As the battle drags on, the stakes get higher and higher–and extend far beyond Wisconsin’s borders.

Watch the crowd.  Organized labor can only win with the support of people who use their services and aren’t in a union.  And in this case, a win would mean accepting large cuts in salaries and benefits.

It’s not Egypt here; there will be no helicopters on the State House lawn to evacuate defeated officials to a safer space.  “Regime change” of any kind is at least two years off, and things are unlikely to get any easier–for anyone.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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