Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Wisconsin Shenanigans

One of the more popular protest signs in an area rife with division and legal controversy.

The political situation in Wisconsin just keeps getting more and more sticky. As you’ve probably heard by now, Republicans in the WI state Senate forced through their union-busting law through a tricky technicality – which seems like a pretty underhanded way of legislating to me.

What was this trickery? Well, the senators, using a ploy that some Democrats in the state have denounced as illegal, removed parts of Governor Walker’s bill that were related to appropriating funds (technically at least), which allowed them to pass the bill without the minimum quorum of 20 senators required for bills of that nature.

The Democratic senators who retreated to Illinois to hold the bill back, known by some as the “Wisconsin 14,” were outraged by the shifty legality of the Republican senators’ maneuver. And who can blame them? Even after all of their determination and the furious protests of state workers in the capital, the Republican senators have said, essentially, “Enough is enough.” The consequences of this decision are more or less exactly what Gov. Scott Walker wanted to happen: Unions have lost their collective bargaining abilities and have suffered an effective cut in pay.

To me, this seems like pure shenaniganery (which is now a word) on the Republicans’ part. Now, it’s true that these officials were elected by the people back in November for a reason, and that reason was a new desire for fiscal conservatism. So it makes sense that the newly elected Republicans would want to honor that desire by effectively cutting the pay of public workers. But what point could there be to taking away collective bargaining rights, except to slice into a stronghold of Democratic sentiment? The idea that “budget” came into the decision is frankly ridiculous.

On the positive side, this tactic has called the newly elected Republicans’ wisdom and discretion into consideration, and as many as 12 Senators may face recall this spring. The political fallout from this decision will no doubt be significant, and protests are still ongoing in Madison. So soon after the national turnover in elected officials from blue to red, it’s possible that new Republicans will be ousted from office before they can even get the rest of their plans into action.

With similar bills under consideration in Indiana and Ohio, and a national rethinking of the role and privileges of unions, it’s hard to say what might happen in other parts of the country. On the one hand, it’s possible that similar bills will be pushed through in other parts of the country, as Republican lawmakers are spurred forward to mimic their Wisconsinite brethren. On the other hand though, I think it’s quite possible that this can be a strong rallying cry for Democrats and public workers’ unions all across the country. Now, it’s possible for them to say, “Look what the Republicans here had to resort to to remove our rights! Don’t let them do the same thing to you.”

And even if no Republicans legislators are recalled after this, chances are this action hasn’t helped their street cred much, and we could see another total turnover in Wisconsin back to the democrats in the next election cycle. And if similar bills are passed elsewhere, by similar tactics, it’s quite possible that Republicans will lose a considerable amount of political momentum, perhaps even on a national level. Many people, even some who voted them into office, feel that GOP legislators and governors have taken the wrong approach to cutting the deficit, and are hacking away at things like collective bargaining rights, which is unlikely to save the country any money, instead of tackling real problems like social security or bloated military spending.

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Unrest in… Wisconsin?

A protestor's sign in Madison, comparing Governor Walker to ex-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak.

Typically, when someone says the word “Wisconsin,” I don’t think of protests, civil unrest, and accusations of a governor’s similarity to Hosni Mubarak. But over the last few days, the state’s public workers have reacted strongly to Republican governor Scott Walker’s recent plans to require them to pay more for health insurance and pensions, effectively slicing away a substantial amount of worker income. More surprising are the governor’s hopes to severely castrate (unpleasant yet appropriate imagery) the bargaining rights of these union workers.

The governor has made the claim that such cutbacks are necessary in these tough economic times, and he and supporters have said that so-called excessive benefits and pay for public employees have contributed to the dire economic straits that many parts of the US find themselves in.

Now, it’s understandable that Walker would want to cut back on certain benefits and bonuses for state workers, and in fact, prominent union leaders have agreed to this cut in pay (which works out to around a 7% drop in income). But my real concern with Walker’s action isn’t about the financial side of things so much as the union rights aspect. While I can sympathize with a desire for cutbacks in spending in the public sector, I really fail to see what economic benefits the Republican bloc of Wisconsin hopes to find in the restriction of collective bargaining among unions.

Generally, I don’t have a fantastically high view of unions, to be perfectly honest. While I’m typically a very liberal thinker (and voter), I often find myself taking a more Republican view toward unions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have increased protection and fairness toward workers, particularly those in the lower or middle working classes, to prevent abuse from higher-ups. In this sense, I love unions. In another sense though, unions have the potential to elevate certain professions higher than they should be, and guarantee protections and┬áprivileges┬áto only a few.

In this sense, I agree with supporters of the governor’s action (or at least their sentiment). In a recent New York Times article, a number of Wisconsinites have expressed their frustrations over the seeming extra protections that such unions provide to state workers. Many workers for private companies, especially in the industrial sector, feel that people such as public school teachers, policemen, nurses, or firefighters shouldn’t get such excessive benefits and bargaining rights when those working in the private sector don’t have those same bonuses.

And so it goes. I definitely wouldn’t say that these protests will have similar results to those in Cairo, as some seem to be hoping for. But they do raise an interesting and important question of the modern roles and rights of unions, and whether public workers do have this inherent right to collective bargaining. Either way, I think it’s fair to say that this right isn’t what needs to be taken into consideration right now. Walker and other Republicans are trying to turn a budget cut into an outright attack on union rights and union workers, using the excuse of a federal budget as a justification to hack into union power. I fail to see how collective bargaining is going to have a negative impact on Scott Walker’s budget, and it’s time he abandoned the argument that taking this right away will help his state’s economy.

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