MILWAUKEE — Republican Gov. Scott Walker is declaring victory after signing into law his bill to crush public-sector unions in Wisconsin. But the anti-democratic methods he and his Republican followers employed have only deepened the resolve of the hundreds of thousands of protesters.
It’s now hard to go anywhere without seeing signs that the rebellion
against Walker and his pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda are
growing. In a restaurant here yesterday, I saw three people wearing anti-Walker buttons and a young teacher wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “Walker is a weasel, not a Badger.” (Bucky Badger is the mascot of U-W Madison.)
Even if the bill is overturned in the courts because of procedural violations committed to force its passage and the questionable power grabs in the bill, Walker has emerged as a national hero of the ultra-right, which has been fighting unions for at least the last 150 years. Walker’s approval ratings have plummeted, and there is a rising cry for his recall (which could only begin next year).
Walker’s victory could very well provoke the building of a broadly-based progressive coalition, committed to worker rights, quality public services, strong protections of the environment, fair taxation and campaign finance reform that would end the payoffs-and-paybacks nature of current Wisconsin politics.
Saturday’s huge rally of 100,000 or so people at the Capitol in Madison — despite absolutely frigid weather — was a clear sign that the protest movement is hardly going away. It was a fierce expression of determination to carry on the battle for worker rights and economic justice throughout the state.
SIGNS OF OUTRAGE
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee yesterday, students, public
employee union leaders and Democratic legislators addressed a crowd
of between 2,000 and 2,500. It was the largest I’d seen there since an “Impeach Nixon” rally in 1973.
Over the course of the last 34 days since Walker launched his anti-worker crusade, public awareness of the stakes has grown infinitely. Walker’s zealous drive to crush public-sector unions in Wisconsin is being perceived by many both here and nationally as part of a broader corporate attack on any force that pushes up wages and standard of living.
The active involvement of the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and other elements of the corporate-Right coalition has driven home this understanding.
- The attack on public workers is now widely seen as a divisive tactic transparently designed to re-direct private-sector workers’ resentment over wage and benefit cuts toward public workers instead of their own greedy employers.
- The “budget crisis” is increasingly recognized as a hollow pretext used by conservatives at both the state and national levels to protect their low-tax status while destroying cherished public institutions and handing near-dictatorial powers to the new crop of ultra-Right Republican governors.
The most glaring example of this power grab is Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s push for a new law enabling the state or private corporations to declare “financial martial law” — that is, to declare cities insolvent and take over their management. So much for the sincerity of conservatives’ endlessly-stated belief in the sanctity of “local control.”
THE BIG SHAKEDOWN
For the past couple years, the conservative message about “government over-spending” and the need for ordinary working people to be given what conservative David Frum called “the big shakedown” had seemed like an unstoppable steamroller.
But the steamroller encountered a stone wall in Wisconsin, with public workers and their allies asking why working people should give up their union rights and make more sacrifices at a time when wealth and income are so unfairly distributed. Michael Moore’s March 5 speech in Madison expressed a truly crucial message which the Wisconsin movement has more and more deeply absorbed:
The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the ueber-rich.
In fact, as Moore noted, the 400 richest Americans own more than the bottom 155 million. The richest 1% bring home 24% of all income, leaving the other 99% to fight over the rest of the pie.
Increasingly, people are seeing that they have choices despite the
inflexible “crisis” mindset into which Walker and Co. are trying to
Wisconsin’s budget shortfall projected for the next two years is relatively modest, and largely the product of about 60% of major Wisconsin corporations not paying taxes and the recession brought on by the Wall Street meltdown and the ongoing export of jobs to Mexico and China.
CRISIS OF BUDGET — OR LOYALTIES?
Thus, Wisconsin does not face a “budget crisis.” Instead, it’s a crisis of loyalties among those at the top of the state’s government.
The real crisis: we are ruled by “no-tax-increase” Republican politicians who are more concerned with shielding the massive wealth of their donors than protecting the state’s people and its public institutions — its universities, public schools, health clinics, parks and lakes.
With corporations having extensively dis-invested in Wisconsin (e.g., 80% of Milwaukee’s manufacturing base has been destroyed since 1977), corporate leaders and their pet-poodle politicians see no problem dis-investing in public institutions.
But the people of Wisconsin obviously have a big problem with that.