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Wis. Court Blocks Gov. Walker’s Anti-Union Bill, as Unions Focus on Spreading Protests

Roger Bybee

Protestors shout outside the office of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker March 11 in Madison as he holds a ceremonial bill signing.

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin workers won a heartening — but possibly temporary — victory yesterday, when Dane County Judge MaryAnn Sumi issued a permanent injunction that effectively throws out Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to strip almost all public workers of any meanginful collective bargaining rights. 

Sumi concluded that the Republicans passed the bill by violating the state’s strong open meeting” law that requires 24 hours notice of official meetings, and that the lawsw was thus invalid. In her ruling, Sumi declared, The right of the people to monitor the people’s business is one of the core principles of democracy.”

While happy with the ruling, labor’s efforts are mainly devoted to stepping up the battle against the bill and Walker’s anti-middle class” policies. Jim Cavanaugh, a key leader of the Wisconsin labor rebellion that mobilized hundreds of thousands for weeks of protest at the State Capitol in response to Walker’s bill, was pleased by Sumi’s decision. It was nice to get it finaly,” said Cavanaugh, the longtime president of the South Central AFL-CIO Council based in Madison. ” Everyone felt good about it.”

But Cavanaugh quickly added that labor is mainly focused on the next phase of fighting against what unionists see as Walker’s overtly pro-corporate and anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda. There are at least three major fronts:

  • PRESSURE ON REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS: With the possibility that the Wisconsin Supreme Court could take up an appeal of Sumi’s ruling by Republicans as early as June 6, labor activists are preparing to expand their efforts to build up public pressure against the unpopular bill. When Republicans again introduce the anti-union bill with the intent of following proper procedures to ram through the legislation, labor plans on turning up the heat on Republicans made nervous by the huge protests and the quickly-muhrooming movements to recall Republican senators. A major protest at Wisconsin’s capitol can also be expected, said Cavanaugh.
  • 3 RECALL VOTES SET FOR JULY 12: Union membgers and sympathizers are also stepping up efforts to win recall elections scheduled for July 12 against Republican state senators who voted for tthe anti-public union bill. A changover of three seats will shift control of the Senate to the Democrats with a 17-16 majority instead of the 19-14 edge now held by the GOP. Three other Republicans will face recall votes expected later this summer, as will three Democratic state senators. But the anti-Republican efforts gathered momentum much more quickly and generally gathered far more qualifying signatures than did the anti-Democratic campaigns.
  • WE ARE WISCONSIN’: BROADLY-DISPERSED GRASSROOTS EFFORTS: Labor witnessed the protests against the Walker bill blossom into what is arguably the largest and most geographically dispersed social movement the state has ever seen. Past upsurges of social protest, like the anti-Vietnam War movement and opposition to the Iraq War, were largely confined to cities like Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and college campuses. But the protests against Walker’s anti-union rights bill spread across the entire map of Wisconsin, with demonstrations taking place in 20 cities on a single day.

Now labor is working patiently to consolidate this sentiment and build a social movement to fight for economic justice that reaches dozens of tiny communities. We’re building the We Are Wisconsin’ effort of labor community alliances throughout the state,” explained Cavanaugh.

We’re working right now most heavily in districts where recall elections will be held. We hope to leave behind a local body of citizens that their state should not go in radical direction Walker is intending for the state.”

Cavanaugh said that he and other labor leaders were constantly being surprised by the emergence of new groups being formed to challenge Walker policies, often formed in small communities once dismissed as hopelessly conservative. 

Take towns like Richland Center and Reedsburg [in southwestern Wisconsin], which have never exactly been hotbeds of progressive activism, where both have formed citizen groups that grew up out of efforts to pressure [Sen. Dale] Schultz to vote against the anti-union legislation.” (Schultz was the only Republican vote against Walker’s bill against public-employee union representation.)


We’re simply seeing indigenous citizen groups springing upon their own,” said Cavanaugh. People see that Walker’s legislation will be bad for their community. They may not be radicals, they may not even be Democrats, but they see bad things coming for their schools, theirstreets, their police forces, and other public institutions.”

In addition to We Are Wisconsin” chapters forming, local ad hoc organizations are also forming in response to Walker’s perceived all-out attack on the middle class and the Wisconsin traditions of open government and relaitvely efficient, public-minded institutions that they cherish.

Walker faces54% disapporval rating and 50% of voters favor his recall. But he has continued to aggressively promote unpopular measures, actively adding fuel to the flames of citizen discontent.

In just the past few days, Walker has escalated his attack on public education, where he is already planning to cut an unprecedented $834 million, with a vast expansion of the privatized school choice” program. The school choice program, which drains funds away from the Milwaukee Public Schools to provide tuition to often-hastily assembled schools, has been in existence for 20 years. But for the first time, the scores of choice” students on standardized tests were compared against those of MPS students, and the students from choice schools” fared poorly. 

Nonetheless, Walker is planning to vastly expand the program to all of Milwaukee County and three additional cities. Moreover, Walker’s allies in the legislature are planning to remove most significant measures of accountability, such as background checks for personnel working with children, removing any educational requirements, and exemptions from standardized testing. 


Further, on Wednesday, Walker signed what national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced as one of the nation’s most restrictive voter identification laws. The bill has been a top priority of Wisocnsin Republicans, although no cases of improper voting in the 2008 involves people voting in someone else’s name at the polls, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Similarly, an investigation by legal authorities of the 2004 election produced no evidence of voter impersonation, the form of fraud targeted by the bill.

The Wisconsin law will wind up being being far more draconian than even the restrictive Indiana law, as Indiana’s motor vehicles agency at least has weekend hours and full-time offices in every county from which citizens can obtain driver’s licenses or other pfficial photo IDs. Opponents of the Wisconsin law say that it will effective disenfranchise constituencies which the GOP views with hostility. 

Trumka used a high-profile platform at the National Press Club last week to outline how voting would be rendered far more difficult in Wisconsin for disadvantaged groups.

Just in Wisconsin, listen to the list of who doesn’t have state-issued photo IDs that will be needed to cast a ballot under legislation that Gov. Scott Walker will sign next week: 23 percent of elderly Wisconsinites; 59 percent of Latina women; 55 percent of African American men overall; and 78 percent of African American men who are 18 to 24 years old.

The League of Women Voters and One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group, are among the organizations contemplating legal challenges to the new law.


Walker has proposed a venture capital fund, called the Wisconsin Jobs Act, that has been challenged by one of the state’s most conservatie legislators and some business as a giveway” to business interests. The terms of the bill suggest a breath-taking handout to the investor class.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Legislation that Gov. Scott Walker says will create jobs would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to insurance companies, while giving control of a $250 million fund to out-of-state financial management companies that would not have to pay back the fund’s principal and would keep up to 80% of its profits….

The bill … is the most dubious giveaway I’ve seen since I’ve been in the legislature,” said [State Sen. Glenn] Grothman….

Tom Hefty, the former chief executive of Blue Cross/​Blue Shield of Wisconsin, called the program the largest special interest Wisconsin tax cut in history masquerading as an economic development initiative.”…

Clearly, the central game plan of Walker and his crew is to shift state resources away from the poor and middle class, who depend on public services and institutions, corporations and the richest 1% of Wisconsinites through subisides and tax cuts.

But the rapid growth of We Are Wisconsin” and other grassroots efforts suggests that Walker may soon confront highly vocal and visible opposition to his serve-the-rich policies from citizens throughout the state. 

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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