The state of Wisconsin is providing a good lesson for America’s rank-and-file union members about the dangers of putting anti-worker candidates in control of both the legislative and executive branches of state government.
The lesson: That trade unionists flirt with disaster when they fail to vote in their own best interest.
In November, Wisconsin voters elected an anti-labor governor and put both houses of the state legislature in control of Republican lawmakers with similar attitudes toward working men and women. Many of the new legislators were Tea Party members, some of whom are in the forefront of the attack on labor.
Wisconsin has always been a good union state, with a high density of union members in the workplace. Obviously, many of them voted for candidates who promised them everything but the good wages, hours, working conditions, benefits and job security offered by their union jobs.
And now they are doing what union leaders said they would do if they were elected: They are embarking on a campaign to destroy unions.
Several governors in other states have joined the chorus in recent weeks by announcing that public sector union members will be targets for states facing huge budget deficits. For the most part, these deficits are caused by a national economy that has not yet fully recovered from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. They are not the fault of state workers.
Some of the governors are proposing reducing the number of state employees, cutting state salaries and benefits, such as pensions.
But Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker has gone a step further.
He has announced a budget plan that strips state workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, cuts pay and benefits and says there will be no negotiations.
Then, as if he were a grade B actor in a grade C melodrama, Scott said he has alerted the National Guard to be ready in case state workers strike or rise in protest. He told the Associated Press he’s been working on contingency plans for months.
According to the AFL-CIO, the last time the National Guard was used against public workers was the Memphis sanitation strike in1968, just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The last time the Guard was called out in Wisconsin to quell a labor dispute was the 1934 Kohler strike by the UAW.
The attack on public sector unions is on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers because they make the most convenient target for cash-strapped states.
But they are after all unions.
Private sector unions are also being targeted throughout the country. Right-to-work and/or paycheck deception proposals are being introduced in several states. Project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws are also under siege.
So the anti-worker campaign is not simply an attack on public sector unions. It covers both public and private sector unions. It they manage to get one, they are likely to get the other.
If they do, they will have completed the most effective assault ever on the standard of living of the nation’s middle class.