What’s going on in Madison?
The short answer is that the governor, Scott Walker, has launched an all out attack on state employees’ right to unionize. The attack is vicious, has a chance of succeeding, and is being closely watched by other Republican-run states who would love to follow suit. At most brief, it is pure class warfare. The budget was in a surplus year until governor Walker handed out tax-cuts to Wisconsin’s wealthy. (They were, after all, the ones who filled his campaign coffers.) But it is also political warfare. The unions are big players in election year, and they nearly always support the more worker-friendly Democratic candidates over the tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy (aka, “business friendly”) Republicans. If you can kneecap them while Republicans are in power (and this along with this year’s redistricting), you can entrench the current power positions significantly.
The Wisconsin budget had been slated for a surplus. But after the tax cuts for the rich, it now has a big shortfall. Next step: tell the people we’re in a crunch, they’re gonna have to go on a diet. If they resist, portray them as selfish. They want raises when the state is in a (manufactured) shortfall year. Disaster capitalism at its best, n’est-ce pas? (1)
Mother Jones summarizes the situation well (here) :
Walker says his legislation, which would strip most state employees of any meaningful collective bargaining rights, is necessary to close the state’s $137 million budget gap. There are a number of problems with that argument, though. The unions are not to blame for the deficit, and stripping unionized workers of their collective bargaining rights won’t in and of itself save any money.
Walker says he needs to strip the unions of their rights to close the gap. But public safety officers’ unions, which have members who are more likely to support Republicans and who also tend to have the highest salaries and benefits, are exempted from the new rules.
Meanwhile, a series of tax breaks and other goodies that Walker and the Republican legislature passed just after his inauguration dramatically increased the deficit that Walker now says he’s trying to close. And Wisconsin has closed a much larger budget gap in the past without scrapping worker organizing rights. What’s really going on, as Kevin Drum has explained, is pure partisan warfare: Walker is trying to de-fund the unions that form the backbone of the Democratic party.
1. For those who are not familiar with Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, it is a common tactic for governments to utilize emergencies, either real (such as 9-11) or manufactured (as in the above scenario) to punch through huge structural changes that people would never, under normal circumstances, allow to occur. Obvious examples could include massive surveillance measures of the Patriot Act and, as above, the shutting down of collective bargaining rights. In California, the best public university system in the world, the UC campuses, are being decimated by executives wielding the slogan “but there’s just no money!” The problem is that there’s plenty of money, its just going, in California’s case, to the oil companies and the silicon magnates. (See, on the UC crisis, the recent essay in the New Left Review, “The Golden State Adrift,” here).