Wow. Just.Wow. Things are hot in Wisconsin right now. According to reports, more that 25,000 protesters have jammed the area around the Capitol Building. Why? Because GOP Governor Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Senate are proposing a plan that severely curtails public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights.
The service unions, rightly seeing this as an attack on the one thing that stands between them and an increasingly hostile atmosphere in Madison, have descended on the Capitol. School teachers, whose rights are also on the chopping block, have staged a massive “sick-out” and joined them.
Here’s the controversy in a nutshell. Check out Huffington Post, Reuters, and CNN for more detailed coverage. Basically, it breaks down to this: Governors in several states have taken current budget woes as an excuse to not bargain with unions for reduced wages, but to sharply curtain service workers’ rights to bargain collectively at all. President Obama commented that this looked like union-busting to him. I agree–this move seems to be less about saving money than it is about destroying the mechanism that allows workers to approach their employers from something like an equal footing.
To block the vote, all fourteen of the Democratic senators fled the Capitol. When the Governor sent the state police after them, presumably to drag them back for the vote, they fled the state altogether. Because the state senate breaks down 19 GOP/14 DEM, had they captured even one Democratic senator quorum would have been reached, and the vote could have been held. But they didn’t. At least not today. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?
Shocking as it seems for our elected leaders to have to flee the state to avoid a vote which they find repugnant, this is not the first time it has happened. According to CNN, Democratic senators in Texas did the same thing over a proposed vote to re-draw districts to favor the GOP majority. Ultimately, they failed. Here’s hoping Wisconsin stays strong.
And here’s why: this isn’t just about the unions in Wisconsin. It’s about all of us, and the balance of power. If unions’ right to bargain collectively is eroded, who stands for the workers? If we have seen anything in the last few years, it’s the power that Big Business wields. Absolute power corrupts. Our economy has been gutted by their depredations. Lawmakers postured–and then caved. And Big Business rolls on.
Much as we would like to think we can count on our government to protect us from the havoc Big Business has wreaked–and continues to wreak–on us, it is naive to think that our government will protect us in any realistic way. Government and business are now so intertwined that expecting one to curb the other is foolish. Big Business has become government. Government has become Big Business.
Unions are corrupt. They have sometimes exceeded their bounds. No one denies that. But those corrupt unions are our last real defense against the Big Business that continues to suck us dry, and the government who, for myriad vested reasons, seems unwilling or unable to curb it.
So Wisconsin? Run far, Democratic senators. Run fast. Don’t let them catch you. Protest, service workers. Stand firm. You represent our last hope. Don’t let us down. This is bigger than you, bigger than us. This is as big as the world. It’s nothing less than the last stand of the American dream.
Note: I am not a union member. I have never been a union member. I have never been particularly sympathetic to unions. I have frequently been a critic. I feel sometimes union demands have been excessive. But I support absolutely their right to bargain as a collective whole for the rights of workers. And I find this attempt at using the systems meant to protect all of us to endanger our well-being frightening.