Republican over-reach in Wisconsin
(Quip found via The Crossed Pond)
I was initially pessimistic about the likely outcome of the struggle for union rights in Wisconsin. Where unions are concerned, the United States has a tendency toward the "crab bucket syndrome" -- it often seems that non-union workers, seeing the better wages, benefits, and security won by unionized workers, react not by trying to organize unions for themselves, but by resenting and trying to tear down the rights won by their more fortunate fellows. Unions, especially public-sector unions, looked like un-promising ground on which to base a popular insurrection against the Republicans.
But lately things have been looking more promising. As I noted earlier, Andrew Sullivan thinks Governor Walker is over-reaching, and Republicans in some other states have begun backing down from similarly extremist anti-union measures. Although most Americans think public-sector workers should accept wage and benefit cuts in hard times (a point the Wisconsin union has already conceded), 62% oppose taking away their collective-bargaining rights, which is the central issue in dispute in this conflict (more here and here). Wisconsin voters regret electing Walker; if the election were held today, he'd lose by a substantial margin. In a startling echo of the Middle Eastern armies which have refused dictators' orders to open fire on their own people, Wisconsin police who may be called on to evict protesters from the state capitol have responded by declaring solidarity with them and joining in a sleep-over.
But even with all this support, is the fight winnable? If Walker succeeds in getting his union-busting plan through the state legislature, it will take effect, popular or not. Wisconsin is not Egypt; there will be no toppling of Walker by mass protest. A Wisconsin Governor cannot be recalled during his first year in office, and Walker is at the beginning of his term.
There is another possibility, however. Eight Wisconsin Republican state senators are vulnerable to recall, and a grass-roots campaign has been launched to do that very thing, thus depriving Walker of the majority he would need to pass destructive legislation. Over a million Wisconsin voters would sign such a recall petition if asked. This, perhaps, is how an Egyptian-style popular uprising should and will play out on American soil. The system provides avenues for a sufficiently-energized mass movement to bring about real change. We should use them.
Do we have an energized mass movement? The nation-wide pro- union rallies on February 26 were an encouraging sign (here's a report from the one in Los Angeles). The Republicans won in 2010 because of a drastic drop in voter turn-out relative to 2008; surely most of the people who stayed home out of dissatisfaction with the Democrats must now realize that the Republicans are indeed worse. As for those who voted Republican, many of them were hoping for a focus on job growth, always a top concern at a time of high unemployment (and, in truth, the Democrats could have done a much better job both of creating more jobs and of publicizing their success at stemming the losses in 2009).
Instead, empowered Republicans have delivered a blizzard of the predictable anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-secularism measures, reminding everyone that they are first and foremost the party of domineering Christian fundamentalism. On the economy, they promise only the same endless cuts and austerity that are ruining the peripheral economies of Europe -- and are contemptuously dismissive of the mass job losses likely to result. One suspects that buyer's remorse is already setting in among the public.
Like the Arabs, we have an opportunity. Let's make the most of it. We can roll back the forces of authoritarianism and class warfare which have now shown their hand so clearly. That mass recall of Wisconsin Republican legislators would be a good start.