Thursday, February 17, 2011

“It’s Like Cairo Has Moved to Madison”

Something extraordinary is happening in Wisconsin. Scott Walker, the newly elected Republican Governor, and the Republican-controlled Senate are trying to fulfill their campaign promises by eviscerating public employee collective bargaining rights and making them contribute more money to their defined-benefit pensions and state-subsidized health insurance. The fact that their pension and health care benefits are a lot better than those enjoyed by the average private-sector employee hasn't kept enough unionized public employees from calling in sick to close the public schools and disrupt essential public services. Thousands of them spent the day surrounding the state Senate while their allies in the Democratic Senate caucus were shutting down the chamber by hiding in undisclosed locations to prevent it from achieving a quorum.

Here’s the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoting the Democratic Senate Minority Leader speaking from an undisclosed location and the Republican Majority Leader’s response:
"‘I can tell you this - we're not all in one place,’ [Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona)] said. ‘This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes.  The people have shown that the government has gone too far. . . . We prepared to do what is necessary to make sure that this bill gets the consideration it needs.’ . . .

“Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said that Democrats were "not showing up for work" and that police were searching for them to bring them to the floor.

"‘That's not democracy. That's not what this chamber is about,’ Fitzgerald said of the boycott to reporters.”
In this country we haven’t seen much of this sort of thing since the 1930s, when the class struggle was still being waged in earnest and the political legitimacy of duly enacted labor-relations law was still an object of heated public contention. Republicans across the country are betting that’s such ancient history that most voters will think what’s happening in Madison is just as exotic as the news footage they see coming out of Athens or Cairo.

Listen to Paul Ryan make that suggestion with the expression of a poker player who thinks he's playing a winning hand:

Does anyone think Ryan's political confidence is misplaced?

1 comment:

Aging liberal said...

There are two separate threads here.

One, is that public sector pensions need to be looked at. Generally, public protection pensions are the most out-of-whack (retirement after 25 years of service, pensions that are 80% - 100% of maximum historical salaries, etc.). Interestingly, these have been specifically excepted from Walker's target list.

The other is to eviscerate public sector unions: the job is already more or less complete with private sector unions. I'm not sure how exactly we got to this historical moment, but unions seem to be widely despised. Their role is the "great compression" years of 1945 - 1972 is largely forgotten. By grievously injuring public employee unions, the right is not only eliminating a political adversary, but removing a prime source of Democratic party funding.

I find it pretty sad, personally, but it's probably already water under the bridge.