Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Et Tu, Massachusetts?

Like everybody else, I’ve been looking at the battle between brash Republican governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich and state public employee unions (“PEUs”) as a political weathervane. It’s not very surprising that Republicans have the wind at their back in bright red states—note the ease with which Governor Mitch Daniels rolled back public employee collective bargaining rights by executive fiat in Indiana.  And it's not a good sign for PEUs (and the Democratic candidates who depend on them for financial support and getting out the vote) that they need to mobilize their membership in purple states with a history of labor militancy, like Wisconsin and Ohio, to defend bargaining rights they took for granted a short year ago. But  unionists and Democrats are consoled by the thought that it’s still too early to get a bead on the direction and intensity of the prevailing winds in those states.

I’ve been taking it for granted, however, that the political wind was still blowing steadily at the backs of PEUs and their Democratic allies in dark blue states.  So I’m shocked to read this article about the state of play in Massachusetts (my emphasis):

“House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns. The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.
We’ve been hearing a lot of brave talk lately about how Republican aggression in states like Ohio and Wisconsin is revitalizing the labor movement and setting the stage for a Democratic resurgence in 2012. That rhetoric is already hard enough to believe when you look at how structural developments in the political economy that have already undermined the power of private sector unions are sapping the power of PEUs.  But it's going to start sounding like a bad joke if PEUs can’t count on Democratic legislators in Massachusetts, of all places, to look out for their interests. 

There's no getting around the fact that the Democratic coalition is going to have to reconstitute itself in the not-so-distant future around new ways to uphold the interests of working people.

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