As the protests in Madison have continued and even grown in the face of an obdurate Governor and even a major winter storm they have not been alone. This weekend there were rallies in all 50 states in support of the public employees unions.
That first-term Governor Scott Walker has overreached in this labor dispute is beyond question. It is one thing to want to get concessions out of Labor when times are tight (though maybe he should have not given away massive tax cuts in the first place) but to try to end the right of workers to bargain collectively is a bridge too far.
With public sentiment firmly on the side of Labor, and protests growing not shrinking it is hard to see what the Governor can do other than back down. But that is not preventing one union from both planning for the future and turning up the heat.
The Capital Timesis reporting that the South Central Federation of Labor, which has 45,000 members, is endorsing the idea of a general strike if and when Gov. Walker’s union busting plan is passed. This is a pretty big step but it is one that I am glad to see.
Without the right to collectively bargain, you are not a union. At that point there is not a lot left to do but deny management the fruit of your labor if they will not agree to recognize your right of collective barging. It is how Labor initially established their rights in the first place. Since that was more than an entire working life time ago, it is probably time to remind folks like Gov. Walker what it looks like when you can’t run your schools or state offices because all the qualified and trained people are gone.
We know that Walker, who fancies himself the new Reagan, has given some thought to what he would do if there were a strike. He has had his National Guard commanders preparing to have troops do some of the work at the state level, but it is really unclear if they would be able to keep the State going.
After all he has had trouble with even getting the Capital building closed. The prank call from a Buffalo blogger and the revelation that he has at least thought about putting trouble makers among the crowds protesting his ridiculous overreach has put him at logger-heads with local law enforcement.
What would make this interesting is that the SCFL is not just state workers they have plumbers, electricians as well as SEIU (nurses and such) and AFSCME members. This means if they did follow through on their threat of a general strike the affect would be felt at more than just the government offices.
Right now this is all theoretical, as the 14 Democratic State Senators have hung tough, even in the face of not being paid (which is a pretty big sacrifice) and show no signs of cracking and returning to allow the Republican dominated Senate to have the quorum it needs to pass this union busting law. However what is clear it they will be unable to hold out forever. After all sooner or later they will have return to their homes.
If they are finally defeated there it will take more than a general strike by one Labor organization and that will be tough to do.
One of the pillars of these protests have been the teachers unions. They called in sick for multiple days in a row to kick start this protest movement and they should be commended for that effort. But teachers unions are often loathe to strike and make it stick.
Teachers don’t get paid a lot for the work that they do (to our eternal shame), and the work is not particularly easy. As a result many of the people who go into it, especially in primary education, do it because they love kids. It is this love that make a strike difficult. They know what it means for the kiddies to be out of class both in terms of losing ground on their education and being suddenly at home when both parents work.
This opens up the argument that they can’t really strike and stay out for weeks or months at a time if that is what is required. Without the real threat to deny management the fruits of your labor you don’t have a lot of authority when bargaining.
A general strike is also a harder thing to bring about. It is not like when there is a particular company that Labor is negotiating with or has a grievance about. This is about making your power as workers know by shutting down big swaths of the economy. No matter what happens it is going to hurt more people than just the management.
Of course that is the point. To make the all the customers (in this case the citizens who benefit from the work of teachers, nurses, and other state workers) feel the pain that management is trying to cause the workers.
Of course a general strike is more than just a work stoppage. It is a public relations battle. To strike and have it be perceived that greedy Labor unions are trying to get more money and perks would be a blow to the fabric of Labor that might not be recoverable.
Then there is the coordination issue to consider. To be truly effective and to show as much strength as possible a General Strike has to be general. It has to really shut down as much of the economy as possible that requires that all of the unions involved really stand together. I am not an expert on the relations between the various unions in Wisconsin to say if this is a problem or not but I am willing to bet that the folks over at SCFL are working through it right now.
To me this is a good time for someone to be talking about a General Strike. Gov. Walker is looking more and more like a petulant ideologue and his Republicans in the House and Senate are not looking much better. The crowds are growing on weekends at the Capital and the protesters have managed to keep occupying the Capital building itself.
Labor, for the most part, has agreed to the monitory cuts that the Governors plan requires, leaving only the issue of collective bargaining on the table. Public opinion, nationally and in the Badger State is firmly on the side of allowing Labor to keep this right, even in biased and flawed polls like Rasmussen. All this says that there would be a willingness to blame any disruption of the state economy and services on the intransigence of the Governor and not Labor.
The story of Labor is the fight of the little guy against the Fat Cat Owners. With exposure of the involvement Koch brothers and their billions in the plan to strip public workers of their bargaining rights and the realization that the private sector unions would be next, we are playing out that same story again.
It is time for Labor both public and private sector to make it clear once again who does the work in this nation, and what it means when you have pushed the workers to the point that they will no longer just take what is given them while Owners and their politicians grow fatter and wealthier on the their efforts.
I hope it does not come to this, but if it does I completely support a General Strike in Wisconsin, and elsewhere. As the Grandson, Nephew and Uncle of Union members I say Solidarity!
The floor is yours.