In the earliest days of the Wisconsin “uprising”, I told a friend that whatever the costs, any and all rights and privileges would be easier to keep than to regain. I also told my pal that the GOOD FOLKS of Wisconsin were standing the most important ground of the most important labor battle of our time. My friend is a seasoned veteran of labor difficulties and job losses. He is also a staunch Progressive liberal – I hope that is not an automatic connection! We watched nervously as thousands, then tens of thousands of Wisconsinites STOOD UP for what they believe in. Hours turned into days, days ran on and the now famous “Wisconsin 14“ minority senators fled the capitol to avoid an immediate vote on Gov Walker’s plan to take away collective bargaining rights from public employees. He didn’t do it smoothly, or singly, as a by-itself piece of legislation, it was tucked into budget legislation that was going to fix all of the state’s ills. More than a year later, we know how that has played out! Still the battle rages on….
It wasn’t long after the fury in Wisconsin had begun that Ohio’s Gov Kasich signed legislation actually taking away collective bargaining rights from public employees, except that he exempted police and firefighters. These actions were taken in a single piece of legislation, called Senate Bill 5 (SB5) which so infuriated Ohio citizens that they managed to have it tested by ballot referendum before its first birthday. Signatures were collected, the item became known as Issue 2 on the ballot and election day saw it soundly rebuked. The vote was 61% – 39%, with 82 of 88 counties voting against keeping a law that banned public employees from bargaining collectively. Perhaps hope still remains! I told my pal, however, that we hadn’t heard the end of this and that things would get worse before they get better. Meanwhile, the GOOD FOLKS of Wisconsin were standing the most important ground of the most important labor battle of our time. Still the battle rages on ….
New Hampshire has a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democrat governor. In May 2011, they passed a bill calling for “NoRightsAtWork”, which the governor promptly vetoed. The law making process there allows for a lengthy procedure to override and after a six month campaign and planning, the Republican legislature FAILED to override the governor’s veto, so the workers rights were upheld! Workers in Indiana weren’t so lucky. By the time the NoRightsAtWork wave reached the “Hoosier” state, the GOP assembly, and Gov Daniels unilaterally waded into the fray with a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach, determined to not negotiate or compromise. This prompted the Democrat minority to withdraw from the floor of the meeting, delaying the vote. This action was not as powerful or effective as the maneuver in Wisconsin. After just a few days, the measure was passed and signed and for the second time in its history, the state of Indiana became an RTW state! Even the Indiana AFL-CIO succumbed, going on in the next few days to urge folks NOT to protest at the upcoming SuperBowl game in Indianapolis. Not ALL folks agreed and/or listened to that appeal, thankfully. Meanwhile, the GOOD FOLKS of Wisconsin were standing the most important ground of the most important labor battle of our time. And by this time, they had collected enough signatures to make Gov Walker face a recall election!
In ten months, the Republican anti-worker agenda had struck in many places, and probably wasn’t over. However this agenda had a broader social footprint than just its impact on workers directly. It had a plank aimed at women through efforts to de-fund “Planned Parenthood”, as well as pre-abortion “ultra-sound testing” laws. They had aimed at immigrants in Arizona and Alabama, at non-existent voter fraud in many states, as well as “Emergency Financial Manager“ legislation in Michigan that allows for the removal of duly elected officials, at the whim of said manager. Meanwhile, before the recall election in Wiisconsin could be scheduled, the RTW law was passed again by the New Hampshire assembly, and similar efforts were begun in Minnesota, also. Still the battle rages on ….
As the fronts broadened it became ever harder for even the most seasoned activist to stay on top of the situation. Most picked an area of concern and concentrated on it. The folks in Wisconsin were scarcely afforded the luxury of looking at anything outside of their own situation – it IS of the utmost importance! Teachers were on the front line in Wisconsin, and their situations have been attacked and angled against in some fashion in nearly ALL of the states that were seeking “NoRightsAtWork” laws or were just cutting budgets, or removing collective bargaining rights. From New Jersey’s Gov Christie’s attack against teacher pensions, to cities that “fired” all of their teachers, in attempts to circumvent contracts and re-hire only those that management wanted. Charter schools (largely non-union) and school choice vouchers are other methods for officials to attempt to lessen the strength of unions in public education. In Pennsylvania, Gov Corbett spent his first two budgets cutting approximately $800 million from public education budgets, shifting tremendous burdens to local school districts. NOW, the GOP majority in the state assembly has a bill in process with an amendment to revoke collective bargaining from teachers in “financially troubled ” districts. Imagine that!
Maine has rolled back some of their child labor law protections. Georgia has banned picketing at many locations. Virginia was on the verge of passing an invasive ultra-sound testing law until nationwide uproar caused them to rethink the sensibility of it – PA had a more restrictive bill set to come to a vote, but at the sight of the uproar, wisely tabled it. Florida passed a “drug-testing for welfare recipients“ program which has cost taxpayer funds and met with about a three percent success rate. They also are in the midst of purging over 180,000 voters from the rolls - part of a broader GOP-backed voter disenfranchisement movement dressed in the guise of state-sanctioned ID cards. Still the battle rages on ….
The GOOD FOLKS of Wisconsin have stood the most important ground of the most important labor battle of our time! Through it all, true colors have been shown by both sides. The GOOD FOLKS of Wisconsin have worked the streets, the phones, the social media, in legitimate efforts to support and finance a campaign. The GOOD FOLKS of Wisconsin have done ALMOST as much as is humanly possible. “THANKS FOR FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!” The battle rages on ….