Collective Bargaining Under Attack

NeWisconsin Solidarityw Orleans It’s hard hearing and reading the reports about the attack on unions in Wisconsin.  After a life of avoiding the mass emails of any listserv, I ended up on one arbitrarily when I joined a group, so I’ve been inundated with hyperbolic messages that find the pushback in Wisconsin by labor heroic and inspiring, all of which is true, but unsatisfying to me partially because both sides seem to be debating endlessly the framing and content of the issues involved in wages and benefits.  Wages and benefits are simply a way to get caught in the weeds now.  The attack in Wisconsin and other states is plain and simply over the right of any union of public employees to exist and, even if allowed to exist, the assault questions any value of collective bargaining or voice for workers.

Unions know the wage and benefit train has already left the station in Wisconsin and seem to concede it.  The Times today reports as much:

“The flip has emboldened Mr. Walker, the new Republican governor who has proposed the cuts to benefits and bargaining rights, arguing that he desperately needs to bridge a deficit expected to reach $3.6 billion for the coming two-year budget.

Union leaders have said they would accept the financial terms of Mr. Walker’s proposal. The more controversial provisions, though, would strip public employees of collective-bargaining rights. (emphasis added)

In Whitewater, Ben Penwell, a lawyer whose wife is a public employee, said he saw no reason to strip away workers’ bargaining rights if they had agreed to benefit cuts.

“They’re willing to do what’s necessary fiscally without giving up rights in the future,” he said.

And Pat Wellnitz, working in his accounting office on Sunday, wondered why such bargaining provisions were needed if the real problem was simply saving money.

“That’s pretty drastic even for a staunch Republican,” he said.”

The only hope in Wisconsin seems to be that the very hard, bluntness of the power play by Governor Scott Walker is so extreme in its attack on unions that it fails in Times’ columnist David Brooks’ words the “fairness” test or the old Clinton test of “sharing the pain” by favoring small businesses and more Republican unions of police and fire, while slamming teachers and other public workers.  Furthermore as indicated above Wisconsin is not a “hater-state” of what I would call the New South yet (Arizona being the most spectacular example of this new taxonomy), so some of the citizens get the fact that this is tactical extremism.

Other states will not be so lucky.  Places like Ohio already saw 8000 plus home health care workers that were state reimbursed loss collective bargaining rights by the swipe of a Governor’s pen.  There are similar concerns in Michigan for 30 to 40,000 publicly subsidized workers there.  Reading about the spitball fights that the Republican governor of New Jersey has waged with teachers and others there, it’s clear that the strategy is clearly to “defund” the progressive movement and launch attacks on as many battlefields as possible against unions and others that might be part of such forces.  I’m worried about other Republican presidential-wannabes and what they might feel they have to do in order to stay in the game.  Will we see Louisiana’s Bobbie Jindal or Florida’s Rick Scott try to dismantle what exists of collective bargaining in these states?

Collective bargaining, independent of economics, used to be seen as a foundationally appropriate aspiration for working people connected to the freedoms of speech and assembly embedded in America’s most honored and cherished traditions.  We cannot allow a situation where the argument simply devolves to unions were “once a good thing” or that we allow unions to exist in principle but not in reality.

Wisconsin and the other states following its lead raise the specter that we are now moving past the tipping point for unions and much to quickly to the vanishing point, unless we change what we are saying and doing pretty damn quickly.

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5 thoughts on “Collective Bargaining Under Attack

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Collective Bargaining Under Attack « Wade Rathke: Chief Organizer Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. You’re right. Just as businesses use the bad economy as an excuse to lay off long-time employees in order to hire younger ones at a quarter the pay or to put the work on those lucky enough to keep their jobs, Walker and others are using the same tactic to get rid of unions. This won’t work. Unions and the union sentiment can only get stronger out of this, they won’t go away. Everyone, deep down, sees this for what it is.

  3. What are the alternatives? Write more profit-sharing into agreements? Would companies then dole out more of the work to underprivileged countries at cheap rates and compromise their own country’s well-being as a whole even more dramatically? Or the rate at which your government charges taxes on international productivity so great that it deems it worthwhile to take that chance? Would not profit-sharing make the challenge of doing business at home more lucrative and open better possibilities for incorporating joint-ventures with other countries? I really would like to hear from someone on this!

  4. For broader news from the capitol check out the facebook group “voices from madison” we are working to tell more stories then then then one about wages

  5. We are indeed at the tipping point. This has been coming our way for quite some time, and there is no better place for the enemy to wage this particular battle than a heavily organized state like Wisconsin or Michigan. There are an abundance of former UAW and other private sector union members in these states who are sour about losing their jobs, or current members who are sour about being stuck on the lower tier in their jobs. This is a large part of the right wing calculation. As quickly as we can, we need to get on the same page, with a clear and simple message. And we need to do better than we are doing. This can’t be a mobilization of just “union people”. That’s what the enemy is counting on. Allies of the labor movement need to be visible and in the lead if this is going to be stanched.

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