After less than two months in office, Wisconsin’s new Governor, Scott Walker (R) has generated more controversy culminating in a stronger progressive push-back than progressives themselves could have created. Walker’s over-reach of three unfunded $117 million tax cuts to the state’s wealthiest citizens and out of state corporations has contributed to a $134 million deficit of his own creation. That deficit is now Walker’s justification for attempting to eliminate his state’s pesky public unions with abolition of its collective bargaining rights.
Creating a highly divisive environment in six short weeks that has galvanized the country, political progressives can thank Governor Walker for:
* teaching a new generation of students about the ideals of the labor union movement with a real-life hands-on experience of democracy in action as they march to the State Capitol, awakened to the great American traditions of fairness, equal treatment and political activism.
* reinvigorating a lackluster national labor movement to remember the exhilaration of what it was to stand up to corporate toads and political bullies as they find their collective voice and join the protests in the streets. The Wisconsin marches, which have attracted up to 70,000 citizens, have built a fire under unions in other similarly threatened States as they agitate to save their collective bargaining rights.
* providing the Wisconsin Fourteen (State Senators) with an opportunity to become Folk Heroes as they have, by example, shown the limp, weak-willed US. Senate Democrats what it means to take a principled stand on behalf of middle class Americans. The Wisconsin Fourteen sought out-of-state refuge after being denied an opportunity to offer amendments to the Governor’s fast- track legislation.
* providing the citizens of Wisconsin with an opportunity to forge a powerful bond with their neighbors as they rally in support of librarians, nurses, teachers and other necessary civil servants as the country reflects on the workers who provide those essential community services.
* presenting the firefighters of Wisconsin with an opportunity to own their own souls in a proud display of integrity as they march with their union brothers and sisters rather than cave into political expediency. The firefighters and police unions were given a blanket exemption from Walker’s proposal to eliminate bargaining rights in exchange for their acquiescence.
* bestowing MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, who cares deeply about America’s working class citizens, with a platform as the Nation’s Conscience. With continued timidity from Washington, DC, the void in leadership has been deafening. Schultz’s early attention to Madison revealed a lack of understanding by the mainstream beltway media’s reporting which mostly dumbed-down the magnitude of what has been occurring in Wisconsin.
* supplying the Democratic national leadership (which has the most to lose in this fight) with an opportunity to show some moral fiber with unequivocal support for those middle class voters who have faithfully supported their re-elections over the years. As Rev. Jesse Jackson’s visit excited protesters, statements from only House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin have been disappointing but not unexpected as was Obama’s early luke-warm concern for unions (but not for Wisconsin citizens) while he remains ensconced in the White House, the equivalent of an American ivory tower.
In no small part, the protests have been inspired by the State’s famous advocacy of the early labor rights movement including the historic leadership of Sen. “Fightin’ Bob” La Follette (1906 - 1925) as well as the State’s adoption of the nation’s first worker compensation plan in 1911, the nation’s first unemployment insurance program in 1932 and the creation of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) in Wisconsin in 1935. The State’s contribution to the national labor movement in support of the 8 hour day and the 40 hour week was firmly established when 7 on-strike workers were murdered in 1887 by the State militia.
Without Governor Walker’s intervention, the progressive community would, most likely, still be groping for an adequate response to an impending austerity budget that punishes average working Americans. Wisconsin citizens have shown the way. Thank you Governor Walker.