Monday, February 21, 2011

Marching in Madison

What did the Republicans expect other than an outdoor media event in Madison?

“I hope I’m inspiration just as much as others are an inspiration to me,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said last week. He just did not say what he inspires. State Democrats walked out of the legislature, preventing a quorum and thus a vote and people came out to demonstrate, of which Madison has a long tradition.

Walker, “Wisconsin’s new union-busting governor”, as Paul Krugman called him, announced plans to cut the bargaining rights and benefits of public workers. The measures in question would prohibit unions from bargaining over issues other than wages. They would stop unions from having dues deducted from state paychecks and require them to hold annual elections to stay in existence.

It should be noted that Wisconsin’s pension fund is better off than most pension funds in the US. The state does not suffer the large shortfalls that other states face and it has a 7.5 percent unemployment rate, well below the national average.

“Workers’ rights — including the fundamental right to organize and bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions — are under attack in states from Maine to Ohio, from Wisconsin to Florida,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the main union of Wisconsin state employees.

“It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison,” First District Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said. Never mind that the Wisconsin protesters, unlike those in Egypt, have jobs, homes, families, plenty of food on their plate, police protection, and are engaging in completely risk-free protests.

Besides, even Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, and Glenn Beck denounced the uprising in Egypt and insisted that President Obama should have helped Mubarak put it down.

Like many Republicans in states like Wisconsin, Walker came to power last November by defeating union-backed Democrats. Now those newly elected Republicans are attacking union wages and union power, as they face budget gaps in those states that were largely created in the first place by Republicans prior to 2008.

The Mid-East comparison trivializes the protest in Madison. That is what a media event is: a shiny bit that attracts attention and rhetoric but no substantive discussion. It is the false analogy that a protest is a protest is a protest to which I object. The whole purpose of a protest is to call attention, foment debate and call for amendment, and it should affect the discussion that emerges when Wisconsin Democrats return.

Governor Scott Walker is one heck of an inspiration, all right, especially for those who are interested only in power and not in consequences. He certainly is not interested in making any concessions or negotiating with anyone. He most certainly is not interested in bargaining with state workers. He wants to terminate their ability to bargain. That appears to be his Republican brand of politics.

Begging the rhetorical question of whether Wisconsin is the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights has a lot of coincidental appeal, but it is off point. The point is what President Obama called “an assault on unions” which is all about politics, especially in center-left Madison, where it is cold.

However, the spring will come, the freeze will thaw and the protests will be what used to be called a Kodak moment. Follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

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