Two weeks of virtually non-stop protests by tens of thousands of workers in Madison, Wisconsin, represent the epicenter of a fight to defend workers’ rights from a wave of unprecedented legislative attacks. That fight has now spread to other states in the Midwest and across the country, sparked by attempts by newly-elected Governors to eliminate collective bargaining rights of public sector workers including teachers, nurses and other public employees. But it’s not just about the unions. It’s about much more than that. And whether you are employed or unemployed, union or non-union, if you’re a worker this is your fight too.
In a terrific piece on AlterNet, titled ’12 Things You Need to Know About the Uprising in Wisconsin’, well worth reading in its entirety, Joshua Holland writes:
That workers can still negotiate from a position of strength somewhere in the US is simply unacceptable to the right, and that’s what this is about.
If workers’ bargaining rights are eliminated, then the primary defense of decent pay, benefits and workplace standards for the middle-class will be wiped out. And that would give employers free rein to further drive down wages and benefits for all workers.
So now, under the bogus banner of “deficit reduction”, the ideologues who gave you tax cuts for the rich, financial deregulation and the Great Recession are attacking workers’ bargaining rights. But that’s not all: they’re also seeking to privatize the public sector and widen the already abyss-like income gap between the wealthy and everyone else.
As Holland explains:
At the beginning of this year, the state was on course to end 2011 with a budget surplus of $120 million. As Ezra Klein explained, newly elected GOP Governor Scott Walker then ” signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit.”
Walker then used the deficit he’d created as the justification for assaulting his state’s public employees. He used a law cooked up by a right-wing advocacy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC likes to fly beneath the radar, but I described the organization in a 2005 article as “the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money.” Similar laws are on the table in Ohio and Indiana.
And, as Paul Krugman points out in his column today, the so-called budget repair bill being pushed by Gov. Walker in Wisconsin would also give the Governor and his appointees broad powers to impose massive cuts in state health care programs and to privatize public services and facilities:
For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.
The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses. And note that any such sale would, by definition, be “considered to be in the public interest.”
The agenda is pretty clear: demonize the workers and the unions; privatize public services; cut the budgets for anything that helps working families in a struggling economy; and wield the power of government to enhance the wealth of corporations and the rich. When the Gov. Walker-type Republicans say they want “less government” it’s not really true. They want less government — and less democracy, less freedom of association — for you and me, but plenty of government power wielded on behalf of the wealthy. They want their corporate and wealthy investor tax cuts to increase budget deficits. Then they want to use the deficits as an excuse to cut services, go after workers’ rights and wages, and even cut unemployment insurance.
The attack on workers in Wisconsin is an attack on all of us. And we’re fighting back. Citizen Action of Wisconsin has a great new website We Are Wisconsin — where you can sign their petition supporting Wisconsin workers and calling for good jobs for all Americans. The site also has frequent updates from Wisconsin and around the country, including links to rallies and events. A broad coalition has formed to organize rallies in every state starting tomorrow — Saturday, Feb. 26. Click here to find the rally nearest you.
Workers are under attack — but we are fighting back.
This was originally published on the blog of UnemployedWorkers.org.