Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Wisconsin!

If it weren't for other examples of incredible political stupidity, I could believe that Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker was a "stealth" Socialist playing the Red Tactic to revitalize the American labor movement. He couldn't have done a better job of it if he'd tried.

The evidence, however, argues for stupidity. It's rather well known to Wisconsin voters that Walker, whose previous political experience as county supervisor was a disaster for his county, only got his current job because the infamous Koch brothers gave him $1 million and a good advertizing agency to get him elected. It's also obvious that what Walker promised them in return was to gut the labor movement in his state. Now why did they choose Wisconsin, long a union state, instead of some likelier place like, say, Mississippi? Because they believed that, if they won in Wisconsin, they could knock down the unions in all the other states. And why did they think they could succeed? Because we've reached the point where the rich and powerful speak and listen only to each other, and have totally lost touch with the vast numbers of the people they rule. Ironically, this blind spot created both the Tea Party and what is now shaping up to be the first General Strike in America in decades.

Anyway, Walker tried to pass the first version of his bill on the excuse of saving Wisconsin's almost-gone state budget. Apparently he truly believed the standard Right-Wing lie, that paying a living wage and benefits to one's bottom-level workers somehow costs any business -- govt. or private -- more than the enormous salaries and golden parachutes of middle-to-upper management. (He blithely forgot that the govt. workers' unions had already, months earlier, agreed to take a pay cut in order to keep the state from going bankrupt.) He also seems to have assumed that the only govt. workers' unions in the state were the SEIU and the NEA. He'd forgotten all about the police, firemen, garbagemen, sewer-workers, electricians, and so on. He also assumed that, once he'd inveigled the legislature's Republicans into line, the Democrats would give up and fold.

Well, we all know what followed. The Democrat senators fled the state, so as to leave the legislature with less than a legal quorum, and govt. workers by the thousands staged a huge protest march on the state-house plaza. Walker ordered the state troopers to go hunt those missing senators, and told the capitol city cops to clear away the protesters -- only to learn that the state, county and city police had unions too. By this time all the other unions in the state -- including the IWW, if you please -- had gotten involved, the story had gone global, and people were expressing solidarity with Wisconsin workers from as far away as Poland and Egypt. The little pizza shop on the state-house plaza was doing a land-office business feeding the protesters, and was getting donations from all over the world.

At this point anyone with the sense of a goat would have backed off, but not Walker. A clever hacker got his personal phone number and, pretending to be one of the Koch brothers, phoned him and nudged him into talking freely. We know what Walker freely admitted to, because the hacker recorded the conversation and then put it up on YouTube. Even then, Walker lumbered on; he cut all reference to anything financial out of the bill -- thereby killing his argument that he was only trying to save the state money -- and (in a secret session, likewise illegal) used that as excuse to force the bill through the state legislature even without a quorum. His buddies the Koch brothers began paying for anti-union TV ads all over the country, which convinced nobody. The runaway senators returned to a heroes' welcome, a state supreme court judge declared a hold on the bill until its legality could be proved, and the collection of the state's unions started seriously discussing General Strike. People all over Wisconsin, not to mention elsewhere, began joining -- or rejoining -- unions. The ripples from Wisconsin are quietly spreading out all over America.

That's where things stand right now, and it's an unfinished story with farther-reaching implications than the disaster in Japan or Qaddafy's slaughters in Libya. The American labor movement has been dormant, if not comatose, for decades -- and what it couldn't do for itself, in all those years, two stupid millionaires and one stupid governor have done for it.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish


Aya Katz said...

Leslie, it's true that police, firemen, garbagemen and the like are currently public workers in many states and municipalities. But should they be? I don't think so. There is no reason why these services could not be provided by the private sector at a lower cost.

Here in the rural area where I live, we have a volunteer fire department. We pay dues to subscribe to its services, and the dues are not obligatory. Like the services of the firemen themselves, they are voluntary.

Brian Dunbar said...

(in a secret session, likewise illegal

I have read, and seen quoted, but not read the rules for myself, that the session was not secret and was not illegal.

Now, yes, the way it was run was sneaky - I'll go as low as to call it political - but it was legal.

About the rest of it .. I'm on the fence. I'd sure would not mind lower taxes, could do with fewer city services. Don't mind paying people what they're worth, and the gals down to City Hall are a friendly bunch and who would want to put them out of work?

On the third hand, the only thing the public sector union has done for me is to make my life harder when I contracted at the FDIC, and cut into my wife's paycheck when she taught school, so they could buy legislators in Austin who would do things we did not agree with politically.

Anonymous said...

"Stupid" is such a general word. His particular brand of stupid is to have less sense of tactics than a pet rock.

The smallest lobe in the brain of my slowest cat has more sense of tactics than all of Walker's brain and that of his staff and cronies.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. Yes, a lot of small communities still do have volunteer fire departments, private garbage services, and so on. When a community gets large, however, the service company must grow with it -- or else subdivide the community and spin off a daughter company -- and this requires more organization, which inevitably means more bureaucracy, which raises costs. The best solution so far appears to be the co-operative. But in any case, the service must become a formal and full-time job rather than a volunteer system. In a co-op the workers are the owners and managers, so there's no question of an imbalance of power and therefore a need for a union. But if the service becomes a private business or, worst, the govt. takes it over, then the boss (public or private) is in a position to exploit the working-stiffs, at which point they'd better have a union. This pattern has repeated quite a few times in history. You'd think that by now most people would have figured out that the co-op (technically, an "extended partnership") is the way to go. Alas, 'taint so.

Hi, Brian. Well, apparently there was enough of a question about its legality that a state judge could slap a hold on it. As for this or that union being a bunch of crooks, hey, can you think of any kind of organization where that can't happen? "Buyer beware", "eternal vigilance", and so on always apply. Once again, the cure for a bad union is talking the membership into de-certifying. Yes, it takes work and/or money. Doesn't everything?

--Leslie <;)))><

Brian Dunbar said...

Well, apparently there was enough of a question about its legality that a state judge could slap a hold on it.

County judge. Suit brought by a DA. More politics, the judge didn't rule on the legality of the thing, just a 'put a hold on it while we check the facts'

I'm actually liking the precedent that any judge, any county, can halt legislation. You get your leftie judges ruling against conservatives in the lege, righty judges ruling against progressive legislation ... gridlock.

If both camps do this we get government doing nothing but endless rounds of courtroom follies and maybe they'll leave the rest of us alone.

Can we do the same thing to Congress in D.C.?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd a lot rather this whole brouhaha led to the end of the whole idiotic "public" school system. As long as schools are run by government (rather like leaving alcoholics in charge of the booze supply, or necrophiliacs on duty at the morgue) it'll be the plaything of every vote-hungry politico on either side that wants to make a name for himself.

If all schools were privately run, there'd be no endless fights over teaching evolution or sex education; those who want their childrens' heads filled with pixie-dust and nonsense could patronize such schools as offered it, while we of the fact-based, reality-based community go elsewhere.

Antongarou said...

and what about people who literally can't afford to pay for schools?Under the current method their children have at least some minimal education. Otherwise they will have little chance to find education, and that gap is rather hard to compensate for at later years

Brian Dunbar said...

and what about people who literally can't afford to pay for schools?

To name a few alternatives: Home school. Scholarships. Charity. The Internet.

I suspect the number of people who really _can't_ afford proper schooling is rather small and can be handled by the above methods. Most of us - me very much included - don't budget well and can easily pare back on expenses.

And ... my state pays each school something like 8k a year per student. At some point that money comes from .. me .. via various taxes. If they didn't take that money in the first place then I'd have that money to send my kid to the school of my choice.

If we're going to have a representative democracy, with citizens, rights, and responsibilities, there is a place for state-run schools. Someone has to teach the kids what their rights and responsibilities as a citizen are. How the government works. And so on.

However we seem to have decided that the democracy jazz is for the birds and the government can do whatever they can get away without referring to the Constitution. So maybe

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