Politics & Law

(Bad) history in the making in Wisconsin? UPDATED

Rosemary Joyce

Dramatic images from Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain inspire a sense of being part of history in the making.

For many of us, the same is true of the images from Madison, Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of protesters have massed for days refusing to accept a proposal by the state’s governor Scott Walker, taking advantage of the current budget crisis, removing bargaining rights from public unions. Only here, it is difficult to tell if the history being made will be seen in retrospect as bad or good.

The Republican governor claims that in order to to balance the state budget he needs to limit the right of public employees’ unions to bargain collectively. Even on issues related to salary, which his proposal would allow unions to negotiate, other aspects of his proposal would set preemptive limits. His proposal includes additional provisions that seem less than directly related to the current budget crisis.

Critics point to his actions as an acceleration of a wide-scale attack on public unions, which Robert Reich has argued is part of a strategy to split working class America by pitting workers against each other, distracting them from the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a narrow group.

While the protests continue, another statement by governor Walker has drawn fire and, for many people, invokes a long and dark history of repression of labor unions. The Chicago Tribune reported on February 11 that Walker had

briefed [the National Guard] and other state agencies in preparation of any problems that could result in a disruption of state services, like staffing at prisons.

By Monday, February 14, angry responses to Walker’s comments were being reported in local Wisconsin media. Both anti-union and pro-union publications interpreted his statement to mean the Guard might be asked to intervene directly against the protesters.

Georgetown doctoral candidate Stephanie Taylor’s commentary on Salon provides necessary historical perspective on the governor’s move:

This would be the first time in nearly 80 years that the National Guard would be used to break a strike by Wisconsin workers, and the first time in over 40 years that the National Guard would be used against public workers anywhere in the country.

The National Guard, now viewed by most US citizens as benign forces most visible in disasters, once were abused in the service of anti-union campaigns:

National Guard soldiers clashed with strikers in Buffalo, N.Y., Birmingham, Ala., Coeur d’Alene, Idaho,  Salt Lake City and Telluride, Colo., at the turn of the 20th century. In just two years, between 1911 and 1913, the militia was mobilized against coal miners in West Virginia, textile workers in Massachusetts, textile workers in New Jersey, and copper miners in Michigan.

Another example cited by Taylor in her depressing litany of a history that should be long behind us is resonant for any contemporary archaeologist:

During an infamous bloodbath in 1914, soldiers killed striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colo., including at least six men, two women and 12 children.

The Ludlow strikers, camped out in a “tent city” when they were attacked, included 1200 workers and family members. Archaeologists Randall McGuire, Dean Saitta, and colleagues conducted field survey and excavations on the site of the camp, finding unprecedented evidence of the lives of workers standing up for their right.

Results of their innovative project– a deliberate attempt to use archaeology’s power to document the lives of those whose voices are often missing from history books– are posted on a public website. Their description of what they found in the campsite is evocative of the everyday lives interrupted and the disproportion between the force brought to bear against the workers and their ability to resist:

We are finding many objects that speak of people fleeing leaving valued possessions behind–toys, clothes, jewelry, religious medallions, etc. We have also found artifacts that shed light on the battle itself–expended bullets coming into the tent colony and fired cartridges, possibly from strikers within the colony firing back. From what we have seen so far, it appears the strikers were armed mainly with shotguns, which, while good for hunting small game, would not have been much use against machine-guns and high-powered rifles.

This is the history that echoes in governor Walker’s all too easy threat to use the National Guard against Wisconsin’s public unions.

It is not a history that any governor should lightly invoke.

Update: Polls taken in Wisconsin show that the governor’s proposed moves are opposed by a large majority of the population:

large majorities agreeing with “public employees” (67%), “protestors at the state capitol” (62%) and “unions” (59%) but far fewer agreeing with “Republicans in the Legislature” (48%) or Scott Walker (43% agree and 53% disagree).

When read a plain description of the proposal– including the parts of the proposal that would severely cut back the scope of bargaining– “42% said they favor Walker’s plan and 52% oppose it (24% say the favor it strongly, and 41% say they oppose it strongly).” A second poll run by a different organization yielded roughly the same numbers: 43% in favor of Walker’s proposal, 52% opposed.

Those commentators claiming the will of Wisconsin’s electorate is being carried out by the governor have facts to contend with here that do not support their view.

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Comments to "(Bad) history in the making in Wisconsin? UPDATED":
    • Robert J

      The Demise of the Liberal

      The demise of the liberal is inevitable because of their mind set, their addicted to security. Their security is not accomplished by objective thought or free choice. They need more people to think the way they do. Leaving the only means to accomplish such a task and that is to politically indoctrinate more people.
      Now if you are an educator and in particular a liberal educator you will have already dismissed this statement as absurd and say to yourself, “I have a mind of my own, I do all kinds of things independent of others” and this is true. Except when it comes to politics then the liberals have a mind melt that can only be described as, “The Borg.” You take one good hard look at these “professionals” in protest around the Wisconsin State House and you will see “professionals chanting and carrying on as one mind!” Their union, the NEA, has no threat of oppression by a fat cat CEO. Their CEO is us! “We the People” and their directive is to maintain political power over us… above and beyond who gets in the way or who gets harmed. In particular is our children and I quote the NEA’s top lawyer Bob Chanin speaking at the NEA’s annual meeting in July, 2009:
      “Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. The NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.”
      “And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.”
      “This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

      So who is this great boogieman Mr. Chanin? “We the People”
      I say the demise of the liberal is inevitable because they only view their survival as achievable by political power as well said by Bob Chanin. And to have that political power you must have a majority to consistently vote and elect into offices those who will provide them with the security and the revenue to maintain their monopoly on education.
      The NEA has 3.2 million members who pay dues and have consistently put their support behind Democrat Presidential nominees since Jimmy Carter who strangely enough founded the Department of Education (DE).
      We have a very, very strong political slant in our halls of primary and higher education and it is not healthy to the maintenance of a free society. You tell me how it is possible to maintain a free society when the very foundations of our educational system harbors the unshakeable notion to themselves that their fundamental security rest on their grip on government itself. What would Benjamin Franklin say to that when he said, ”They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
      Our educational system is by in large populated with these liberals and their political mind set. There are quite a few surveys that support their numbers as a ratio of 90% liberal and 10% conservative. Education is one occupation that liberals can survive in with little accountability and most definitely is a life style that can easily attract young minds looking for that well paying occupation with the added bonus of security.
      The liberal educator consistently grooms students in their political beliefs for the duration of their education with common used words that most would view as harmless but when used to describe everything as in a collective or a class of people it starts to melt away any notion that you are an individual. Thus the great concept of “diversity.” The basis for the “classification” of humans and the political correctness to welcome them all into the fold or demonize them as conservatives.
      The college classroom is a collective setting and the educator has a captive audience and the audience is filled with unfinished minds that are most open and eager to learn and above all wish to get a “good grade” so-as-to go back into society to make a decent living.
      Now comes the obvious consequence of the educator’s political slant. Our children’s ultimate political slant after their formal education and whether their final occupations are either the private sector or the public sector! With the size of the public sector as we see it today, I would say they have been successful in their political indoctrination.
      The liberal has finally reached political mass that has turned to critical mass unsustainable by our governments and now is collapsing in and on itself and we the people who foot the bill for their power know it!
      Education as an occupation will always have a need just like I can count on people needing a carpenter. The big difference is I don’t seek my next job with the force of law I get it because I’m accountable and answerable for my actions. And knowing I have irritated many liberals with this article… I could care less, because I value liberty over security!

      Robert J

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    • Gill

      Wisconsin’s Newest Progressive ( = Republicans, anti=Establishment Tea-Party) (See this Wall Street Journal article.)

      Collective barganing only started in 1980s. FDR opposed it. So why not Obama? $3.4 billion short fall for a few years cannot be measured against polls that claim 80 are for unions to make more money, blah blah blah. I do not think multi-party democracy is the way to truth. You can have $100 of the people claim they want all raises and are already filthy rich and kill poor people to take their piggy bank change. That ‘s not democracy but capable of masking like it is — UCB Is all leftist union. I never see an article that is balanced. It is all evil poor people, screw the helpless, and cator to foreigner rich people who advocate overthrow of Anglos. Great, America is doomed and it is because of the academic lack of standars associated to greed of their unions.

      I believe the rightwing is the new progressive too.

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    • Robert J

      Here you go Rosemary Joyce

      This goes to show you that you are just as big a worshipper of the dollar as any body else.

      National Education Association’s retiring top lawyer, Bob Chanin, speaking at the NEA’s annual meeting in July, 2009:

      “Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.”

      “And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.”

      “This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

      [Report abuse]

    • Darren

      Jane I agree with you great addressing on Wisconsin way specially when you started off the article by saying with Dramatic images from Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain and the Gulf side…I agree with your opinions through out as i reside in Gulf Dubai and work for Dubai city Tour and desert safari company and People of Gulf are now being more emotional as the similar issues are arising with the passage of time…You Did great Job

      Regards, D

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    • Robert J

      Actually I could have just said, ”Wow, and I thought I had an imagination” to Rosemary’s whole argument and left it at that!

      Just to disagree is to inject violence into the debate.

      Of coarse if I disagreed with Obama I would be a racist!

      Ah… the unaccountable world of academic freedom!
      Being a liberal is the easiest thing in the world. Just show up at the poles and vote everything you want to be into law.

      Why am I a general contractor putting up with every bodies demand for perfection?

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    • Robert J

      Wow! And I thought I had an imagination!

      Grasping at misspelled words is a desperate attempted to resuscitate a failed argument.

      I think I do “purdy” good despite a government high screwel education!

      Your not getting any apple from me!

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    • Thanks to Robert J and CalGrad for proving my point in their hysterical attacks that, notably, continue to ignore the actual facts of the situation. Both of you did in fact introduce violence into your comments, and the only interesting thing about your renewed attack comments is that you seem to want to obfuscate that. But you cannot quite avoid the violence, even when you are trying, as Robert J feels required to insert a new threat in his latest trilogy:

      “Dr. Joyce… you don’t suppose some crazy person will go out and strangle some liberal union member now… do you? Robert J”

      Even worse, Robert J’s metaphor still doesn’t work, even if he ever succeeds in fixing all his spelling errors (hint: the majority of them are still there): if someone performs the Heimlich maneuver on unions, IT WILL REVIVE THEM.

      Liberal commentators have gotten into the habit saying something like “there are legitimate questions about public unions”. So let me be original here: as a progressive, I reject the argument that unions, including public unions, are the cause of the current financial crisis in the country. A retreat from market regulation, allowing the increasingly small number of people who own an increasingly large chunk of the wealth to enrich themselves with impunity, is.

      And for CalGrad: try not to be so self-centered. As the polls that I cited show, the majority of Wisconsin’s citizens support unions in general, support these unions that are protesting in particular, support the protesters, and reject the governor’s policy. You are the one who is cut off from reality, which by the way is equally available in California as in Wisconsin, or any other state.

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    • Robert J

      Someday Rosemary Joyce you will have to take the proverbial “red” pill that Morpheus offered Neo in the movie “The Matrix” and see that the reality you profess to be so knowledgeable of has been an illusion since FDR’s New Deal. That government is the creator of liberty and rights and can be reverent and good.

      Your idea of government is the equivalent of Neo’s cocoon where government continually taps your mind, your spine and your limbs to suck the substance and revenue out of you until the day you finally wake up and see it still wasn’t enough because there is still “literally” trillions and trillion the machine you helped in creating still wants and needs. Charity would have been much cheaper… don’t you think?

      Strangely enough that the red pill is the right and the blue pill is the left. There is a lot of people popping the red pill these days Rosemary Joyce.

      Have a nice day! Robert J.

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    • Robert J

      Dr. Joyce

      The progressive liberals and their union lackeys only have themselves to blame for Senate Bill 5.

      The middle class Americans milked dry from decades of flat income increases combined with a radically increased tax burden (particularly through transferred taxes applied on corporations, which have only increased the cost of living, usually ignored by the ineptly educated left people like your esteemed colleague Robert Reich), the middle class is declaring it cannot and will not take any more.

      The people of Wisconsin have spoken and chose Governor Walker. Governor Walker is delivering on his campaign pledges. Elections have consequences… don’t they Dr. Joyce?

      Taking the comments from the king of liberalism and the great packer and politicizer of courts to subdue the “minority” against the New Deal. (Speaking of bad history!) Strangely enough yours truly, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote in opposition to public-sector unions:
      “… Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations … The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for … officials … to bind the employer … The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives …”

      The whole concept of public unions should be illegal, in that it allows members to be represented twice, once directly at the negotiating table as a union member, and again at the polling booth as a citizen of the locality. Simultaneously, each of those privately-employed citizens who together pay the bulk of the union members’ salaries have but one vote and effectively no power to fight off the unions’ ever-greedier demands. “One man, one vote” — not when there are public unions, who offer nothing but specious rationalizations and thuggery when challenged.

      Now in closing I would like to re-instate my perceived violent metaphor from my last comment with the typo corrected so as not to appear incoherent.
      And as for unions… their problem is they don’t know when they have bit off more than they can chew until it is to late and their deeds are stuck in their throat and there is nobody behind them to give them the heimlich maneuver. I can a sure another thing, there is “no” public to perform the heimlich maneuver behind this union.

      Dr. Joyce… you don’t suppose some crazy person will go out and strangle some liberal union member now… do you? Robert J

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    • CalGrad

      Thank you, Prof. Joyce. I hadn’t realized that I was suffering from such problems of perception.

      What was your first indication that I am “_hoping_ that the National Guard will be used against protesters”? I’d really like to know, because I’ve missed it all along. I thought I was hoping this problem would be solved before that. (And, as a side note, think about how you jump to the conclusion that using the National Guard to e.g. replace striking prison guards is inherently “violent”. My last experience with them was at the Iowa floods a couple summers ago, not violent unless one was a sand bag. Perhaps you should get to know a few Guard members. A few used to work on the campus in their week-time jobs, but they may have been purged by now.) And exactly where in my remarks were you able to intuit that I, a lifelong Democrat, had somehow become a “right wing extem(ist)” by merely moving back to the Midwest? Must have been right next to the threats of violence, but of course I’m not able to see those either.

      What I see from your response is a bad case of psychological projection. You’re the one that chose to emphasize the National Guard, remember? Using your logic, that must just be wishful thinking, after all. Perhaps you’re the one who’s hoping that a few young people will get hurt, because it’s such good images for your politics, right? No, I don’t believe that, because I prefer to actually have some evidence on which to base things. But if I followed your thought patterns, I would think things like that of you, and the world would be a poorer and darker place. The world is a better place when you believe that people outside the Left can be thoughtful.

      It’s a shame, really, that a professor at my alma mater could become so disconnected. It was better when I was there. Professors still had some perspective on the rest of the country.

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    • Robert J and CalGrad exemplify a number of problems with perception and reality around the role of public employees unions in general, and the situation in Wisconsin in particular.

      Let’s take these one at a time:

      Neither shows any actual understanding of what unions are about, or about public unions in particular. No, CalGrad, a job as a public servant is not a civil right. No one said that. Forming a legally accredited union, though, does give the workers legal rights. The governor of Wisconsin wants to strip those workers of those rights, not because that is necessary to get the financial concessions to meet the current crisis (the unions have already agreed to the concessions needed), but to cripple unions in any future negotiations on behalf of their workers.

      Both writers portray unions as not part of “the public” or the state’s “citizens”. The tens of thousands of protesters in Wisconsin, including those who are members of unions, are, of course, citizens. They are the public. This kind of rhetoric attempts to deny some of the people the right to self-representation by intimating that there is a larger, uniform group that the writer stands for. Last Saturday showed something quite different, with the crowd supporting the protest against the governor’s draconian bill estimated as at least ten times the size of the small counter demonstration supporting the governor.

      Both commentators also have very confused views of what a democracy is. CalGrad thinks that elections disenfranchise some of the people (deprive them of their right to free speech, to protest). Robert J’s incoherent prologue about federal health care presumes, in contrast, that the elected federal government passing laws by majority votes is illegitimate because he disagrees with those laws. Democracy cannot be a winner-take-all game; the rights of minorities– including adherents of a party in the minority– must be protected. The protesters in Wisconsin are involved in exercising their free speech rights, in the hope that this will make it harder for the governor to confuse two very different goals that are embodied in his proposed legislation.

      Finally, both of these commentators share what is increasingly a diagnostic feature of right wing extremism: threats of violence against those they do not agree with. Robert J’s metaphor may be mixed– doing the Heimlich maneuver resuscitates a choking person, and it is clear he does not want to revive endangered unions. CalGrad is clearer in hoping that the National Guard will be used against protesters.

      People like these two commenters have been deliberately encouraged to focus their anger about the erosion of their economic possibilities in the wrong place. Instead of being angry about tax cuts that increase the wealth of a very small number of people who occupy an income level that most people will never achieve, they are encourage to resent unions that have successfully defended their members’ interests. What these comments, and others like them, show clearly is that this has not led to knowledge, understanding, or insight. It leads to resentment, violence, and ignorance.

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    • Anthony St. John '63

      We must learn very quickly that we are not going to survive as a species if we do not put COOPERATION at the top of our cultural values list.

      The Us/Them dichotomies are destroying humanity.

      Our democracy is devolving into an ochlocracy, government by mobs that shout the loudest.

      It’s time for our university professors to take the lead by example and make the right things happen to save humanity, especially because all other institutional leaderships have failed, causing the cancer of calamity to spread throughout the world today.

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    • CalGrad

      What’s a stake here in Wisconsin is democracy itself. The Governor and new representatives campaigned on a specific platform, which included getting government employee contracts in check. They were elected by over-whelming margins. And now “public service” unions are organizing to prevent that.

      Well, most of the people I talk to don’t really consider this “public service” at all. We consider it a naked power grab. A sinecure as a “public servant” is in no sense a civil right.

      Perhaps the unions will back down. That would be good. But if not, this is a basic fight about whether this state will be run by its citizens or by its “public servants”. I, for one, will be encouraging the Governor to use whatever tools are available, including the National Guard if need be, to make sure that the citizens remain in charge.

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    • Robert J

      Who was it that said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”?
      And while your researching that one… tell me how cognizant was the last 2 years of total democratic dominance of the federal government by the democrats toward the people when they said… “we do-not-want Obama care”?

      The handwriting is on the wall and the people do know who and what has caused these deficits.
      And I can a sure you that this “current” budget crisis will be “current” for some time to come!
      And as for unions… their problem is they don’t know when they have bit off more than they can chew until it is to late and their deeds are stuck in their throat and there is nobody behind them to give them the heimlich maneuver. I can a sure another thing there is now public to perform the heimlich maneuver behind this union.

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    • Fred

      All these Democrats who are filthy rich want waivors from Obamacare, SS, taxes and all want big pensions. They want the poor farmers, wage-earning private store keeper who makes $16,000 a year to pay for their lavish lifestyle.

      Like I’ve been saying, there are certainly many, many Americans who would love to do the jobs these public employees don’t seem to want to do (h/t reader R.F.).
      Year Prorated Salary Full Name Position Title District (Hire Agency)
      2010 $198,500 Daniel Nerad District Administrator Madison Metropolitan Sch Dist
      2010 $184,000 Gregory Maass District Administrator Green Bay Area Sch Dist
      2010 $180,000 James Shaw District Administrator Racine Sch Dist
      2010 $175,062 William Andrekopoulos District Administrator Milwaukee Sch Dist
      2010 $170,850 James Rickabaugh District Administrator Whitefish Bay Sch Dist
      2010 $166,089 Paul Kreutzer District Administrator New Berlin Sch Dist
      2010 $165,626 Thomas Westerhaus District Administrator River Falls Sch Dist
      2010 $164,779 Karen Petric District Administrator Whitnall Sch Dist
      2010 $163,256 William Hughes District Administrator Greendale Sch Dist
      2010 $162,000 Ronald Heilmann District Administrator Eau Claire Area Sch Dist

      … (for remainder of list, go here…)

      Commenter asks: “These are only salary figures (for nine months of work) and don’t factor in all of the cushy benefits, right?”
      Right.

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    • Jane E

      What an incredible 3 days we have had here in Madison. I am witnessing great courage, great conviction, great hope by friends and colleague and thousands of others who know and care and want to be heard. People have been passionate, but peaceful and even courteous. (It is, of course, the Wisconsin way.)

      Thank you for paying attention and caring, and seeing what is at stake.

      [Report abuse]

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