Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wisconsin Republicans vote to take collective bargaining rights away from public-sector unions

How did they do it? Well, by cheating, in a way. Or perhaps by committing political suicide. I'll let Ezra Klein explain:

Here's what just happened in Wisconsin: The rules of the state's Senate require a quorum for any measures that spend money. That's how the absence of the Senate's Democrats could stymie Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget law -- it spent money, and thus it needed a quorum.

But in a surprise move earlier today, Wisconsin's Senate Republicans rewrote the bill and left out all the parts that spent money. Then they quickly convened and passed the new law, which included the provisions stripping most public-employee unions of their collective bargaining rights but excluding everything in the law that spent money.

What happens next? Expect the protests over the next few days to be ferocious. But unless a judge rules the move illegal -- and I don't know how to judge the likelihood of that -- Walker's proposed law will go forward. The question is whether Walker and the Republicans who voted for it will do the same.

Polls in Wisconsin clearly showed that Republicans had failed to persuade the public of their cause. Walker's numbers dropped, while Democrats and unions found themselves suddenly flush with volunteers, money and favorable media coverage. And they plan to take advantage of it: Eight Wisconsin Republicans have served for long enough to be vulnerable to a recall election next year, and Democrats have already begun gathering signatures. Now their efforts will accelerate.

As indeed they should. But will Democrats succeed?

I really do think Republicans overreached here. They thought it would be easy to take down the public-sector unions, to deprive them of their very essence (the right to bargain collectively on behalf of their members, who on their own would never have such strength and who, as we know from pre-union days, would be abused in one way or another by their employers) -- perhaps just to stick it to them, perhaps as an opening shot against organized labor generally, perhaps to weaken the Democratic Party. But the grand right-wing conspiracy was exposed, backed by the Koch brothers and pushed by Republican business and other anti-government interests, and also by a popular governor who apparently without knowing it put his political career on the line.

To their credit, the people of Wisconsin rallied in support not just of their public-sector unions but of labor unions, and labor, generally. Republican legislators look bad, Walker himself looks especially bad, and all over the country Republicans who expressed their support for this assault and who are linked to the Koch brothers are implicated in what has become a deeply unpopular move.

The Republicans may have acted within the law by removing the money parts from what was a budget bill -- as if that makes any sense -- but their motives are clear and I suspect the people of Wisconsin will hold them accountable.

When those Democrats fled the state to prevent the state Senate from having a quorum, who knew where all this would lead? As people came to understand what the issue was all about, and just what these Democrats opposed, it didn't take long for the Republicans, both in Wisconsin and elsewhere, to expose themselves for what they are, which is the enemy of working people everywhere, the party of the plutocrats, the party of the Koch brothers.

Republicans traditionally hype the supposed "culture wars" to divert the attention of the non-wealthy away from economic issues and their pro-business, plutocratic ways, scaring low-information voters into their corner, whether it's civil rights or terrorism or any other "threat" to America. They're still doing that -- just look at what IRA-backer Peter King is doing -- and they've been successful doing it, but this time they seem to have awakened a self-awareness in the electorate that will not easily be denied.

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