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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

Battleground Wisconsin

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When Republican Gov. Scott Walker rejected the agreement from Wisconsin public employee unions to accept all the painful cuts in pay and benefits he had demanded of them, the battle in Madison no longer had anything to do with money or the state budget.

Walker says he will accept nothing less than the complete destruction of collective bargaining rights for public employee unions in Wisconsin.

The idea that state employee unions refused to pay more for their health care and their pensions always was fraudulent. Walker never even asked them to.

He simply introduced a law to end collective bargaining and to slash the wages and benefits of state employees by $330 million through the end of the next budget.

The national media attracted to Wisconsin by the massive public demonstrations against Walker quickly recognized the fight had nothing to do with the state’s budget problems, which are relatively manageable compared to many other states.

To its credit, Madison’s The Capital Times led the way among local media in pointing out Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in his last budget faced double the $3 billion budget deficit Walker anticipates and closed it without tearing apart state employment, dismantling public education or raising income or sales taxes.

It took Walker eight years of financial mismanagement as county executive to bring Milwaukee County to the brink of bankruptcy. There is no reason Wisconsin should be facing financial disaster the moment Walker steps into the governor’s office.

Walker Not Doing His Job

And anyone who says Walker is merely doing what he said he would do during his election campaign and what voters elected him to do is absolutely wrong.

We remember Walker’s election campaign. He campaigned on apparently hollow clichés about creating “jobs, jobs and more jobs.” So far, Walker hasn’t created a single job.

Walker definitely did not tell voters that within days of taking office he would threaten to lay off more than 10,000 state workers and rewrite state laws to gut the pay and rights of any public employee lucky enough to still have a job.

It was Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who kept pointing out because of all the tax cuts Walker was promising to corporations and the wealthy, voters should “hang onto their hats” when Walker started slashing the budget to pay for his tax giveaways.

Sure enough, the first bills Walker passed were for tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals with health savings accounts totaling $140 million—almost exactly the  $137 million deficit Walker now says the state faces in the current fiscal year.

Some outside media—as well as some local media—continue to repeat Walker’s dishonest assertion that his proposal would still allow public employees to bargain on wages. It wouldn’t.

Public employees wouldn’t be permitted to bargain for raises any higher than the rate of inflation. What’s to bargain? Do you want your pay nudged up by the inflation rate or not?

After outlawing collective bargaining on wages, benefits and working conditions by public employees, the law then would require union members to vote every year on whether they want a union or not.

Why would even the most ardent pro-union workers want a union that wasn’t allowed to do anything on their behalf?

There’s a reason why even Milwaukee’s extremely conservative Catholic Archbishop Jerome Listecki and other religious leaders are standing with workers against Walker’s attempt to end collective bargaining rights.

It’s a moral issue when one extremist governor dishonestly uses a difficult budget to demolish decades of collective bargaining rules established to give workers a voice in their own jobs and their own lives.

The far-right tea parties, which were overwhelmed by protesters supporting workers in Madison on Saturday, are nowhere near a majority in Wisconsin.

But we saw how effective they were in November when—angered by the election of an African-American president—they turned out voters in record numbers and had a disproportionate impact on an off-year election to elect Walker.

Just think how powerful the actual majority of fair-minded citizens in this working-class state can be as they build on the Madison demonstrations by organizing recall campaigns against Republican state senators, including Alberta Darling of River Hills, who support Walker’s refusal to negotiate on destroying worker rights.

The 14 Democratic state senators who skipped across the border to halt the Republican attempt to ram through the demolition of collective bargaining are far more politically courageous in their opposition than they were when they were in the majority.

Walker and the Republicans keep saying the Democratic senators should come back to Madison and do their jobs. But the Democrats are doing their jobs.

They are representing the tens of thousands of citizens filling the Capitol and the streets outside demonstrating to protect rights established for generations. It is Walker and the Republicans who are not.

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