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Lawmakers Flee Wisconsin Capitol, State Police Pursue; Protests Swell to 30,000

 
 
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As up to 30,000 protesters overwhelmed the state capitol building in Wisconsin today, Democratic Senators hit the road, reportedly with State Police officers in pursuit. The Dems split in order to deprive Republicans the necessary quorum for taking a vote on Gov. Scott Walker's bill to strip benefits and collective bargaining rights from state workers.

One state senator told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believed all had left the state (h/t Lila Shapiro, The Huffington Post). From the Journal Sentinel:

In a telephone interview, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) declined to give his location but acknowledged that at least one other Democrat was with him. He said that law enforcement would be able to compel him and his members to the Senate floor if they are located in Wisconsin.

"I can tell you this - we're not all in one place," Miller said. "This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes. The people have shown that the government has gone too far . . .  We are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure that this bill gets the consideration it needs."

UPDATE: According to Newsradio 620 WTMJ, "Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach confirmed that he and all of his Democratic colleagues boarded a bus and left the state."

Lest you actually believe (and I know you know better) that Gov. Walker's war on the public workers in his state is simply about, as he says, balancing Wisconsin's budget, please note that Walker is just one among many of Wisconsin's Koch-sponsored politicians, and the Koch brothers are hell-bent on destroying the labor movement once and for all.

During his election campaign, Walker received the maximum $15,000 contribution from Koch Industries, according to Think Progress, and untold million in support worth untold hundreds of thousands from the Koch-funded astroturf group, Americans For Prosperity. AlterNet recently reported the role of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Americans For Prosperity in a vote-caging scheme apparently designed to suppress the votes of African-Americans and college students in Milwaukee, and told you of the gaggle of Koch-sponsored politicians who individually graced the podium at last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (including several from Wisconsin: Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson). Rep. Michele Bachmann, also a Koch favorite from next-door Minnesota, kicked off the conference.

Not Just About Wisconsin -- or State Workers

It's said that states are the laboratories of democracy, but the Kochs are determined to make Wisconsin a laboratory of corporate oligarchy. Nationwide, the war on public workers -- and government in general -- is not simply a facet of an ideological notion about the virtues of small government. The war on government is a war against the labor movement, which has much higher rates of union membership in the public sector than it does in the private sector.

Labor is seen by corporate leaders as the last strong line of resistance against the wholesale takeover of government (and your tax dollars) by corporations. So, by this line of thought, labor must die.

But it's even deeper than that. The labor movement holds whatever modicum of workplace fairness standards exist for the rest of workers, be they organized or not. Contracts won by organized workers function as a ceiling for what the rest of the workforce is able to demand. Without the labor movement, there's not a worker anywhere in the nation who has much of a bargaining position with her or his employer. And that's the way David Koch and his brother, Charles, want it.

Midwest Frontier Province of Kochistan

Although headquartered in Kansas, Koch Industries has at least 17 facilities and offices in Wisconsin (by my rough count of facilities and companies noted on the Koch Industries "Wisconsin Facts" page), and operates "nearly 4,000 miles of pipeline" through its Koch Pipeline Company, L.P. Which may account for Wisconsin's evolution into the Midwest Frontier Province of Kochistan.

The conglomerate boasts "four terminals and strategically located pipelines" through its Flint Hills Resources, LLC, which it describes as "a leading refining and chemicals company" that markets "gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethanol, olefins, polymers and intermediate chemicals, as well as base oils and asphalt."

The Kochs' Georgia Pacific paper and wood products division has six facilities in Wisconsin. Its C. Reiss Coal Company"is a leading supplier of coal used to generate power," according to the Koch Web site. "The company has locations in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan."

Is it any wonder that Gov. Walker signed Americans For Prosperity's pledge (PDF) against energy reform legislation?

"I Don't Run a Union Facility"

At the Americans For Prosperity Foundation's RightOnline conference last July, a breakout session for managers and entrepreneurs focused on how to talk to workers about legislative issues -- including the Employee Free Choice Act, which would simplify the process by which workers could elect to join a union -- featured Timothy Nerentz of The Oldenburg Group, a mining and defense equipment manufacturer based in Milwaukee. Nerentz illustrated how he talked to his workers about EFCA: "[W]e don't operate a union facility. That's all I have to say."

"Now, you certainly have a right to a union, right?" he added. "You got rights, I got rights, all God's children got rights. But you need to know before you make that decision what's involved in that decision." When I pressed him after the panel to clarify whether he was threatening to shut down a factory whose workers chose to unionize, he simply restated his initial point: "We don't operate a union facility.

Stimulus Spending Seen as Too Friendly to Unions

You'd think that a big business like Koch Industries would love the idea of stimulus spending, since it's bound to improve the economy. So, what gives? Why do these guys hate the stimulus funds so much?

Well, it seems that too much of it, in their view, goes to preserve the jobs of unionized workers -- like autoworkers and teachers -- which, in turn, preserves unions as part of the U.S. workforce. So that's why, presumably, Americans For Prosperity President Tim Phillips today sent out a newsletter touting an anti-stimulus bill introduced by a House member from the Midwest Frontier Province of Kochistan:

By the way, newly-elected Congressman Sean Duffy from Wisconsin made one of his first efforts in Congress a bill that returns non-obligated stimulus funding to the taxpayers. Now his bill has been included in the continuing resolution the House is working on this week. It’s great to see our efforts to end government overspending become the core of actual legislation and not just something we all rally for.

Bus Follies

While we're on the topic of e-mail blasts, I received quite the indignant one today from something called the Campaign To Defeat Obama, a.k.a., Our Country Deserves Better PAC, a.k.a., Tea Party Express. The e-mail expresses great consternation at the fact that Organizing For America, the remnant of the Obama campaign's organizing effort (now part of the Democratic National Committee), helped get protesters to Madison to protest at the Wisconsin state capitol. "They sent out 54 messages on Twitter alone!" the e-mail shouts (emphasis theirs).

In the e-mail, Tea Party Express Our Country Deserves Better Campaign to Defeat Obama screams:

Organizing For America is responsible for most of the chaos, and has been filling bus after bus with protestors and shuttled them to the State Capitol.  This was not a spontaneous uprising - this was an organized effort by Barack Obama to further his radical, leftist agenda.

Tea Party Express worked with Americans For Prosperity during the mid-term election campaign. What did they do? Filled buses with activists to get them to rallies and protests.

Today, however, it seems Americans For Prosperity had a hard time finding takers for their free-bus-trip offer for those wanting to support Gov. Walker's union-busting, worker-bashing bill. As of scheduled departure time, reports the Racine Journal Times, only six people had boarded AFP's Racine bus to Madison.

CORRECTION: The original version of this post mistakenly placed former Americans For Prosperity Wisconsin state director Mark Block on the Right Online panel discussed in this piece.

 

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at February 17, 2011, 9:58am