Wisconsin Is a Battleground Against the Billionaire Kochs' Plan to Break Labor's Back
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[This article has been updated, as of April 27, 2011]
As some 30,000 protesters overwhelmed the state capitol building in Wisconsin today, Democratic state senators hit the road, reportedly with State Police officers in pursuit. The Dems left the state 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. Newsradio 620 WTMJ reported that the Democratic senators were holed up in a Rockford, Illinois, hotel, out of reach of Wisconsin state troopers. Now, it seems, Republican lawmakers are beginning to waver on their support for the union-busting bill.
Last week, Walker threatened to activate the National Guard in the event of any disruption in services from public employees that, he said, could occur as a result of his legislation.
Gov. Walker claims that his war on the public workers in his state is simply about balancing Wisconsin's budget; believe that and there's a collapsed bridge in MInnesota I'd like to sell you. UPDATE: TPM's Brian Beutler reports that half of Wisconsin's budget shortfall results from three of Walker's own business-coddling initiatives. According to the Capitol Times, as quoted in Beutler's piece, in January, Walker pushed through "$140 million in spending for special interest groups." Walker claims a budget shortfall of $137 million. You do the math.
The fact is, Walker is carrying out the wishes of his corporate master, David Koch, who calls the tune these days for Wisconsin Republicans. Walker is just one among many Wisconsin Republicans supported by Koch Industries -- run by David Koch and his brother, Charles -- and Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch. 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 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. In 2008, Walker served as emcee for an awards ceremony held by Americans For Prosperity. There, he conferred the "Defender of the American Dream" award on Rep. Paul Ryan, now chairman of the House Budget Committee.
On Monday, AlterNet reported on the gaggle of Koch-sponsored politicians who individually graced the podium at last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (including several from Wisconsin: 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.