Workers' Uprising: Walker Unveils Disastrous New Budget, Threatens Democrats With Teacher Layoffs; Protesters Ejected from Speech
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Could such a radical action get off the ground here?
Local labor leaders are careful to point out that no strikes have been called; the federation does not have the authority to call a strike and several union leaders stressed that job actions would be individual workers' decisions. But students of labor point to a confluence of circumstances in Madison with dramatic potential.
It is just possible, they say, that it could happen here....
It is dissatisfaction with the political system, not economic desperation, that sets the stage for a general strike, says Reza Rezazadeh, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville who has studied revolutionary strikes against repressive regimes in his native Iran and elsewhere. In the United States, he says, activists are challenging a political system that, despite freedom of the press and freedom of speech, is shaped by the influence of the economic elite and corporations.
Walker's challenge to union power is part of an established movement by the Republican Party to cripple unions, the most influential funding source for Democratic candidates and causes, say analysts of the showdown in Wisconsin. Aside from increasing contributions by employees for pension and health care costs, Walker's budget repair bill would also sharply restrict the power of most public unions to bargain with their employers. "It is viewed nationally and correctly as a decisive turning point for the future of labor nationally and for the Democratic Party more broadly," says Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
Whether a general strike would be an effective tool for labor, local leaders will have to decide, Shaiken says. But the likely public reaction to any widespread job action would be an important consideration, and polls show a majority are opposed to stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights, he points out. A nationwide Gallup poll released last week found 61 percent of respondents opposed to an erosion of collective bargaining rights among public unions, and even a Wisconsin poll funded by the conservative-leaning Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity found 56 percent in favor of public unions' collective bargaining powers.
To mount a general strike, labor unions would have to take a more unified stance than is usual, with truck drivers and food service workers finding common cause with public sector workers, says Gene Carroll, director of the Union Leadership Institute at the New York City campus of Cornell University. To gain public support to allow it to be effective, an even more embracing class perspective would need to take shape, he says. "In Wisconsin, to the extent that people who are not in the public sector begin to understand that the designs of the government to break collective unions' bargaining rights are in fact an attack on the economic and political rights of anyone working for a living - the possibility of a general strike is conceivable."
On the other hand, a strike that does not win public support can be a public relations disaster, says Don Taylor, an assistant professor at the School for Workers at University of Wisconsin-Extension. But in Madison, where the battle over collective bargaining is centered, circumstances favor support for widespread job actions, he says.
Update: Lynn Welch reports for PR Watch that an out-of-state group is leading a charge to recall 8 of the 14 Democratic state senators who are blocking a vote on Scott Walker's union-busting bill.
The conservative American Recall Coalition, a group from Salt Lake City, Utah, is leading the charge to reel in eight Democratic Senators in Wisconsin who are among 14 lawmakers who left the state in protest of Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB).