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The Fight for WI Workers Is Still On: Activism Is Alive and Well, Now Focused on Recalling Republicans

Nine recall elections over the next six weeks will help gauge the strength of the resistance effort against Scott Walker, and how long it will take to reverse his course.

Four months after Scott Walker signed his “budget repair” bill in defiance of unprecedented protests, Wisconsin remains a battleground with national implications. There’s been a strategic shift toward elections, and after a relative lull, an upswing in activity. Nine recall elections over the next six weeks will help gauge the strength of the resistance effort against Scott Walker, and how long it will take to reverse his course.

Wisconsin drew international attention and solidarity last winter as Wisconsinites used civil disobedience and massive protests to shame their newly elected governor and Republican legislative majorities and delay passage of Walker’s “budget repair” bill. The bill strips most public sector workers of most union rights. It restricts their collective bargaining only to wages, leaving benefits and working conditions at the discretion of management, politicians and political appointees. It bars their wages from increasing faster than the Consumer Price Index. And if workers respond by striking or collectively calling in sick, Walker’s bill lets him declare a state of emergency that empowers state officials to fire them.

After Republicans used legally suspect maneuvers to get the bill passed in March, protests diminished, but they haven’t disappeared. Some have continued protest actions at the capitol, including sing-a-longs and civil disobedience inside and a “Walkerville” tent city set up outside. Protests have also followed Walker across the state (on land and by boat), and targeted branches of the Walker-funding M & I bank across the country.

Progressives mobilized to try to oust Walker ally David Prosser from the Supreme Court in April, turning a normally low-key judicial election into a flashpoint, and a long-shot challenger into a near-victor. Prosser and three other justices sided with Walker last month, ending a Circuit Court judge’s restraining order against the “budget repair” bill and clearing the way for implementation to begin June 28.

Activists interviewed said the Supreme Court ruling, which removed the need for Republicans to re-pass the bill, has accelerated a trend of energy shifting away from the capitol and into predominately non-urban recall districts. Progressives have put recalls against six Republican state senators on the ballot for August 9; three of the Democratic senators who left the state to slow Walker’s bill face their own recalls July 19 and August 16. The recalls against Republicans cleared an initial hurdle on June 12: Democrats running to replace Republican senators all defeated right-wingers running against them in yesterday's Democratic primary in an attempt to sabotage the recalls. All of the activists interviewed were hopeful about shifting at least three senate seats from Republicans to Democrats, which would flip control of the senate and end unified GOP control of Wisconsin’s legislature. 

Public sector workers haven’t been the only ones targeted by Scott Walker. With Republican allies in control of Wisconsin’s senate and assembly, he’s signed a raft of right-wing legislation, including a voter ID bill that will make it harder for low-income people to vote, a “tort reform” bill limiting punitive damages, and an austerity budget slashing social spending. He’s cut back tax credits for the poor while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

The recalls will determine whether or not Walker and his allies retain unified control of the state legislature. They’ll also help gauge of the feasibility of ousting Walker himself, who is eligible to be recalled as early as January. By the end of the summer, Walker will emerge from the recalls either further emboldened to continue pushing a right-wing wish list, or forced to contend with a Democratic senate while fighting to save his own job.

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