Thursday, March 10, 2011

They Were Lying

Last night, the Wisconsin Republican Senate voted to strip public-sector union workers of their bargaining rights. As you are hopefully aware, the premise of the Bill in question was that the government needed these new powers to rein in the out-of-control costs of labor contracts. Because the union-busting portions of the Bill were wrapped up in the budget bill, the State Senate needed a quorum to vote. It’s a requirement of the State constitution -- there must be a quorum present to vote on a fiscal Bill.

After a three week (or so) standoff -- where Democratic Senators left the State to prevent a quorum (and thus blocking the Bill) -- the Republican put all the union-busting portions in a separate Bill and voted it through last night. You can read a better version of this explanation at Time.

If you’ve been able to follow me (hopefully this has just been a refresher) then you already recognize that Wisconsin’s Governor Walker lied. Taking away union rights was supposedly about balancing the budget. That kind of law requires a quorum. Now that the Republicans have tried everything they can think of in the nearly month-long standoff -- without success -- the truth comes out. Crushing unions has nothing to do with balancing the budget. Either the Wisconsin Senate just violated the Wisconsin Constitution or they -- and Governor Walker -- were lying. Or both. (Actually, I think it’s both. The lawyers are going to get rich on this one.)

Of greater concern is how this will play out in public opinion. With 14 million Americans unemployed, I’m thinking that workers are already weak enough. We’ll have to wait to see what workers think.

Two things to keep in mind. Federal workers? You’re next. Everybody else? Keep in mind that labor fights haven’t always been non-violent.

(Teamsters and police clash in a 1934 Minneapolis strike)

So far, these demonstrations in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) have been remarkably peaceful. If desperate people get the idea that laws don’t matter -- State constitutions and sunshine laws -- don’t expect them to remain lawful. I hope that they remember the lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr. But history says they won’t. This situation could get out of hand. It’s important to remember who started this.

Don Brown
March 10, 2011

P.S. In case, like me, you wonder who is on the other side.

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