Monday, September 9, 2013

Scott Walker taught me everything I know about politics: Equality

Video: An injury to one is an injury to all--Wisconsin firefighters arrive in dress uniform to protest Scott Walker's union-busting Budget Repair Bill.

Equality is the fundamental tenet of social democracy. For America's social democratic programs--Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance--everyone is treated the same. Every citizen has the same right to these programs as everyone else.  There are no exceptions. No one gets left out; no one gets special treatment.  Everyone has the same rights. Rich or poor, male or female, racial majority or minority--none of this matters. All citizens are entitled to the same benefits as everyone else. Equality above all else. Equality is valued for equality's sake.

But even if you don't believe in equality for the sake of equality, there are other reasons to fight for equality. There are other reasons to fight for the rights of others--to fight battles that have nothing to do with you.  Let Scott Walker be your teacher.  You must defend everyone's rights, because your silence ensures that someone like Walker will come for you next.

In 2011, Scott Walker's successfully busted Wisconsin's public sector unions, but the he crucially exempted Wisconsin's for public safety unions--those that represent police officers, firefighters, and state troopers.  All other public sector unions can technically still exist, but they can only bargain for pay--and nothing else--and can only bargain for increases that match inflation (currently, approximately zero). But since they can't bargain over contributions to benefits, they can't really bargain for pay, either. If a union secures a 1% pay increase, for example, the state can simply force them to pay 1% more towards their benefits, easily negating any power left with the unions. Workers can have a union, but it is illegal for the union to actually do anything.

After the passage of Walker's union-busting Budget Repair Bill, a recall effort was organized. Through it, several Republican state representatives were replaced, but Walker easily survived the recall.  His union-busting bill remains law.

But the story was different in nearby Ohio. Governor John Kasich's Senate Bill 5 would have busted all public sector unions, but it was struck down by referendum in Ohio. It wasn't even close; Senate Bill 5 was voted down 63% to 37%--nearly a 2:1 margin.

Kasich didn't fail where Walker succeeded because Ohio has less appetite for union busting.  If anything, Ohio is a more conservative state--Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican for president since 1984.  No, union busting failed in Ohio because Kasich didn't divide his enemies to conquer them one by one like Walker did.

Scott Walker succeeded only because he insisted that he was only going after the bad kind of union--public sector, non-public safety.  Private sector unions?  No, those are the good kind of unions.  Walker actually said:
Private sector unions are my partner in economic development.
Kasich was more ham-fisted than a much more skilled Walker, openly expressing disdain for unions, rather than insisting that he was only targeting the bad kind of union. Crucially, Walker's union busting does not extend to public safety workers (police, firefighters, and state troopers). He repeatedly denied that he wanted to bust the public sector unions of firefighters and police officers. His reasoning: public safety unions are the good kind of unions. Law enforcement and firefighters--they're different from other kinds of public sector workers, they deserve their Constitutional right to collectively bargain. Amazingly, as all this was happening in early 2011, some unions actually took him at his word:
Both the police and firefighters’ statewide unions as well as the Wisconsin Troopers’ Association issued statements praising Walker for recognizing their members’ jobs are important and unique.
Dave Seager, president of the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association, denied the exemption was a quid pro quo in any way, saying it simply shows Walker respects local public safety workers. Seager said it wasn’t his job to decide whether the exemption was fair.
"My concerns are for my membership," he said, "to do the best that I can to protect their wages, hours and working conditions."
Walker succeeded and Kasich failed because Walker recognized that busting all public sector unions would be politically untenable. He was proven correct in Ohio:
Only time will tell if that’s fact or wishful thinking, but even Ohio Republicans conceded the fight over the legislation breathed new life into Democrats, who have borne the brunt of the state’s massive job losses and economic stagnation.
“Hey, I’m a Republican, but I’m telling you, Republican firefighters and police officers aren’t going to be voting Republican around here for a while,” said Doug Stern, a 15-year veteran of the Cincinnati fire department who joined the non-partisan “We are Ohio” coalition that helped repeal the bill.
“We’ll see what happens in 2012, but our guys have a long memory. We’re angry and disgusted.” senior state Republican blamed the governor, whose approval rating languishes in the low 30s, for “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” by alienating labor-friendly independents in the state.
Returning to the previous blockquote (with Dave Seager, president of a Wisconsin firefighter's union), note the smugness of Seager's bread and butter unionism ("My concerns are for my membership").  We protect our own; the welfare of anyone else is none of our business.  Wait until they come for you next:
Two-and-a-half years after mostly sparing police officers and firefighters, Gov. Scott Walker said this week he is open to the idea of limiting their ability to collectively bargain.
Fast-forward to 2013.  Turns out, he didn't think you were special; he actually feared you, and would have busted your union if he had the opportunity:
In 2011, Walker and his fellow Republicans all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public workers, but did not extend most of those restrictions to police and firefighters. That was because of concerns at the time that public safety would be compromised if officers or firefighters went on strike or took other job actions, Walker told a Governmental Research Association gathering in Milwaukee on Monday.
And now, because you didn't resist in 2011 with everyone else, he now may have the opportunity.  Amusingly, Wisconsin's union sellouts are still in denial.  The pawns can't believe they have been played (but you said we were special).  Pitiful:
Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, said he would oppose efforts to expand Act 10 to police, but added he wanted to know more about the context of Walker's initial comments. He signaled the union could support Walker in his 2014 re-election bid.
"At this point in time, there is no reason to say I no longer support someone I supported in the past," Crivello said.
This isn't tied to any specific proposal.  But Walker clearly intends to take down the public sector unions he exempted in 2011.  And when he does, Crivello and the Milwaukee Police Association will probably wish that they had the resources of all Wisconsin public sector unions to help protect them.  But they won't, because theirs is one of the few unions left.

Of course, protecting private sector unions turned out to be a lie as well; Scott Walker was caught on tape boasting about his plans to bust public sector unions first, then bust the private sector unions after resistance had been softened.  Not smart to face down everyone all at once--better to make the more popular unions think you're on their side so they step aside as you bust the other unions.  Once those unions are gone, who will be left to protect the unions you exempted once you've destroyed the rest?  Unlike Kasich, Walker understood the wisdom of divide and conquer.  (I'm not interested in busting  your unions, it's just the antics of this group of ruffians over there that has gotten out of hand!). Indeed, as a state legislator in 1993, Walker cosponsored a bill to bust Wisconsin's private sector unions. Twenty years is a long time, but who really thinks Walker's heart softened to organized labor in the private sector?

Many people were not fooled. Like the firefighters in the video at the top of this post, the vast majority of Wisconsin police and firefighters stood against Walker, and a firefighter was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in the recall election. Walker's "divide and conquer" strategy seems not to have been persuasive to any but a few Wisconsin unions; rather, it was persuasive (as should be clear from the Ohio referendum) to a wide swath of voters with ambivalent feelings towards unions. In the aggregate, this isn't a story of union members stepping aside to let Walker bust other unions. But it did happen. Hundreds of public safety workers had the wool pulled over their eyes, and stepped aside when they should have stood against the anti-union agenda that was sure to target them next.

Again, Walker is not actively pursuing any plan to bust the remaining public sector unions. He's already a right wing rock star; why not ride his accomplishment to a presidential run in 2016? Why risk that presidential bid on a risky move to bust public safety unions? Nevertheless, as Walker himself made clear, his statements supportive of public safety unions in 2011 were lies. He didn't bust public safety unions because he didn't want to--he just didn't have the opportunity, and would now seize the opportunity if it presented itself.

Let Scott Walker be your teacher. Every attempt to take away someone's rights must be vigorously resisted.  Eventually, they will come for you. Equality first.

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