by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
Only two years after the party supported by most of organized labor won a decisive national election, the Republicans are on the verge of crushing union power once and for all. But, the White House seems singularly uninvolved. “President Obama, who like all Democrats depends on labor unions to mobilize support, was at best lukewarm in his support of the protests” in Wisconsin“ – which can “be the catalyst for a new movement of political activism or it can be the nail in the coffin.”
Freedom Rider: Wisconsin Assault on Workers
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“Walker and other Republican governors are using the recession as a ruse to destroy public employee labor unions.”
The state of the Wisconsin is at the epicenter of a new, grim reality. The right wing is determined to destroy the last remaining vestiges of workers’ rights in this country. Newly elected governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature have acted on a threat which their party has made all over the country. They plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for all public employees, and limit the amount of any pay increases to the consumer price index. Only law enforcement and fire fighters would be exempt from this measure.
This salvo should be met with unrestrained and clear opposition from the Democratic Party nationally and from organized labor. Yet the White House response has been muted and underwhelming and labor is still in the grip of a dysfunctional one-way love affair with Obama and refuses to call the president out for his lackluster non-response.
The pitiful response from the White House and the acquiescence in it by big labor are an indication that this is just the beginning of what appears to be a successful Republican attack. Wisconsin should be a rallying cry for the Democratic Party, an opportunity to remind its voters of the consequences of Republican victory. Instead of leading the push back, the White House has demurred and in fact denied any involvement in the fight with Wisconsin activists at the helm.
Wisconsin is a state that exemplifies the Democratic Party’s inability to mobilize voters and keep the spoils of political victory. In presidential elections, Wisconsin is a reliably blue state, but in the 2010 midterm elections a Republican governor emerged triumphant and a long time Democratic senator was defeated. The GOP victories came about because those Democrats who elected Barack Obama stayed home.
“Instead of leading the push back, the White House has demurred.”
It is a recurring theme for the party. They win only when the Republican brand is in complete disrepute and the continual abandonment of their base and propensity to stand down makes a mockery of the victories they do manage to attain. Unlike the right wing, who never relent in their quest for political power, progressives join their misleadership in complacency. They are happy with a few crumbs thrown their way, or a Democrat in the White House, which often amount to the same thing. The end result is that Republicans nearly always have the advantage. A seemingly decisive Democratic win in 2008 does not deter them from making their goals a reality.
The end result of this constant capitulation is that Walker and other Republican governors are using the recession as a ruse to destroy public employee labor unions. The budgetary shortfalls across the country are not the result of exorbitant public employee salaries, as we have been led to believe. The entire American economy is one big ponzi scheme, a house of cards which collapsed after years of deregulation of financial markets and government policies which gave public money to corporations and wealthy individuals. Now that the bill has come due from Democratic and Republican chicanery, workers are handed the check. Wisconsin’s economy will not improve if collective bargaining is off limits to government workers. Those union protections will be gone for good and working people all over the country will suffer because of it.
Fortunately, Wisconsin’s Democratic legislators are of one accord, and refuse to go along with this scheme. So great is their determination that they fled the state capital and the state itself in order to deprive Republicans of a quorum in an effort to kill this legislation once and for all. It is indeed an inspiring sight to see protest intent on stopping this power grab. Thousands have descended on Madison, Wisconsin to make their voices heard and to prevent the demise of an already tottering labor movement.
The sights in Washington DC are not so inspiring. President Obama, who like all Democrats depends on labor unions to mobilize support, was at best lukewarm in his support of the protests. How could he not be, having announced his own pay freeze on federal workers.
“Now that the bill has come due from Democratic and Republican chicanery, workers are handed the check.”
“We had to impose, for example, a freeze on pay increases for federal workers for the next two years, as part of my overall budget freeze. You know, I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do.
“On the other hand, some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin -- where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally -- seems like more of an assault on unions.
“And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends. These are folks who are teachers, and they're firefighters, and they're social workers, and they're police officers. You know, they make a lot of sacrifices, and make a big contribution, and I think it's important not to vilify them, or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”
The statement is classic Obama. On the one hand he says he disagrees with the governor, but on the other hand, he deprived federal workers of their rights as well. Instead of calling the president to account, the AFL-CIO praised his aloofness, calling his comments “wonderful” and AFSCME felt the wimpy words were “terrific.”
To their credit, some protesters were not so forgiving, asking why the president did not come to their aid. "‘He owes it to us,’ added Kathie Free, a retired Milwaukee public school social worker. ‘Obama was not put into office just by the big money. He was put into office by millions of poor and middle-class people who walk the neighborhoods, talking to neighbors, getting the votes, and that's how Obama got in, and he has to start remember how he got in. He'd better start working for the middle class and poor people.’"
“Thousands have descended on Madison, Wisconsin to make their voices heard and to prevent the demise of an already tottering labor movement.”
If this awful showing doesn’t tell us where the Democratic Party stands, nothing else will. While Democrats find new ways to leave their people twisting in the wind, Republicans in Congress are beginning an all out offensive to please their base.
They are once again threatening to de-fund public broadcasting and end all federal funding for birth control and for planned parenthood, which provides for a variety of health services. The Republican base never has to fear that its demands will go unmet. Their leaders understand the importance of keeping their supporters happy and never cease to use political theater to insure continued activism on the party’s behalf.
The Wisconsin crisis can be the catalyst for a new movement of political activism or it can be the nail in the coffin. If progressives refuse to acknowledge that they must begin to separate themselves from the Democrats, it is the coffin. Wisconsin represents a turning point in history. It is a wake up call about the Democratic Party, not the Republicans. The Republicans are doing what they have always done and the Democrats are allowing the travesty to take place. It is time to choose sides, and those who have always chosen the Democrats need to begin seeing that they must choose another way out.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.