As a Chicagoan, I’m often lead to believe that the Upper-Midwest is the only place of sanity in this country. So I’m proud to see Wisconsin be the place where people draw the line and call BS on the attack on public workers, state budgets, and austerity amidst a financial, foreclosure and economic crisis where the government’s response has had the protection of banks, bondholders, creditors, Wall Street and the top 1% at all costs as the driving tenant, a class war driven by the rich. Here are some other things I’m reading on the protests.
Doug Henwood was local when the protests started, and has pictures, thoughts and followup. Joel Rogers explains the politics of Wisconsin to Henwood: “To outsiders, it’s mysterious that the same state could have spawned Joe McCarthy and Robert LaFolette, or Scott Walker and Russ Feingold. Rogers explained that politics in Wisconsin has historically been driven by an alliance of industrial workers and capital-intensive dairy farmers on the left, opposed on the right by a mainly Catholic rural population. They’re pretty evenly divided, thus the contrasting figures and tight elections.”
No Budget Crisis
In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.
To the extent that there is an imbalance — Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.
Cutting taxes for friends to provoke a short-term crisis to taking a bite out of working people providing services for the people. There is a class war, being waged by the rich on the rest of us.
Not About the Budget
The most important thing to understand about the proposed changes in Wisconsin is that a lot of the proposed changes about unions have nothing to do with the state budget. One rule is that unions are not being able to collect dues. This has nothing to do with the state budget. A lot of it has to do with the union’s ability to bargain or secure future wages. That has nothing directly to do with the budget. The Republicans have enough votes to mandate benefit cuts for the unions if it was a budget thing. But it isn’t. It’s simply using the state to quash a union that opposed a Governor’s election by bleeding it out. As Ezra Klein noted:
The proposal doesn’t stop there, though. “Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues.” These rules have nothing to do with pension costs or even bargaining. They’re just about weakening unions: They make it harder for unions to collect dues from members, to negotiate stable contracts or to survive a bad year.
The best way to understand Walker’s proposal is as a multi-part attack on the state’s labor unions. In part one, their ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced. In part two, their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut. And in part three, workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year. Put it all together and it looks like this: Wisconsin’s unions can’t deliver value to their members, they’re deprived of the resources to change the rules so they can start delivering value to their members again, and because of that, their members eventually give in to employer pressure and shut the union down in one of the annual certification elections.
You may think Walker’s proposal is a good idea or a bad idea. But that’s what it does. And it’s telling that he’s exempting the unions that supported him and is trying to obscure his plan’s specifics behind misleading language about what unions can still bargain for and misleading rhetoric about the state’s budget.
Talk about the Shock Doctrine.
Again Not Overpaid
Econbrowser’s Menzie Chinn graphed up Keefe’s paper on Wisconsin for EPI. We’ve gone through this before, but controlling for education and benefits state government workers make less than private sector workers. Red is public sector workers:
An Attack On Women
As Dana Goldstein writes, the unions exempted from these attacks are those more likely to have supported Walker, and they are also those more likely to be male:
The Wisconsin GOP’s war on public sector unions–except those representing police officers, firefighters, and state troopers–is not only a craven attack on the Democratic base, but sexist, too, since predominantly male professions are deliberately protected while female ones are targeted.
About 80 percent of American teachers, for example, are female; at the elementary school level, nearly 90 percent are women. Nursing is 95 percent female. Nationwide, the majority of public sector union members, represented by AFSCME and other groups, are women.
Meanwhile, over 70 percent of law enforcement workers in the United States are men. Our firefighting ranks are 96 percent male and over half of all professional firefighting departments have never hired a woman.