The decline in organized labor’s power and membership has played a larger role in fostering increased wage inequality in the United States than is generally thought, according to a study published in the American Sociological Review this month.
The study, “Unions, Norms and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality,” found that the decline in union power and density since 1973 explained a third of the increase in wage inequality among men since then, and a fifth of the increased inequality among women.
The study noted that from 1973 to 2007, union membership in the private sector dropped to 8 percent from 34 percent among men and to 6 percent from 16 percent among women. During that time, wage inequality in the private sector increased by more than 40 percent, the study found.
While many academics argue that increased inequality in educational attainment has played a major role in expanding wage inequality, the new study reaches a surprising conclusion, saying, “The decline of the U.S. labor movement has added as much to men’s wage inequality as has the relative increase in pay for college graduates.” The study adds that “union decline contributes just half as much as education to the overall rise in women’s wage inequality.”
The study was written by Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, and Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at the University of Washington.
The two professors found that the decline of organized labor held down wages in union and nonunion workplaces alike. Many nonunion employers — especially decades ago, when unions represented more than 30 percent of the private sector work force — raised wages to help avert the threat of union organizing.
Moreover, the study argues that when unions were larger and had a far greater voice in politics and society, they played a more influential role in advocacy on wages across the economy, for instance, in pushing to raise the minimum wage.
“In the early 1970s, when one in three male workers were organized, unions were often prominent voices for equity, not just for their members, but for all workers,” the two professors wrote. “Union decline marks an erosion of the moral economy and its underlying distributional norms. Wage inequality in the nonunion sector increased as a result.”
The two professors note that the decline of unions is part of a common account of rising inequality that is often contrasted with a market explanation that includes technological change, immigration and foreign trade. They argue that the market explanation usually understates the role of organized labor’s decline on increased inequality.
The study notes that in the 1970s, some skilled-trades unions and construction unions helped to increased inequality through exclusionary practices that reinforced racial and ethnic inequalities. But the study said that, over all, unions in the United States had been an important force for reducing inequality — although not as much as unions in Europe, which have more influence in politics and society.
The authors found that the biggest factor in the decline in unions’ power and density was job growth outside traditional labor strongholds like manufacturing, construction and transportation. They added that another important reason for the decline of organized labor was that “employers in unionized industries intensified their opposition” to unionization efforts.
They noted that as unions have grown weaker, there has been less pressure on lawmakers to enact labor-friendly or worker-friendly measures. “As organized labor’s political power dissipates,” the authors wrote, “economic interests in the labor market are dispersed and policy makers have fewer incentives to strengthen unions or otherwise equalize economic rewards.”
New York Times, Thurs Aug 4 2011
Six-Figure Ad Buy for GOP Recall Candidates
Wisconsinites See Why 'David Koch' Was Told 'Thanks a Million!' By
Walker During Prank Call As Pro-Republican AFP Spending Tops $500,000
in Wisconsin This Year
Madison – Americans for Prosperity, the organization funded by big oil
billionaires David and Charles Koch, has just purchased over $150,000 in
television ad time for Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee in what could be a new
wave of spending to try and save the six Republican state Senators who are
being recalled for their support of Gov. Scott Walker's reckless attacks on public
education, health care, workers' rights and the middle class. This is in addition to
$380,000 Americans for Prosperity previously spent this year to support Walker's
"The granddaddy of corporate, big oil special interest money has turned on the
money pipeline in a new six-figure bid to save Scott Walker's Senate majority,"
said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. "The Koch Brothers'
Americans for Prosperity has now dumped over $500,000 to pollute Wisconsin
airwaves about the failed agenda of Scott Walker and the Senate Republicans –
and they may just be getting started."
Gov. Scott Walker was roundly-criticized when just days after unveiling his
scheme to end the rights of 175,000 Wisconsin workers, he was pranked in a
recorded phone call from someone he thought was David Koch. Walker not only
admitted during the call his team considered sending agitators to cause trouble
during the protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol, but also told "Koch" he
needed the group to come and spend money in the state, saying:
...they 're going to need a message out reinforcing why this was a good thing to
do for the economy a good thing to do for the state so the extent that message is
out over and over again, that's obviously, that's obviously a good thing.
Americans for Prosperity emerged as the most powerful of all of the groups fueling the
so-called Tea Party movement and has spent in excess of $65 million since 2008,
including $40 million in 2010 when Republicans seized power of numerous state
legislatures and Gubernatorial seats, including Wisconsin – which went from having a
Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly to complete
Governor Walker and the Republican legislature have put protections for clean air and
water in the crosshairs of their pro-corporate agenda. This is particularly helpful for Koch
Industries, which owns Georgia Pacific, a company that has contributed nearly 10
percent of all phosphorus pollution in the Lower Fox River basin, according to a
government report released in June 2010. Koch pipelines in Wisconsin over the past two
decades have leaked 160,000 gallons of oil and gasoline, which is particularly
problematic in a state like Wisconsin, where 70 percent of residents rely on groundwater
as their drinking source.
In the final weeks of the campaign, a new shadowy group with strong ties to Americans
for Prosperity spent approximately $1 million to re-elect pro-Walker Supreme Court
Justice David Prosser in April 2011. After the election, the head of the state Americans
for Prosperity chapter bragged about the group's effort in the campaign's waning days to
help Prosser win by the slimmest margin in any recent Supreme Court race. Prosser not
only cast the deciding vote to uphold Walker's attack on collective bargaining, but also
joined the Court's majority in overturning a "lower court decision allowing a public
challenge to the permit giving Koch's Georgia Pacific plants more leeway in dumping
phosphorus into waterways." [ThinkProgress, 4/13/11; Slate, 6/17/11]
"The Koch pipeline has opened up once again for Scott Walker and his Republican
Senate," said Ross. "But it's the attacks by Scott Walker and his Republican Senate
lapdogs on the middle class, education, health care and workers rights that are fueling
the historic recalls and rejection of the Walker-GOP pro-corporate agenda."
# # #
One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective
earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.
onewisconsinnow.org, Fri Jul 29 2011
MILWAUKEE – Rallying the troops, Wisconsin's AFL-CIO is pouring tons of resources into the state to oust six Republican senators in next month's recall elections.
"People are passionate about the issues. They're going door to door, they're talking to their neighbors about why we need to recall these six GOP senators," said Stephanie Bloomingdale with the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.
Besides stopping in Milwaukee Tuesday, the union has already stopped in Green Bay, Oshkosh, and Kenosha, among others. And it has planned stops in La Crosse and Hudson next month.
"Working people are putting their nickels and dimes to have a fair shake in these elections," she said.
"They're spending millions of dollars to buy the election," said Brad Courtney, Chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
He claims it's much more than nickels and dimes.
"The unions are basically trying to overturn the elections of last November clearly stated we didn't like where the state was going, we want a complete change," he said.
"What they'd really out to do is ask Club for Growth where their money is coming from," Bloomingdale countered.
Conservative group Club for Growth is also pouring in tons of cash to help Republicans, but because third party organizations are funneling in money, it's tough to know exactly how much.
What is for sure, these upcoming elections could be a game changer.
"We're going to have a huge turnout," said Courtney.
"These recall elections are critical in restoring our democracy," said Bloomingdale.
TMJ4, Mon Jul 26 2011
NDP labour critic Yvon Godin is not alone in his assessment of a bleak future for unionized workers.
"This is only the beginning — no matter what," the New Brunswick MP, former miner and Steelworkers' negotiator told the Toronto Star. He was referring to labour disputes with Air Canada and Canada Post that have involved Parliament in the early days of the Conservatives' first majority mandate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper "has made it clear he's only here for the big employers," Godin said from Ottawa before leaving for this weekend's NDP national convention in Vancouver. "It's a message to all workers that they don't matter anymore . . . Do we really want a return to the Dirty Thirties (and a Depression)?"
The result, he argues, will be an unsettling future of labour unrest.
The Conservative government acted swiftly in both disputes. After Canada Post locked out postal workers involved in rotating strikes on June 15, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt announced back-to-work legislation within hours. It will be tabled in the Commons Monday.
The government planned similar legislation for striking Air Canada customer service and sales staff. However, the issue became moot when the company and the Canadian Auto Workers' union reached a settlement — with talks continuing on the dispute over pensions.
Union members and labour analysts fear this government has tougher measures in store, including concern about the Conservative party's recent resolution calling for better protection for replacement workers. As well, they point out a potential for "poison pills" hidden in back-to-work legislation for postal workers, such as the worst-case scenario of curtailment of the right to strike for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
Liberal Leader Bob Rae said his party will study the legislation carefully when it is introduced Monday. He says Harper's "authoritarian, command-and-control approach clearly puts the government on one side in labour disputes — management's side. It's going to make future bargaining more difficult."
In the Commons, Harper said government actions are necessary to prevent "significant damage to the Canadian economy. The government has not taken a stand on the issues."
Carla Lipsig-Mummé, founding director of the Centre for Research on Work and Society at York University, says she's concerned about the potential for further federal legislation that restricts workers' rights.
"I worry considerably because the government has shown itself to be so hostile to unions . . . It indicates this government is ready to go to lengths we have never seen in Canada to essentially threaten unions.
"It's a green light to companies — 'You can behave as badly as you want and we will support you.'"
An internationally recognized expert on workplace issues, Lipsig-Mummé said she saw no reason to legislate against postal workers when its union offered to accept the existing contract and continue negotiations in order to keep the mail moving. She called the government's actions "unconscionable and unwise."
CUPW president Denis Lemelin said the message in rotating strikes, including to small businesses, was that "we'll keep the mail moving. There will be delays but you will receive your mail."
Lemelin said in an interview the union is fighting Canada Post's efforts to treat new hires differently, both in wages, pension and other benefits. "What kind of society do we want to create? One in which there are still good jobs or one in which we try to create cheap labour at any cost?"
The June 15 lockout of postal workers happened so rapidly, some CUPW insiders suggest Canada Post laid a trap for the union.
"That's absolutely untrue," said Jon Hamilton, general manager for communications at Canada Post. "If you look at what has been happening in the rotating strikes, the revenue loss to Canada Post has been $100 million . . . We could not continue to live with that kind of national uncertainty."
Lipsig-Mummé doesn't buy the argument the Canadian public, hit by job losses, layoffs and reduced wages and benefits, has little sympathy for labour disputes.
"There is a fairly ingrained sense of fairness among Canadians," she said. "(The government's actions) are not the way we work in Canada . . . Here is a government that wishes to signal it will be tough on unions that undercut the Canadian economy but in neither case (Air Canada and Canada Post) can they show real damage to the economy."
Toronto Star, Fri Jun 17 2011
Byline: Linda Diebel
The newly seated Chicago Board of Education may have won the first battle with Chicago teachers this week when it rescinded a 4 percent pay raise, but it may also have ended a relatively peaceful era in labor relations and created a more pugnacious adversary.
The Chicago Teachers Union has absorbed a number of recent setbacks. On Monday, a sweeping education bill that reformed teacher tenure and limited teachers' ability to strike was signed into law. And on Wednesday, the board unanimously nullified raises that would have cost nearly $100 million.
Some teachers and observers say that backing the union into a corner on wages and other key issues could be the spark to reinvigorate the membership.
"If you act in a confrontational way, you're poking your finger in the eye of those teachers, and very typically you generate unintended negative consequences," said Robert Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Karen Lewis, president of the union, had a succinct reaction to the board's vote. "Thank you, because we'll be organizing all summer," she said Thursday. "It will be a very interesting, wonderful summer."
Teachers face crucial tasks. They need to rally their membership and public support to strengthen their leverage at the bargaining table. And they must decide whether to try to muster the votes to call the union's first strike since 1987 or choose a less confrontational tactic.
The union has already notified the board that it wants to reopen the section of the contract regarding salaries, something it has the right to do. That could lead to compromise solutions or to reopening the entire agreement for negotiations.
Andrew W. Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, recognized the role that the new legislation could play in the changing dynamic between the district and the union.
"It's unusual to carve out a group of teachers in a local and treat them, in state statute, very differently in terms of right to strike," Broy said. "You've got the kind of nuclear option of the strike, but what's short of that, I think, is the question."
The board's vote on raises came after it revealed that the CPS budget deficit — which it said is now $712 million — includes millions of dollars in previously undisclosed costs. Some teachers say they are open to cost-saving alternatives, like furlough days.
If the board and union reopen negotiations and those talks stall, the new state legislation dictates that the two enter a fact-finding process with a third-party arbitrator. Then 75 percent of the voting union membership would be required to authorize a strike. Many teachers say that threshold is attainable.
"We think there could be a possible strike," said Anna Moraitis, a 16-year veteran teacher who works at Sullivan High School. "At some point, enough is enough. We gotta draw the line somewhere. We feel like there's no stability anymore. If you can't honor a contract and an agreement, what leverage are you going to have in the future?"
The Chicago Teachers Union has long been a powerful and combative institution, with strikes virtually a perennial threat. There were five teachers' strikes in the 1980s alone. But there has been relative labor peace since Richard M. Daley, then the mayor, took control of the schools in 1995. The rescinded raises were specified for the last year of the current five-year contract.
"The union is weak, and it used to be strong," said Sherrily Bivens, a teacher for 27 years, currently at Agassiz Elementary School. "People paid us attention. It's a joke now."
"We have to come out and show that we're a viable institution," Bivens added.
The union cannot strike over some issues, but it can over wages. Asked if a strike is possible, Lewis said: "Yes, yes and yes again. This action that the board took, and quite frankly I'm surprised that they took it, could easily be a catalyst for a strike."
Bruno said the best alternative to a strike would be a strategic, methodical campaign to create a counternarrative to the board's stance. "The challenge will be for the teachers to talk more broadly so that it's not merely a conversation about 4 percent," he said.
Chicago Public Schools "could be creating the seeds for a much better informed and much better prepared bargaining agent than the city's ever experienced," he said. The new union leadership, which took over last year, is much more active than past leaders in organizing and building relationships with parents and community organizations, he added. That could help move public opinion in their favor.
Over the past two months, CPS has developed a public relations campaign, rolling out a listening tour with its new chief executive, Jean-Claude Brizard, announcing $75 million in cuts for the central office and outlining a deep budget deficit. Public officials across the country have called for wage and work force cuts and even changes in collective bargaining rights to address budget problems.
"People can argue with details about the numbers, but clearly, at this juncture of our budgetary cycle, we are facing an extraordinary budget gap," said David Vitale, president of the Board of Education. "We can't hamstring ourselves by saying we can reasonably expect to pay you those raises."
Lewis doesn't accept that message. "Paying teacher salaries did not take us to financial Armageddon," she said.
Nationally, teachers have been made scapegoats, said Randall Bates, a retired teacher. Teachers need a new strategy to re-establish themselves as professionals, he said, rather than just accepting the definition of a management-worker relationship.
"We have to regain the trust of the public; the public employs us," said Bates, who worked in city schools for 30 years. "We should go forward to earn that trust. We have to become leaders of educational reforms."
Lori Zaimi, 33, a union member and the coordinator of technology services at Murray Elementary School in Hyde Park, said the union had been ramping up efforts to galvanize teachers and make them aware of potential threats to their contract.
Others, like Nancy Besser, a teacher at Monroe Elementary in the Logan Square neighborhood, said there was little time to talk about union issues because she had to remain focused on her work, educating children.
"To tell you the truth, all the teachers here are just busy with what we have to do," Besser said before the vote. "The job is very demanding, and the last thing we're doing is sitting around talking about what's going to happen to our raises."
But Mark Paye, an English teacher and union delegate at Roberto Clemente high school, said that attaining a 75 percent strike-authorization vote would not be difficult given the impact the rescinded raises could have on people's lives.
"Unfortunately, people sometimes don't step into action or get active until they feel it in their pocketbooks," Paye said. "I think this would fire people up more."
Paye said he welcomed the test faced by the Chicago Teachers Union and by public employees nationwide.
"I think we're going to have a wake-up call," he said. "I think people in the country do look toward Chicago, and they're going to be looking here to learn from our successes and our mistakes."
Chicago News Cooperative, Fri Jun 17 2011
The AFL-CIO today applauded the U.S. Department of Labor's decision to accept its complaint regarding the government of Bahrain's failure to live up to its trade agreement commitments with respect to workers' rights.
The complaint, filed April 21 with the Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, documents the Bahrain government's repression of peaceful protests and attacks on the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU). Click here to read the complaint.
For two months, the union movement around the world and in the United States has called on the government of Bahrain to halt its all-out attack against workers. In retaliation for peaceful protests and as part of the Bahraini government's overall crack down on dissent, more than 1,700 workers have been summarily dismissed from their jobs, frequently in contravention of Bahrain's labor laws.
"The egregious attacks on workers must end, and the Bahraini government's systematic discrimination against and dismantling of unions must be reversed. These actions directly violate the letter and the spirit of the trade agreement," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
Workers must be reinstated to their jobs and the elected union leadership must be allowed to function without fear of reprisals. Failure by the United States to intervene to support workers and their democratic institutions would make a mockery of the labor protections included in the free trade agreement.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Jun 16 2011
Issue: 48,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) have been locked out by Canada Post
Actions Requested: Help them on the picket lines in your area. In Edmonton, go to the main plant at 12135-149 Street or to the downtown plant at 9808 - 103A Avenue. In Calgary, join them at 1100 - 49 Avenue, N.E. In Fort McMurray, go to the Hardin Street deport between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday for a BBQ on the line. Check your local Canada Post depots for other picket lines.
When: Tonight (Wednesday, June 15th) and tomorrow (Thursday, June 16th)
Issue – CUPW Calls on Allies for Support
Canada Post locked out 48,000 workers across the country last night (Tuesday, June 14th). Today, they have been on the picket lines and are asking us to come out to provide support and strengthen those lines.
Anyone able to come by the main Edmonton plant at 12135-149 Street or the downtown plant 9808 - 103A Avenue would be appreciated. At the main Edmonton plant, the early shift 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. is in desperate need of fortifying the lines.
CUPW says it does not know what the next 48 hours holds, but the federal government is positioning itself to impose back-to-work legislation. Flooding MP offices with calls and e-mails and coming out to join the picket lines to bolster support would lift the spirits of our brothers and sisters.
June 15, 2011
The Honourable Ed Fast
Minister of International Trade
Government of Canada
email@example.com / fax (613) 996-9795
Dear Minister Fast,
The Trade Justice Network and the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC) congratulate you on your recent re-election to the House of Commons and appointment to lead Canada's important international trade file. The networks, which represent labour, environmental, farmers, cultural, student, Indigenous and other public interest groups in Canada and Quebec, support greater engagement and trade with Europe as part of a fair and balanced Canadian trade agenda.
The Trade Justice Network came together in February 2010 because of concerns, shared by RQIC, that the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could undermine important social, economic and environmental policy on both sides of the Atlantic. Since that time, we have advocated openness and public debate on CETA in our communications with local, provincial, and federal government representatives. We have met with Members of the
European Parliament from all political parties on multiple trips to Brussels, and we continue to receive briefings from Canada's lead negotiator following each round of CETA talks.
Based on these meetings, and a careful reading of leaked copies of the CETA text, we know the proposed Canada-EU free trade agreement has the potential to transform the Canadian and Quebec economies in important ways. For example, the agreement will place new constraints on how the provinces, territories and Canadian municipalities make public policy. From culture to agriculture, telecommunications to procurement, the regulation of finance to the delivery of public services, copyright law to drug patent terms, CETA will affect many policy areas which are best decided by federal and provincial legislatures.
At the same time, serious questions have been raised about the projected gains from a comprehensive Canada-EU trade deal. For example, a Sustainability Impact Assessment conducted for the European Commission found GDP growth would be less than half what was estimated in a 2008 joint study the Canadian and EU governments used to justify commencing negotiations. Another Canadian study estimates job losses of between 28,000 and 150,000, based on the natural effect of imports and exports on multiple sectors. We feel these studies present a strong case for slowing down the negotiations with the EU while a public debate can be held on the risks and benefits of CETA.
The Trade Justice Network and RQIC would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you at your convenience to go over our concerns in more detail. As two broad-based networks of Canadian and Quebec civil society organizations, we have expertise across many sectors which we hope can be of assistance to the federal government as it moves forward with its CETA negotiations.
We look forward to hearing from you.
The Trade Justice Network
Email: TJN.RCJ@gmail.com / 416-979-0451
Trade Justice Network / Réseau pour un Commerce juste (TJN / RCJ) member organizations:
Alberta Federation of Labour, Alternatives, ATTAC-Québec, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), Canadian CED Network, Canadian Conference of the Arts, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), Canadian Federation of Students
(CFS), Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), CUPE Ontario, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), Council of Canadians, The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Manitoba Federation of Labour, National Farmers Union (NFU), National Union of Public and General Employees (NUGPE), New Brunswick Federation of Labour, Northern Territories Federation of Labour, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, Ontario Federation of Labour, PEI Federation of Labour, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, Sierra Club Canada, Toronto and York Region Labour Council, United Steelworkers (USW), Yukon Federation of Labour.
Réseau québécois sur l'intégration continentale (RQIC)
Courriel: firstname.lastname@example.org / 514-383-2266
RQIC member organizations: Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS), Alternatives, Association canadienne des avocats du mouvement syndical, Association mondiale des radiodiffuseurs communautaires (AMARC), Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), Attac-Québec, Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (CSD), Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (CISO), Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Conseil central de Montréal métropolitain (CCMM-CSN), Développement et Paix, Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), Groupe de recherche sur l'intégration continentale (GRIC-UQAM), Ligue des droits et libertés, Mouvement d'éducation populaire et d'action communautaire du Québec (MÉPACQ), Réseau québécois des groupes écologistes (RQGE), Syndicat des professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ).
When a few hundred oil workers in southwestern Kazakhstan launched a strike to demand higher wages in early May, no one expected the protest would last long or have much of an impact.
But what began as a small-scale strike has awoken the country's long dormant labor movement, and is growing into the greatest organized challenge the Kazakh government has faced in 10 years.
"We will continue [our protest] until the end," said one striker in the port city of Aqtau, who gave his name only as Kelbaev. "As long as we don't get what we are demanding, until we get higher wages, we will remain here [on strike]."
The strikes have expanded in scope and scale. The initial protest at the Karazhanbas oil field near Aqtau has swelled to include thousands of oil workers.
Not far from Karazhanbas, transportation workers are striking at the OzenMunaiGaz company, disrupting oil deliveries. Miners' and gas-workers' unions have expressed solidarity, and in the northern city of Kokshetau, investors in the KazRosInvestproyekt limited-liability company have been protesting for three weeks.
According to Kelbaev, the strike in Aqtau is falling on deaf ears in the capital, Astana, 1,700 kilometers away. "We have been speaking only with local officials," he said. "No one from the government [in Astana] has come and met with us. They are not even paying attention."
But the ultimate goal is to be heard by the Kazakh government, which was accustomed to large protests in the 1990s when its seat was in Almaty and the population was clamoring over unpaid wages.
Since then, however, the country's rising oil revenue and accompanying improvement in the standard of living has helped relegate protests to small, local affairs centered on narrow issues.
The opposition is watching events closely, with parliamentary elections scheduled for 2012, hoping to imitate these rallies and tap into popular sentiment during next year's election campaign.
The stakes are high, with both registered and unregistered parties preparing to enter a parliament whose seats are filled entirely by members of the ruling party, Nur-Otan.
Radio Free Europe, Wed Jun 15 2011
(Russ Feingold speaking at the ongoing "Walkerville" protests in Wisconsin against the Republican state budget)
With time running out before the recall elections and the legal battle over collective bargaining rights still bottled up in the courts, Wisconsin Republicans are finally ready to bite the bullet and re-pass the legislation that started this whole fight. They have called an "extraordinary session" to push through the state budget, and have announced they will include the measure stripping collective bargaining rights for most public employees in that budget:
The Legislature will put Gov. Scott Walker's limits on collective bargaining into the state budget Tuesday if the state Supreme Court hasn't ruled on the matter by then, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said Monday.
"If need be, we are going to have to pass collective bargaining again," Fitzgerald said at a Capitol news conference. "My caucus is more solid on that collective bargaining vote than they ever have been."
There was always a certain inevitability to this. It's something Wisconsin Republicans could have done at any time—even if the Wisconsin 14 had left the state again—as long as they just posted 24 hours notice. Thus far, they have demurred because they didn't want to take such an unpopular vote so close to the recall elections. But, in the end, this group of Wisconsin Republicans wants to bust some unions while they still can.
Notably, transit workers are exempt from the new measure. This is not because of public pressure against Wisconsin Republicans, to which they appear impervious, but rather because they finally realized that busting transit worker unions would cost the state big money:
Local government transit workers would retain their collective bargaining rights under the latest version of Gov. Scott Walker's union proposal to be voted on by the Legislature this week.
The first version passed in March but tied up in the courts covered transit workers, even though there was a concern that Wisconsin could lose about $60 million a year in federal transit aid if the workers' collective bargaining rights were removed.
They would join local police and firefighters, along with the State Patrol, in retaining their bargaining rights under the latest version the Assembly is taking up Tuesday as part of the state budget.
A lengthier version of the same AP story, which you can read here, provides more context. Basically, while this group of Wisconsin Republicans does indeed want to bust unions, they want some sweet, sweet federal money even more.
(See noise of rain's diary for more on the "extraordinary session" of the Wisconsin state legislature.)
Dailykos.com, Tues Jun 14 2011