What is happening in Wisconsin and other states will shape the future of the middle class in the nation and the basic structure of workplace protections for working people, particularly for Latinos and all minorities.
We can no longer take these protections for granted. The minimum wage, paid sick leave, Social Security, Medicare and child labor laws are among the protections and benefits that workers in the labor movement helped secure for millions of Americans. The 40-hour workweek (as opposed to 60, 70 or 80 hours) did not materialize from one day to the next; it was the subject of a hard-fought battle spearheaded by the labor movement for more than a century. This arduous fight--led by hundreds of thousands of union activists who marched, fasted, lost their jobs and even, in some cases, their lives-- won workers the now-standard eight-hour day.
We must defend these rights. Collective bargaining gives workers a way to negotiate with employers for higher wages, job security, and safer working conditions. The hallmarks of the American middle class--raised wages, retirement funds and paid vacation time--weren't gifts from corporations to their workers. They were the result of collective bargaining. Yes, collective bargaining, the same right that the Wisconsin Republicans, at the bidding of the billionaire Koch brothers, just yanked away from public workers despite massive and unprecedented public protests.
These measures target teachers' aides, nursing assistants in public hospitals, road repair workers, sanitation workers and others who already labor in tough and low paying jobs. Gov. Walker and his cronies have stripped even these vulnerable workers of their basic right to negotiate for higher wages and better benefits.
Losing Wisconsin could mean losing the first line of defense that workers have when facing abuses. And those who will suffer the most are the workers who are already the most vulnerable in the nation: minorities.
For the Latino community this must be an issue of grave concern. Latinos face the highest rate of death on the job, and they have the lowest levels of pension coverage and health insurance. Many Latinos in low-wage jobs have their wages stolen from them by their employers more than any other group.
On the other hand, Latinos stand to benefit enormously from joining unions. Latino union workers earn almost 51 percent more (in median weekly earnings) than their nonunion counterparts. They also have better health insurance and pension plans. Other workers of color also achieve similar gains the moment they join a union.
Wisconsin isn't the only state where this struggle for bargaining rights is happening. Other states, including Ohio and Indiana, confront similar assaults that would limit the basic rights of public workers.
According to polls, a majority of Americans support these workers. That's because most people, whatever their experience with a particular union may have been, understand that unions are central to having a healthy middle class. A recent report by the Center for American Progress demonstrates a correlation between the financial share of the nation's income going to the middle class and the number of workers in unions. As our middle class erodes, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans widens.
These recent attacks on organized labor are not new, but they are escalating as a result of unions' weakened position. For several decades, there has been a decline in union membership among all demographic groups. Corporate lobbyists have succeeded in changing the way labor laws are applied and administered (To whose advantage? You get one guess). Current federal legislation gives employers the upper hand in using tactics (both legal and illegal) to prevent workers from organizing.
The share of workers represented by unions was relatively stable in the 1970s, but since the 1980s it has fallen rapidly. This decline has caused wages to stagnate and the quality of work to take a nosedive for all workers. Now, there is less pressure on non-union employers to raise wages and agree to better working conditions. Today, the richest 1 percent owns 34 percent of the country's wealth. While the entire bottom 90 percent of Americans own a mere 29 percent of the nation's wealth. To put this into perspective, if we examine the combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007 and that of the poorest 50% of American households, we find that they are almost the same, $1.5 trillion for the former and $1.6 trillion for the latter. In 2009, the number of people in poverty was the highest it has been in more than half a century since poverty estimates were made available in 1959. This situation is shameful and we must fight back against measures that only exacerbate the problem.
Labor unions strengthen the economy, our tax base and help build the middle class by helping workers secure higher incomes, critical benefits and workplace protections. Unions give workers a fighting chance in an unequal economy and collective bargaining strengthens America's democratic process. The quality of life of everyone who earns a paycheck is at stake. If the courts back Walker and we lose Wisconsin, the next questions the Koch brothers could raise is: why do these workers have weekends when they could be working? Oh, and their children too.
Huffington Post, Fri Mar 18 2011
Byline: Hector E. Sanchez
The March 2011 online edition of the Green Labor Journal spotlights the report, which was released last month on the two-year anniversary of the Recovery Act. Click here to read the full report.
The online journal also reports on the struggles of working people in Wisconsin to fight back against Gov. Scott Walker's anti-worker agenda.
The journal also spotlights two important speeches from the 2011 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference last month in Washington, D.C. In one, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said workers and environmentalists are committed to making sure the new jobs in our economy are good and green jobs.
Good jobs that provide the wages and benefits needed to sustain families and enable them to buy the products we will be making. Good jobs that can put our economy back in working order. Good jobs that afford workers the opportunity to choose for themselves whether to join a union to have a strong voice on the job for quality American-made products and services.
The other featured speaker, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, cited a 2010 study from the Institute of Clean Air Companies that estimated some 200,000 air pollution control jobs had been created because of the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which regulates pollution that crosses state lines. The bottom line, Jackson said, is that we can protect the health of millions of American families and do so in a way that will benefit the economy.
afl-cio news blog.ca, Fri Mar 18 2011
Byline: James Parks
States including Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee have proposed bills severely limiting the collective bargaining rights of trade union members. A similar bill was passed in Wisconsin on Friday.
"State governors must withdraw support for these measures which, if adopted, would violate international law," said Shane Enright, Amnesty International's trade union adviser.
â??The US has an obligation to uphold the rights of American workers - including the specific right to organize and bargain collectively."
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill on Friday that undermines the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers. The legislation also takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees, limiting their negotiation rights only to wages.
As well as restricting collective bargaining rights, union activists say legislators in as many as 37 states have introduced hundreds of anti-union bills. Some affect negotiation of healthcare benefits, restrict freedom of association, place caps on the minimum wage and deprive workers of the right to strike.
Similar measures being promoted in Congress would affect federal public employees.
"The Wisconsin bill is symbolic of a wider attack on unions in the USA, where workers and are facing an onslaught from the authorities," said Shane Enright.
"Many employees are already struggling because of the economic crisis and these laws will undermine fundamental human rights and labour rights protections, which are sorely needed to ensure that employees do not bear the brunt of the crisis. It will also jeopardize the delivery of vital public services that these employees deliver."
â??This is also a struggle for migrant workers' rights, for education and health rights, for wage security, for workplace health and safety. We are seeing communities insisting on social justice, economic rights and personal liberties against powerful vested interests. Fundamental human rights are at stake, and we stand in solidarity with the US labour movement in this struggle.â??
Under international law, all workers have a human right to organize and to bargain collectively.
These rights are an essential foundation to the realisation of other rights, and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, as well as conventions adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
As a state party to the ICCPR and a signatory to the ICESCR, the USA has an obligation to respect the human rights under these instruments and treaties.
As a member of the ILO, the USA also has a commitment, through the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, to respect, promote and realize the fundamental rights set out in the organization's core conventions.
Moves to limit such rights in the USA are also at odds with commitments made under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) as well as numerous subsequent trade agreements negotiated and ratified over the last 15 years.
Amnesty International, Mar 17 2011
Many Canadian university executives have embraced the image of an enterprise university, characterized by corporate-style executive leadership. There is a growing consensus among higher education administrators and corporate executives about the role and nature of public universities as market actors best run by market ideas.
This transformation that has, in part, led to the growth of privatization on campuses, which is the first step toward the changes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has just pushed through in Madison, Wisconsin.
Governor Walker's agenda shows what the future could be if we aren't successful in pushing back on corporatization and privatization on our campuses and communities.
Context for cuts to post-secondary education
Canadian universities have been facing cuts for some time.
Ironically it is the big four audit and consultancy firms that have helped define the crisis and that are now advising universities on how to get out of the crisis. Several universities and colleges across Canada have begun implementing resource optimization-a review process designed by these firms to cut costs of administrative and academic support services and to encourage privatization.
The world's corporations are using the economic meltdown to veil their attacks on the public sector, including post-secondary education. They, along with conservative think tanks and big audit and consultancy firms, have sown the seeds for the attack on public services and public sector unions.
Students and teaching assistant unions at the heart of protest
With dramatic cuts and efforts to privatize post-secondary education, it is no wonder 800 university students marched out of their classes in opposition to Governor Walker's budget.
They understood so clearly the catastrophic implications of the budget and the need for immediate action. They also understood so plainly their common cause they shared with the public sector workers including those on campus.
The University of Wisconsin System (UW) would lose $250 million in state funding under Walker's proposed budget, with half of the cuts absorbed by UW-Madison and half by the other campuses. The UW is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the United States, serving almost 182,000 students each year and employing more than 32,000 faculty and staff statewide. Part of the budget plan is to separate Madison campus from the rest of the UW System.
The restructuring that the bill calls for, like removing the Madison campus from the UW System, studying a similar move for the Milwaukee campus, and moving all of the universities to more of a market model is de facto privatization. Some other the other impacts of the bill on post-secondary education include:
- Phasing-out a scholarship program aimed at low-income and first-generational students
- Eliminating in-state tuition rates for undocumented persons at UW-Madison
- Authorizing all four-year campuses to create a charter school
With the groundwork for similar cuts already in place in Canada, thanks to the steady increase in corporate involvement on university campuses, students and union members on Canadian campuses should take note. These attacks on post-secondary education have serious implications for the quality, affordability and accessibility of our system. It's becoming increasingly important to fight against privatization on our campuses.
Though the situation in Wisconsin may be troubling to many, the protests also point the way to incredible potential for powerful alliances between students, community activists, union members and their unions. The power of all these groups working together to fight privatization and corporatization is pivotal to the fight for quality and accessible public services.
For more on the situation in Madison:
Check out CUPE's previous articles on privatization on university campuses:
cupe.ca, Thurs Mar 17 2011
Forming a union is a lengthy process, and although labor officials say they already see more interest from workers, it's too soon to measure an increase in membership numbers. But there is one indication the battles in Wisconsin are providing a boost for labor.
Working America, an advocacy organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO that provides an outlet for non-union members to support the labor movement, has signed up approximately 20,000 new members since Feb. 15. The group was active in the state in 2008, when it built up the bulk of its membership, which now stands at 65,000. It was inactive for the past couple years, however, and just reopened shop the beginning of 2011.
Joining up with Working America is far easier than enrolling in a union, involving simply filling out a form either in person or online. New members are asked to contribute $5, although no dues are required.
Joining a union, on the other hand, requires holding elections and often battling with management, which may employ all sorts of tactics to slow down or stop the process.
"The increase in Working America numbers provides one of the first real-world examples of what we've seen, which is increased interest nationally and in Wisconsin of supporting workers' rights," said one labor official.
In late February, the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse voted 249-37 in favor of union representation through AFT-Wisconsin, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. One professor at the university said Walker's actions galvanized them to form a union.
Story continues below
AdvertisementLabor officials have publicly acknowledged the role that Walker and the fight in Wisconsin have played in their mobilization efforts. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently dubbed the governor "the Mobilizer of the Year," predicting Republicans would suffer politically from their efforts to take away collective bargaining rights.
"Now they're seeing what backlash really looks like," Trumka said. "I promise you this. It's like the old song goes, ‘You ain't seen n-n-n-nothing yet.'"
Working America field organizer Kevin Pape said that in addition to the traditional door-to-door canvassing, the group has been actively recruiting new members at the rallies around the state. Pape said that at these protests, they have had large numbers of people approaching them and asking about the organization. "It's pretty much the easiest organizing you can ever do," he said.
"People are just thirsty for a connection to a labor movement," Pape added. "The effort required to get somebody to join has definitely decreased. This is an avenue to join the labor movement, and they're just jumping at it."
Working America regional director David Wehde said that in their door-to-door recruitment, many people are eager to show solidarity with the protesters but can't make it to the big rallies in Madison. "So when we come by their doors and check in with them about what's going on, they're literally grabbing our clipboards and saying, 'Great! What do I need to do?' That's one group of folks, and that's a level of intensity that is new."
Another growing group comprises people concerned about what's happening and who may have personal experience with the economic downturn. But it's unlikely they would have become involved if someone hadn't come to their door.
"At Working America, we've always been focused on an economy that works for everybody, creating good jobs that you can raise a family on," said Wehde. "People always have been responsive to that. But the interest that people have right now is much more about connecting the dots. They're seeing something happening -- what's happening in Madison, what's happening across Wisconsin with this legislation that is really an attack on workers, and more people get that than we have seen."
Bob Emberger, a retired resident of River Falls, Wis. -- approximately 250 miles from Madison -- told The Huffington Post that he joined Working America earlier this month when an organizer came to his door. Even though he said he didn't particularly like the last union he was in -- the Chicago Bartenders Union in 1960, which, according to Emberger, "represented most of the awful things you've ever heard about unions" -- he believes that collective bargaining rights are important to preserve.
"I have relatives who have told me about how things were before the days of unions, and so I thought that they were pretty important," said Emberger.
Working America has recruited more than three million members in the last seven years, and in 2008, it helped mobilize white working-class voters for the Obama campaign. An AFL-CIO post-election survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found 60 percent of Working America's members identified as "moderate" or "conservative."
Polls taken around the Wisconsin dispute show majorities against taking away collective bargaining rights. Additionally, a recent poll by a conservative think tank in Wisconsin showed evidence the enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans in the state in 2010 has vanished.
Huffington Post, Wed Mar 16 2011
Byline: Amanda Terkel
The speakers were even different from the regular rallies. These were not everyday labor leaders that you see at every rally. The speakers were everyday "working men and women" who were public employees that would be affected by the tier system, deduction in paychecks to cover retirement options, and the decrease in prescription drugs. As we listened to the speakers, one tune that sounded familiar from the crowd that night was, "Keep the Promise". Every five minutes the crowd would chant "Keep the Promise" because even though public employees have taken a decrease in their paychecks for the last three years, the State of Maryland is asking them to take another one this year to subsidize the 2% for their pensions. They are also mandating retirees pay more for their prescription drugs. They are instituting a tier system for the young workers. This is when you have to ask the question, "When is enough, enough?"
The night ended with the AFL-CIO President letting the crowd know that this cannot happen anymore. The battles will be fought and the American Labor Movement will persevere. I must say that this was a truly inspirational night from the moderator Anthony McCarthy, the fifteen thousand people, the seventy-five busses, the workers telling their stories, the silencing of the Tea Party, to hearing our fearless leader President Trumka. I must say that it was a proud day to be a part of the American Labor Movement. As the Howard County teacher stated "We are in a story of David and Goliath. You better believe that labor is "David" and today is the day that we strike back with our rock."
The Pragmatic Progressive Forum, Wed Mar 16 2011
Below, Michael Moore's open letter to his fellow Michiganders:
Friends and neighbors,
The call has gone out and I'm asking everyone who can to take Wednesday off and head to the State Capitol in Lansing to protest the cruel and downright frightening legislation currently being jammed down our throats.
What is most shocking to many is that the new governor, who ran against the Tea Party and defeated the right wing of his party in the primaries-and then ran in the general election as "just a nerd from Ann Arbor" who was a moderate, not an ideologue-has pulled off one of the biggest Jekyll and Hyde ruses I've ever seen in electoral politics.
Governor Snyder, once elected, yanked off his nice-guy mask to reveal that he is in fact a multi-millionaire hell-bent on destroying our state and turning it over to his buddies from Wall Street.
In just 8 short weeks he has:
* Gotten the House and Senate to pass bills giving him "Emergency Management" powers such as the ability to appoint a corporation or a CEO who could literally dissolve town governments or school boards, fire the elected officials, nullify any local law and run your local governmental entity. That company then would have the power to immediately declare all collective bargaining contracts null and void.
* Proposed giving business a whopping 86% tax cut while raising everyone's personal taxes by 31%! And much of that tax hike he believes should be shouldered by-I kid you not-senior citizens and the poor! He says these two groups have not been "sharing the sacrifice" the rest of us have been burdened with. So his budget proposes a $1.8 billion tax CUT for business and a $1.75 billion tax INCREASE for the rest of us, much of it from the poor, seniors and working people-even though the top 1% in Michigan ALREADY pay a lower state tax rate than everyone else does!
* Together with the legislature, introduced over 40 anti-labor bills in just the first two months of this session! They have wasted no time and have caught most people off guard. Much of this is being rushed through right now before you have a chance to raise your voice in objection.
These actions are breathtaking when you realize they will drive our already battered state straight into the ground. What we needed right now was an inspiring leader to help us reinvent Michigan and to find creative ways to create new jobs and lift us out of our economic depression. The rest of the country may call what they're experiencing the "Great Recession," but few argue that Michigan is suffering a "one-state Depression."
I know many of you are filled with a great sense of despair and a justifiable loss of hope these days in Michigan. But you must not let things get even worse. You must stand up against these Draconian measures and this outrageous attempt to rip our democratic rights from us by turning our state over to well-paid hacks from Wall Street and corporate America. They see our state as one big fire sale-and they are licking their chops to get their hands on what is still a state rich in natural resources and industrial infrastructure.
Please show up at noon on Wednesday for our first mega-rally against this insanity. Hundreds of groups are already organizing car pools and buses. You can right now just declare yourself an organizer and get your friends and neighbors committed to being in Lansing. If ever there were a day to call in sick, Wednesday is it (because this IS sick). Students, if ever there were a day to cut class and become a participant in your democracy, Wednesday is it. This event needs to be HUGE-and I believe it will be if you will simply be there and take a stand.
Much attention has been paid to Wisconsin in recent weeks. Well, they got nothing on what's going on here in Michigan. Rick Snyder is Scott Walker on steroids. There's never been what even the AARP calls "an all-out attack" like this on us. Trust me, you will rue the day you sat home and did nothing while thieves posing as politicians stole your Great Lakes State from you.
Don't let it happen. Be at the capitol by noon on Wednesday for the largest demonstration the state has ever seen.
Go Spartans! Go Wolverines! Go Everyone Else In Between!
Dangerous Minds, Tues Mar 15 2011
For the better part of a month, fourteen Democratic state senators denied Republicans the quorum they sought to pass Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's anti-labor legislation-and, in so doing, provided the time for the development of a mass movement that last Saturday drew more than 100,000 union supporters to the Capitol. The Democratic senators have returned and the legislation has passed.
But Republican poll numbers have collapsed. And they are furious.
Walker and his legislative consigliere, state Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, have now moved to deny the dissenting Democrats the right to participate in the legislative process.
On Monday afternoon, Fitzgerald, who has publicly admitted that he and other Republicans advanced the anti-labor legislation in order to strengten the position of the GOP in 2012 elections, sent a letter to senators that read: "Dear Members: With the return of the Senate Democrats this weekend, questions have arisen regarding Democrat members' participation in Senate standing committee public hearings and executive sessions. Please note that all 14 Democrat senators are still in contempt of the Senate. Therefore, when taking roll call votes on amendments and bills during executive sessions, Senate Democrats' votes will not be reflected in the Records of Committee Proceedings or the Senate Journal. They are free to attend hearings, listen to testimony, debate legislation, introduce amendments, and cast votes to signal their support/opposition, but those votes will not count, and will not be recorded."
In other words, the fourteen Democrats who refused to go along with legislative moves that have sparked multiple lawsuits and raised serious constitutional questions will now be denied their ability to represent 2.2. million Wisconsinites who live in their districts.
This was the latest authoritarian move by Fitzgerald, who last week spoke of having the Democrats arrested and openly discussed expelling them from the Senate as punishment for their dissents. The majority leader's over-the-top actions have led one senior legislator, state Representative Mark Pocan, D-Madison, to begin referring to the Wisconsin as a "third world junta" state that he calls "Fitzwalkerstan."
While that line gets a laugh, the assaults on representative democracy are serious.
"Senator Scott Fitzgerald isn't content with illegally passing a bill which takes away the rights of 175,000 working Wisconsinites and now has expanded his attacks to disenfranchise the voices of 2.2 million more Wisconsin residents and taxpayers," declared Scot Ross, the executive director of the One Wisconsin Now advocacy group, who referred to Fitzgerald's latest move as a "tantrum."
"Considering how the Republicans plan to slash $900 million from our public schools, cut healthcare for 1 million Wisconsinites, raise prescription drug costs for countless seniors, raise taxes on the working poor by $51 million while at the same time handing $200 million in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate special interests," said Ross. "Senator Fitzgerald might better spend his time convincing his fractured caucus that Governor Walker isn't sacrificing their majority in pursuit of higher office."
State Senator Fred Risser, a Madison Democrat who is the senior member of the legislature, was aghast at what Fitzgerald had done.
"Who does Senator Fitzgerald think he is? Just because his brother is the speaker of the Assembly and his best friend is the governor of Wisconsin does not give him the power to decide who can and cannot vote in the State Senate," said Risser, whose Senate service began before Fitzgerald was born. "His statement that Senate Democrats can no longer vote in committee is the height of arrogance. In my tenure in the legislature, I have never seen any attempt to deny duly elected legislators their right to vote."
The Nation, Tues Mar 15 2011
Byline: John Nichols
In Wisconsin the Governor has stripped public workers of the right to collective bargaining. Tellingly, he exempted those unions that supported him during the election. The rhetoric south of the border has reached such a peak that one deputy attorney general floated the idea of using live ammunition on protesters. "You're damn right I advocate deadly force," he frothed.
In Canada the mood is less lethal but an anti-union wind is blowing. The city of Toronto has petitioned to remove the right to strike from transit workers. The measure ignores the fact that the union has walked out a grand total of 75 days since 1921, but newly elected Mayor Rob Ford says this is only the start when it comes to laying down the law to city employees.
Free market cultists rejoice in these developments. They've waited decades for the right circumstances to marshal their forces against organized labour. Now they make the case that our economic troubles stem not from bad fiscal policy or the chicanery of the financial sector, it's the average working man who is to blame.
They complain that unionized workers make more than their non-unionized colleagues, which is a bit like being astonished that pasteurized milk has less bacteria than the raw stuff.
In a column entitled "Why the Public Sector is Hanging on For All It's Worth" (March 6), Terence Corcoran crows that Canada's private-sector workers don't want unions, pointing out that organizing efforts at Walmart and Toyota have failed. He omits that Walmart shuttered a profitable Quebec outlet as a means of staving off a pro-union vote, while Toyota workers coast on the wages and benefits hard won by the CAW at the Big Three.
Corcoran and others may present more persuasive arguments when it comes to public sector workers except that as Kelly McParland has pointed out in "Unions and Government, a Happy Marriage that Benefits Both" (March 2), the packages politicians decry as overly generous were eagerly dispensed by their own vote-hungry hands.
Governments at all levels claim the larder is bare, forgetting always that they themselves emptied it with ill-considered tax cuts and wasteful spending. Wisconsin was actually in surplus when its union-bashing governor came to power in January 2011, but Scott Walker gave 117% of it away to business in the form of tax cuts. In other cases governments looted the very same pension plans they now say cannot be sustained.
There was a time where lifting up the collective standard of living was a shared and worthy endeavour. Men and women did a day's labour in a safe working environment and enjoyed protection from the capriciousness of their supervisors. In return they earned enough to buy a home, a car, raise a family, take a vacation and enjoy a few years retirement before they died.
But as more and more people slip into economic hardship the new attitude is "if I'm going to barely scrape by why should anyone have it better?" This collective foul mood is manna to grandstanding politicians and indignant businesspeople who have always regarded unions as a type of shakedown operation. Never mind that according to CAW records 98% of collective agreements are concluded without a strike.
Critics claim that unions have outlived their mandate. Children no longer toil in factories and seamstresses aren't burned alive in firetraps. But the union movement didn't just seek to lift people above the status of interchangeable and disposable mules; the intention has always been to use collective power to obtain a portion of wealth that represents the genuine value of labour.
Unions and the working man didn't create the financial meltdown. They didn't invent and market worthless financial instruments. They didn't swindle pension funds or blow up the housing market. They didn't hack away at revenues to the point where government can no longer supply basic services. In short, unions didn't create the dire economic circumstances now being used to justify a wholesale attack on their very existence.
Let elected officials surrender their pensions. Perhaps it's the spoiled brats of Wall Street - whose six figure bonuses have been paid from government funds - who need to wake up to the new economic reality.
The upside to the anti-union endgame is that it may lead to a resurgence of labour solidarity. The sharks may be circling, but they will always be outnumbered by the fish.
National Post, Mon Mar 14 2011
John Moore is host of Moore in the Morning on Newstalk 1010 AM Toronto. Outside of southern Ontario he can be heard at Newstalk1010.com.
Bagpipes blaring, hundreds of firefighters walked across the street from the Wisconsin Capitol building, stood outside the Marshall and Ilsley Bank (M&I Bank) and played a few tunes -- loudly. Later, a group of firefighters and consumers stopped back in at the bank to make a few transactions. One by one they closed their accounts and withdrew their life savings, totaling approximately $190,000. See a video clip. After the last customer left, the bank quickly closed its doors, just in case the spontaneous "Move Your Money" moment caught fire.
The sedate, old fashioned M&I Bank on the Capitol Square has gained some notoriety in recent weeks. Oddly, a tunnel in the M&I parking garage links to the capitol basement. Dubbed the "rat hole" to the Walker palace, the tunnel was used by Governor Scott Walker to ferry lobbyists into the capitol building to hear his budget address during a time when the capitol was in a virtual lock down in defiance of a court order and after Sherriffs has quit the building refusing to be a "palace guard."
Now the bank is getting caught up in the controversy again. Word is beginning to spread that M&I is one of Walker's biggest backers. Top executives at M&I Bank have long been boosters of Walker. M&I Chief Executive Dennis Kuester and his wife gave $20,000 to Walker in recent years. When you package individual and PAC contributions by employers, M&I is number one -- at $57,000 dollars. The firm apparently uses a conduit to bundle much of its money to Walker. Flyers, webpages, and Facebook sites have popped up encouraging WI consumers to boycott Walker campaign contributors and "Pull the Plug on M&I Bank."
Other banks whose employees have donated large sums to Walker, such as Associated Bank and North Shore Bank may also be seeing their customers soon.
Joe Conway, President Madison Fire Fighters Local 311, explained to CMD that the action was totally spontaneous, but that "economic transparency" was going to be a big theme in the fight ahead. "Groups will be sending letters to Walker's major donors giving them the opportunity to support the teachers, firefighters and police in their community." Conway is well aware that new polling shows that 74% of Wisconsin families support collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Two of these letters are already in the mail to M&I Bank and Kwik Trip. "The undersigned groups would like your company to publicly oppose Governor Walker's efforts to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. In the event that you cannot support this effort to save collective bargaining, please be advised that the undersigned will publicly and formally boycott the goods and services provided by your company," the letter says. "However, if you join us, we will do everything in our power to publicly celebrate your partnership in the fight to preserve the right of public employees to be heard at the bargaining table."
The letters are signed by the heads of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 311, Madison Teachers Inc., Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association.
JUST THE BEGINNING
Walker's list of campaign contributors is already in wide circulation on websites like "Scott Walker Watch" and fast-growing Facebook pages like "Boycott Scott Walkers Contributors". These grassroots efforts are backed up by solid names and numbers extracted from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) database, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics.
The WDC data shows that Walker's major contributors include a diversity of national and state-based firms including Koch Brother Industries, AT&T, Walmart, John Deere Tractor, Johnsonville Brats, Miller/Coors, Kwik Trip, Sargento Cheese, and SC Johnson & Sons (producers of Windex, Glade, Pledge etc). The letter writing effort is being undertaken not to put people out of work, but to encourage workers to let their bosses know it is time to reconsider their support for Walker's newly revealed radical agenda.
Sam Hokin, a Wisconsinite and small businessman who started the Facebook page in the early days of the protest, put the strategy bluntly: "The only thing the Republicans care about is money. The only way you can touch them is through their revenue. They don't care about signs and protesters. They don't care about the opinion of the majority of the people in the state, their bottom line is money." Unions, pension funds, cities and counties and average consumers bank at these banks and support these firms by buying their products and services. They have tremendous clout in Wisconsin's small economy.
GREATEST HEIST IN HISTORY
Wisconsin workers are keenly aware that they are part of a historic push back that is spreading from state to state. After $14 trillion dollars of housing wealth, wages and retirement savings were taken from the middle class during the 2008 financial collapse, workers are being asked to take it on the chin again. Michael Moore put it best: "We aren't broke. Wisconsin is not broke. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the über-rich."
M&I Bank is in the process of being bought by a Canadian bank. It took $2 billion in TARP bailout money from the taxpayers and have yet to pay it back. "They [state Republicans] came in like the Grim Reaper to drive a knife into the heart of labor," yelled Jim Garity at a recent rally. Garity is a unionized Jefferson County Highway Department worker and leader. "But we are going to stand and we are not going to bleed. Governor Walker's plan is to give more money to Wall Street, but we are going to take back our money from Wall Street and put Main Street to work!" Walker's recent moves include over $200 billion in tax cuts for corporations while stripping $1 trillion from Wisconsin schools and local governments.
The "take it back" movement is gaining steam. At the federal level, AFL-CIO, SEIU are joined by consumer groups in a fight to apply a small [financial transaction tax] to damaging Wall Street speculation in order to recoup over $100 billion dollars a year for job creation and other essential needs.
IT'S ABOUT POWER
Walker's collective bargaining bill not only seeks to gut a 50 year tradition in the state where public unions started, but by doing away with automatic check off for union dues he seeks to cripple the the ability of public sector unions to hire employees to organize, grow and be a force in Wisconsin politics. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, one of Walker's closest allies in the legislature, admitted as much to FOX News. "If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you're going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin," said Fitzgerald.
While some hold out hope for a general strike and vigorous recall efforts are underway, others remain focused on leveraging the power of the "sleeping giant" to force Walker to back down and to prevent devastating cuts to schools and municipalities. Stay tuned. This fire might be hard to contain.
truth-out.org, Sat Mar 12 2011
Byline: Mary Bottari