Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain estimated the crowd at 85,000 to 100,000 people, which would top the size of protests in Madison during the Vietnam War.
The demonstration, capping three weeks of public protests, came a day after Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill to eliminate most bargaining rights for many state government workers.
The state Legislature passed the measure this week after Republicans in the state Senate bypassed a Democratic boycott of the chamber.
The battle in Wisconsin has ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power.
Republicans say the measures are needed to gain control of deficit-ridden budgets. Democrats and their union backers say Republicans are ramming through union-busting proposals.
The confrontation with unions could be the biggest showdown with labor since President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers nearly 30 years ago.
Protesters on Saturday cheered the Democratic state senators who returned to Wisconsin after fleeing to Illinois for three weeks to try to stall the Legislature's consideration of the measure.
"It's so good to be home in Wisconsin," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller told demonstrators, who chanted, "Welcome Home" and "We're With You."
"Our fight to protect union rights has become a fight to protect all our rights -- a fight to protect democracy," said Miller. "You have inspired the nation with your passionate and peaceful protests."
In a statement, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, instrumental in shepherding the union restrictions through the Legislature, criticized the Democrats.
"It's an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois -- with pay," Fitzgerald said.
Restrictions on public sector unions have been introduced in a number of other U.S. states with Republican governors, including Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Florida. Some Democrats see it as the opening salvo of the 2012 presidential election because unions are the biggest single contributors to the Democratic Party.
Reuters.com, Sat Mar 12 2011
Byline: James B. Kelleher
Counterpoint: Is an $18,000 pension ‘gold-plated’?: Contrary to right-wing myths, public employees are hardly privileged
For whatever the reason - it doesn't seem to matter much - many from Canada's corporate classes insist public sector unions are a blight, and spend much time and energy mounting their hyperbolic attacks in these pages on an almost daily basis.
The threadbare nature of these arguments is best exemplified in opposition to the labour movement's efforts to expand the Canada Pension Plan as the best way to help Canadians save more for their retirements.
By gradually increasing CPP contributions made by both employees and employers, we could greatly improve retirement security of all Canadians, and help the millions who cannot afford a private retirement savings plan.
Of course, under this approach, Canada's banks and finance industry will lose out on opportunities to charge their exorbitant investment management fees. So in their logic, if it doesn't result in profits for them it must be bad for Canadians, regardless of how many Canadians will be better off with expanded CPP benefits.
Instead of offering solutions for low-income Canadians, it is much easier to falsely portray CPP contributions as a payroll tax. CPP contributions help fund a deferred salary for Canadian workers and supply no revenue to the federal government. Any genuine commentator would be obliged to admit it is not a tax.
When it comes to debating pensions, however, disingenuous arguments are commonplace. Such as corporate Canada's insistence on pointing to public sector pensions as prime examples of union-led extravagance.
The typical public sector pension - for someone who has worked for 30 years - is $18,000 per year. It is beyond any reasonable and objective person on how this can be termed as excessive. Most Canadians sure don't.
An Environics poll conducted in August 2010 shows that 80% of Canadians thought public sector pensions were at an appropriate level or too low. No matter how often the mantra is repeated, few Canadians genuinely believe $18,000 per year is a "gold-plated" pension.
The weak foundation of these pension arguments is little different than the falsities offered in favour of privatizing public services. The Canadian right's new hero of privatization, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, is similarly trying to cover an ideological position with the façade of protecting taxpayers.
Ford's promises to save untold millions by contracting out services, such as waste and recycling collection, are missing one key element: any conclusive proof it will save Toronto taxpayers one dollar. In fact, a detailed analysis of available data on costs of private waste collection in neighbouring municipalities shows Toronto stands to pay substantially more if waste collection is contracted out.
This, however, is only a footnote in the real agenda of Ford and other attackers of public sector unions, which has nothing to do with saving taxpayers any money at all. It has everything to do with wrestling away the modest power of workers.
The large majority of public sector workers are in health care, schools, social services, and local government. They are mostly women and are far from highly paid. The average annual pay of CUPE members is less than $40,000. To portray these workers as privileged stretches even the most inventive imaginations.
No position, however, is too outlandish for those looking to cast public sector workers as a plague on the taxpayer. Instead of tackling the economic policies which caused the global recession, they take up this diversionary strategy in attacking public sector workers in order to protect economic policies which are great for profits, but bad for working Canadians.
While crying out against the so-called extravagances of public sector worker salaries, benefits, and pensions, they continue to promote extending even more irresponsible and reckless corporate tax cuts to Canada's banks and the oil industry without any proof these cuts provide any of the new jobs or investments they're supposed to generate.
While claiming to be looking out for the best interests of taxpayers, those who attack public sector workers are also taking unjustified aim at our communities - large and small. Canadians are being asked to not only shoulder the deficits, but also to sacrifice the high quality public services we have developed over generations.
It is undeniable that Canada is facing fiscal challenges after weathering the global economic meltdown. Stimulus spending that kept the economy afloat during a crisis created by speculation and fraud has left a public debt.
Canadian governments have a responsibility to ensure all Canadians contribute their fair share to the ongoing recovery. Public sector workers are prepared to do their part, but the responsibility should not fall on their shoulders alone.
High-quality public services are crucial to our economic recovery and help make Canada a great place to live. They are reliable, accountable and are there for all people when they need them most. Public sector workers across the country are dedicated to these principles, and are focused on making our communities stronger for all Canadians.
Financial Post, Fri Mar 11 2011
Paul Moist is national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees
Now, with Republicans in charge, the state where public-sector bargaining was born is writing its obituary. It truly is one for the history books.
More related to this story
- Wisconsin governor officially cuts collective bargaining
- Wisconsin votes to approve bill curbing union rights
- Wisconsin Republicans strip collective bargaining rights from worker
- Video - Protesters dragged from Wisconsin Capitol
- Video -Michael Moore rallies for Wisconsin union rights
By Wednesday night, Mr. Walker had had enough. He reintroduced the bill's most controversial provisions in a separate piece of non-budgetary legislation to get around the quorum rule. It sailed through the Senate in, literally, five seconds, and through the Assembly on Thursday.
For the American labour movement, this could be its Battle of Gettysburg. Already a spent force in the private sector, unions now face a fight for survival in the public sector as legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere - even Michigan - move to impose new labour laws.
If Canadian unions think that they are immune from the Tea Party politics that have triggered this radical shift, they may be in for a shock. Public-sector unionization rates are 71 per cent here, compared with 37 per cent there, but as the labour fortress of the U.S. North falls, the once-formidable unions of the Great White North may follow.
That great explainer of the differences between the U.S. and Canada, Seymour Martin Lipset, once posited that higher unionization rates simply reflected this country's collectivist mores.
"Canada, by retaining British institutions and Tory values, created a society and a culture that are more statist, group-oriented, communitarian, less individualistic and, ironically, social democratic," the American scholar wrote a decade before his death in 2006. South of the border, by contrast, laissez-faireism, individualism and populism created a hostile climate for unions.
But that analysis fails to account for regional differences within the U.S. After all, union density - the percentage of workers belonging to unions - was and is essentially the same in New York State as in Ontario. But, Norma Rae notwithstanding, the union movement never made inroads into the South.
Barely 4 per cent of all workers in North Carolina - the setting of that 1979 Oscar-honoured movie - belong to unions. In Texas, it's about 5 per cent. It's below 7 per cent in South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
So it's the South that explains the Canada-U.S. differential. The real divide on unionization historically is not the Canadian border but the Mason-Dixon Line.
In the private sector, that metaphorical line has long been creeping north. Union density among private companies has plummeted to 7 per cent in the U.S. and 16 per cent in Canada.
Now, the demarcation appears about to be erased altogether.
The new Wisconsin law, for example, is sweeping. It ends collective bargaining for state workers, except on base wages. It makes negotiated pay raises above inflation subject to approval by voters in a statewide referendum. It requires unions to hold recertification votes annually and ends the practice of withholding union dues on employee paycheques.
It sounds draconian, heavy-handed and, to some, just plain mean. It smacks more of politics than economics (organized labour remains the biggest source of Democratic funding).
Yet what seems revolutionary in Wisconsin has long been the norm in most of the South. The North is only playing catch-up.
The golden era of private-sector unions lasted from the Depression until the 1970s. The corporate sector in both Canada and the U.S. then was organized along largely oligopolistic lines.
Sure, there was only one phone company and it cost a day's pay to call Mom in Kapuskasing, Ont. But price regulation and the absence of competition allowed for fat bottom lines that enabled companies to provide rising wages and benefits. Their workers unionized in droves to increase their share of the pie (in part to pay that phone bill).
Both sides of the bargaining table would have been content to see this arrangement endure. Why it broke down is the subject of much debate. But Walter Russell Mead of the journal The American Interest offers as compelling explanation as any: Simply put, the forces of deregulation were too strong.
It was not Ronald Reagan who set them in motion. The 1982 breakup of AT&T was the culmination of a process that began a decade earlier. Jimmy Carter, for instance, unshackled the U.S. airline sector in 1978, urged on by Democratic senator Ted Kennedy.
"Anti-corporate liberals rebelled at the way government power and regulation was being used to allow corporations to give their consumers the shaft," Mr. Mead asserts. "The collapse of the regulated economy (plus the rise of foreign competition from developing countries) made unionization unsustainably expensive in many industries."
North American unions, meanwhile, ignored the writing on the wall. They continued to demand ironclad job security, rigid workplace rules and ever-fatter health and pension benefits. Employers gave in until they went bankrupt, or pushed paying the piper far enough off into future to survive a few more years.
While this painful reckoning was playing out among old-guard corporations in the airline, auto, steel and other sectors, a new generation of non-unionized upstarts and foreign transplants thrived. Occasionally, they located in the North. But mostly they set up shop where unions didn't.
"Right-to-work" laws, which prohibit closed union shops, lured foreign and domestic employers alike to the South. While Detroit and Oshawa burned, Hyundai, Honda, Mercedes and Toyota opened auto-assembly or engine plants in Alabama. BMW began building SUVs in South Carolina. Hyundai's sister company, Kia, cut the ribbon on a factory in Georgia.
Southern states were also among those most likely to ban or strictly constrain collective bargaining in the public sector. Indeed, only a tiny percentage of state and municipal employees in the Carolinas, Georgia, Texas and Virginia were ever organized in the first place.
It's a bailout for governments
Not long ago, it would have been unthinkable for a northern governor, even a Republican one, to publicly endorse withdrawing or curtailing the collective-bargaining rights of public employees. Now, many of them sound just like their Southern counterparts - only without the drawl.
Union rights "didn't come down on tablets from the top of a mountain," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie insists. "The union, they protect the worst of the worst. That's what they're there for."
Even in states with Democratic-controlled legislatures, such as New Jersey and California, the conversation has shifted dramatically and public employees have been forced onto the defensive.
The reason is that state and local governments have become the equivalent of a pre-bailout General Motors, spending more and more of their shrinking revenues on concessions to workers while facing back-breaking tabs for future retirees.
Whether public employees deserve the pay and benefits they have wrested from governments is beside the point. States can't pay for them. Estimates of their unfunded health and pension liabilities range from $1-trillion (U.S.) to $3-trillion, depending on the projected returns on pension investments.
It hardly seems fair that public workers are being forced to surrender rights and benefits negotiated in good faith. They are not solely responsible for pushing state and local governments to the verge of bankruptcy.
Unfunded liabilities surged after the 2008 stock-market crash that was brought on, according to Barack Obama and many others, by recklessness on Wall Street. And, for years, states shirked their legal obligations to contribute their share to worker pension funds.
But, fair or not, public employees must give up benefits or pay more themselves to keep them. They have agreed to do that in Wisconsin. But Mr. Walker either doesn't trust them to hold the line or sees an opportunity to eviscerate a political foe. (Likely, it's both.)
Why not raise revenue instead?
Nearly absent from this debate is any discussion of tax increases. Why is that? Governments still have a monopoly on the provision of most public services, so why can't they charge what they like for them?
It's politics. As Mr. Mead puts it: "Voters with insecure job tenure and [weak] pensions will simply not pay higher taxes so that bureaucrats can enjoy lifetime tenure and secure pensions."
Polls show there is considerable public sympathy for the Wisconsin unions. After all, Americans believe in fair play and usually side with the underdog.
But the longer-term polling trends reveal an unwillingness among voters to foot the bill for benefits the average taxpayer cannot dream of.
"Unions are an alien and strange creature to most people," explains David Kettler, a political studies professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. "American workers do want some kind of representation. It's the union design that has lost its legitimacy."
Facing declining membership, the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. trade-union federation, is slowly morphing into a lobby group for non-unionized workers. Its Working America unit brings together "millions of workers without the benefit of a workplace union" to negotiate discounts on health and legal benefits. It could be the shape of things to come.
Whether this is to be welcomed is another matter. For the first half of the 20th century, the labour movement was the impetus for progressive legislation whose benefits we now take for granted. The movement's descent has closely tracked the rise in income inequality in the United States and Canada.
But North American labour has played its hand poorly. Instead of adapting to change, it simply turned a blind eye to it. Just as unions often stifled innovation in the private sector - hello, GM - their loss of clout in the public sector could pave the way for better and cheaper public services.
Bringing the great fight north
Canada's laws are vastly more favourable to unions than those in the United States. As it stands, no Canadian government could probably go as far as Wisconsin's Mr. Walker or his Southern counterparts.
But as the political fallout from the introduction of harmonized sales taxes in British Columbia and Ontario illustrates, Canadians' comparatively higher tolerance for taxes is certainly not as high as it used to be. Public-sector unions here should prepare for the coming onslaught.
Listen to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who is moving to privatize the garbage collection in the city: "We are doing this so we are not going to go through another 40-day garbage strike. ... We're going to save millions of dollars, we're going to reduce the size of government. That's what people elected us to do, that's exactly what we're going to deliver on."
How many Torontonians and other Canadians agree with that?
In many ways, the impetus for rewriting of the social contract with labour in Canada is greater than in the United States. Most provincial governments are deeper in debt and their citizens more heavily taxed than their counterparts south of the border.
And as Prof. Lipset noted years ago, public antipathy toward unions has often been higher in Canada, presumably because they are perceived to be more powerful than in the United States.
Almost a decade ago, the British Columbia government sought to throw out the collective agreement of thousands of health workers to permit contracting out and end job-security provisions, all in an effort to curb spiralling health-care costs.
This led the Supreme Court, in 2007, to overturn decades of precedent to rule that the B.C. legislation constituted "a virtual denial of the right to a process of good-faith bargaining and consultation." The decision had the effect of establishing a constitutional right to collective bargaining in the public sector.
This might seem like an insurmountable obstacle to Wisconsin-like measures in Canada. But it's more of a technical hurdle than an impenetrable barrier to change. The balance of power has shifted on both sides of the border - not to management or government, but to taxpayers, to consumers and to the politicians who claim to fight on their behalf.
It may not be a permanent state of affairs. The Rob Fords and Chris Christies of this world will not be popular forever.
But when future editions of Wisconsin schoolbooks recount the great labour battle of 2011, they may portray it as the moment the political mores of the South won out over those of the North.
Should we start practising our "y'alls" now?
Globe and Mail, Fri Mar 11 2011
Byline: Konrad Yakabuski
Cash-strapped U.S. states have launched an unprecedented assault on unions, argues CUPE's Paul Moist. There is growing evidence that the trend is making its way north of the border.
Workers achieved a major step forward when President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Wagner Act, putting in place a legislative framework that allowed workers to join unions without undue intimidation. By 1945, the Great Depression was long over, and the economy - booming due to Second World War production - converted to domestic goals, and an unheralded period of growth ensued. The ranks of unionized workers exploded, and the middle-class U.S. emerged.
This led to the United States' so-called "Golden Age" following the war. Productivity and the economy grew at a strong pace, and workers shared in the increasing wealth - both with rising wages and an expansion of universal public services. Just as importantly, people fought for and won an expansion of democratic, human, and labour rights.
A quick look at history is instructive for us because it stands in sharp contrast to the political response to economic crisis today. Unlike the legislative response of the Great Depression, the current recession has seen an assault on public sector workers across the U.S. The large deficits and debts are the result of an economic crisis caused by an out-of-control financial sector, but the big money is trying to pin the blame on public sector workers.
The political right sees an opportunity to finish off the American labour movement. Private-sector union density has fallen to seven per cent, and the sole sector with significant union density, the public sector, is under attack.
In Ohio, Indiana, Idaho, and Wisconsin, just to name a few, the right wing is mounting an all-out offensive against public-sector unions under the thin veil of austerity.
These assaults are not about curing deficits or managing states' debt loads. They are clearly about a political agenda that has been underway for the past quarter-century, with both legislative attacks and a global trade experience that has decimated the U.S. manufacturing base - all for the purpose of maximizing corporate profits at any cost. Workers' rights get in the way of this agenda, and the political right smells blood.
The agenda isn't about wage freezes or restraint bargaining, it is about eliminating public-sector workers' bargaining rights, as well as ending trade-union political-action efforts.
FDR, in his 12-plus years in office, narrowed the gap between the rich and the poor, and in addition to enacting the modern U.S. welfare state, empowered workers.
His efforts worked and contributed greatly to the most significant economic boom in U.S. history.
The Republicans' current agenda is about building their power at the expense of public-sector workers. It has little to do with fiscal responsibility, and everything to do with cutting off voices of dissent and opposition while paving the way for capital accumulation.
It is a strategy that won't work, but it will test the U.S. labour movement, and will perhaps present a unique opportunity for them to mount a much needed campaign to win over both their membership and the general public to confront the failed and punitive economic strategies of the right.
The attacks on Canada's public-sector workers may not be as bold, but they have started. and they are as deeply rooted in a right-wing ideology as we've seen south of the border.
Under dubious and unsubstantiated claims of saving Toronto taxpayers untold millions, newly elected mayor Rob Ford is moving to establish the beachhead for the Canadian right's own attack on the public sector.
Stripping Toronto Transit Commission workers of the right to strike and moving recklessly ahead with plans to contract out waste collection are top items on the Ford gravy-train hit list.
What's missing from Ford's plans, however, is any conclusive proof that these measures will save one dollar for city coffers.
For example, a detailed analysis of available data on the costs of private waste collection in neighbouring municipalities shows that Toronto stands to pay substantially more for waste collection if it's contracted out.
A troubling aspect of these attacks, whether they are happening in the U.S., in Canada, or anywhere else around the world, is the skewed portrayal of workers.
The large majority of public-sector workers are in health care, schools, social services, and local government. They are mostly women, and they are far from highly paid. Of the over 600,000 members of CUPE, the average annual pay is less than $40,000. It takes a certain amount of gall to portray these workers as privileged.
Gall, however, is something not lacking in the Canadian right. Instead of tackling this country's economic recovery in a responsible and equitable way, they take up a diversionary strategy in casting the public sector as scapegoats while extending even more corporate tax cuts to Canada's banks and finance industry. Corporate tax cuts, which at this point should surprise no one, have not been proven to generate any of the new jobs or investments it is claimed they will.
Attacking the public sector and attempting to foist all responsibility on workers is at best a mistake, at worst an all-out assault on the middle and working classes to consolidate the economic power of the world's corporations and the political influence of the world's right wing. This is not only unfair, it is misguided. More of the same economic policies that caused both the Great Depression and Great Recession may help boost business profits in the short run, but they are a recipe for long-term economic malaise and ever more devastating booms and busts.
These attacks are not only on the workers; they also take unjustified aim at our communities, large and small. Canadians are being asked not only to shoulder the deficits, but also to sacrifice the high-quality public services we have developed over generations.
It is undeniable that governments around the world are facing substantial and at times daunting financial woes after weathering the global economic recession. Stimulus spending has left a hefty debt that, if left unchecked, could plague generations to come.
As governments, however, they must ensure that all members of society contribute their fair share to the ongoing recovery. Public-sector workers the world over are prepared to do their part, but the responsibility cannot and should not be put on their shoulders alone.
The Mark, Wed Mar 9 2011
Byline: Paul Moist, National President of CUPE
The Governor wants to restrict public sector unions to bargaining solely over wages, eliminating their ability to bargain over health care, working hours and vacations. Moreover, he wants to require unions to win an employee election every year to continue representing workers. The bill has passed the House but not the Senate; Democratic Senators are refusing to show up, to prevent the bill passing.
Republicans are proposing a bill that would wipe out Ohio's nearly 30-year-old collective bargaining law. The Senate bill would eliminate collective bargaining rights and salary schedules for public employees across the state and allow hiring alternate workers during a strike. It would also end binding arbitration, an option favoured by the police and firefighters, who are not allowed to strike.
Republican Governor John Kasich has expressed his support for the bill in concept, but he has also signalled he may bring forth his own plan that could go even further - including banning public employee strikes.
A law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers has passed a State Senate committee.
The Indiana state Senate has approved a proposed law that would limit the power of teachers' unions. Several other proposed measures would weaken organized labour, most notably legislation that would bar any requirement that employees in unionized, private sector workplaces pay any union dues or fees.
New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie has gained national fame by beating up on public school teachers.
States that are considering either weakening or removing entirely the ability of public sector workers to bargain collectively include Wisconsin, Ohio, South Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Oklahoma.
Legislative proposals in both Wisconsin and Ohio would bar unions from requiring non-members covered by union contracts to pay dues.
Teacher tenure is being targeted in five states: New Jersey, Nevada, Indiana, Idaho and Florida. Laws that would allow parents, by petition, to "trigger" an entire school district to move to charter schools or to voucher programs are expected in at least eleven states.
Measures to dismantle benefits for government workers are expected in some form in all fifty states. Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush, meanwhile, are pushing to allow states to declare bankruptcy, which would enable them to break their agreements that cover the pensions of hundreds of thousands of retired government workers.
Right-to-work legislation, which makes it illegal for employers to agree to have union membership or the equivalent dues payments as a condition of employment even when a majority of workers vote to form a union, has been filed in twelve states. This is in addition to the twenty two that already have such laws on the books.
In Virginia, the right-wing decided that the existing right-to-work law wasn't sufficient, and introduced a measure to embed the right-to-work provisions in the state Constitution.
Three more states - Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin - are expected to introduce right-to-work legislation this term.
Alabama passed legislation in January that bans public employee unions from collecting dues unless the unions first prove that none of the money will be used for supporting election campaigns. In every subsequent year after the initial certification, the union must submit itemized reports accounting for how its money is being spent.
This law has been introduced in four other states this year including Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri. In California there has been a ballot initiative proposed that would do the same.
Unions are expecting twelve more states to file bills or initiatives banning the collection of union monies for politics.
Prevailing wage laws
Building and construction unions are facing their own daunting line up of bills that would gut prevailing wage laws and what are known as Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). These measures facilitate collective bargaining and the division of labour for unionized construction jobs, particularly construction jobs with public financing. It is expected that some twenty states will change their legislation to ban PLAs. In Iowa the new governor undid PLAs with his first executive order.
The new governor of Ohio, John Kasich, has pledged to eliminate prevailing wage laws. Missouri's legislation to ban prevailing wages has been introduced, and the new governor of Maine appointed the head of the building and construction industry organization to the position of state legislative director, a sure sign that he's serious about eliminating such laws. The AFL-CIO says it anticipates anti-prevailing wage laws in fifteen states.
At the same time, a push to privatize public assets and services is mounting. Groups like In the Public Interest are working to hold back the privatization tide, but the momentum is on the other side.
2) What's going on?
Emboldened by November's election results, corporations and their right-wing allies have launched what they hope will be their final offensive against America's unions. Their immediate target is government workers' unions.
It isn't as if these types of attacks on unions are new; what's different is their scale, and intensity. After outspending unions in November's election by an estimated 4 to 1 margin, corporations and their allies are exploiting the fiscal crises across the nation to drive a stake into the heart of what is left of organized labour: public sector unions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Report for 2010, the overall union membership rate in America continued its slide, dropping from 12.3 percent to 11.9 percent. The private sector has just 6.9 percent of its work force unionized, while in the public sector, 36.2 percent of workers have unions. The public sector, in other words, is labour's last stronghold.
Embedded in the Wisconsin debate is a more fundamental dispute over the role, even the legitimacy, of public sector unions. The right wing argues that unions are not appropriate in the public sector because they can interfere with the democratic right of lawmakers to govern unimpeded.
But they are also well aware that hitting the public sector unions hard will weaken unionization in the US.
Grover Norquist laid out a sort of blueprint for the current right-wing assault in the February 2001 American Spectator. Identifying labour unions as the first of "five pillars" of Democratic strength, he outlined a game plan for destroying union power, key to the right's larger mission of abolishing all regulations that impede its agenda, from environmental laws to occupational safety to affirmative action.
The stakes for both political parties in this struggle are high, because where the campaign to gut public sector unions succeeds, Republicans will be poised for almost certain electoral gains. In general, across the nation, the lower the rate of unionization, the more Republican the state.
And in the most Democratic states, the public sector dominates the union scene.
In New York, for example, the most unionized state, the rate among government workers is 70.5 percent, next to 13.7 percent in the private sector. In California the unionization rate among government workers is 56.6 percent, compared with 9.3 percent among the private sector workforce.
There is a strong correlation, moreover, between Republican states, right-to-work laws, an overall worse quality of life for the average worker or poor person, and a more hostile climate for progressives, from environmentalists to civil rights activists.
Republicans have done a thorough analysis of this strategy of attacking the public employee unions, and it works in their favour politically:
1. It helps balance state budgets by hurting a small proportion of workers (6% of 124 million total US workers are members of public employee unions) even after many unions have given up pay raises and other concessions over the last few years. Instead of spreading the responsibility to pay for the cost of government services to all taxpayers, this approach lays it solely on one sector.
2. The workers it hurts tend to vote Democratic, and unions have supported Democratic candidates steadfastly since FDR. Cutting union membership and wages reduces dues going to the unions, and weakens their ability to make donations to Democratic candidates. On the other side, the conservative-led Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case in January 2010 cleared the way for America's biggest corporations and pro-corporate organizations to contribute untold millions directly or indirectly to Republican campaigns.
3. It garners the support of the Tea Partiers (and their shadow supporters), who want to cut $100 billion out of the federal budget this year no matter who it hurts.
4. Attacking public unions hurts all workers, because strong unions set a standard of pay and benefits that non-union employers follow. Unions also reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, and more for those less educated workers. The GOP's corporate masters want to keep their workers' wages and benefits low to maximize their profits and bonuses.
Not about budgets
Citing an anticipated budget deficit of $137 million this year and a $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years, the Governor of Wisconsin argues that his measures to curb union power and bargaining are essential to help balance the budget.
Union leaders say that several of the Governor's proposals, including the one that would require elections each year to determine whether a majority of public employees want to keep their union, are really intended to cripple unions, not balance the budget.
It's clear that Governor Walker picked this is fight for the specific purpose of breaking the unions. Wisconsin had a surplus, and as soon as he was sworn in, Walker gave it away to special interests in order to put the state into deficit.
The governor has framed his assault on public workers' collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.
The reality is radically different. Firstly, rolling back workers' bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker's doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately.
Furthermore, this attack on the public sector unions comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau - the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office - concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.
"Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond his control," says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future - a public interest think tank. "He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes."
The Koch Brothers
The billionaire Koch brothers David H. Koch, and Charles G. Koch have long used their wallets to promote fiscal conservatism and combat regulation.
The president of a right wing think tank, Americans for Prosperity, Tim Phillips, has publicly argued that the Wisconsin cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much needed nationwide move to slash public sector union benefits. What he did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in large part by the Koch brothers.
The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity organized buses for hundreds of Wisconsin residents to go to the Capitol to support the governor's proposals.
State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas, was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.
"We thought it was important to do," Mr. Phillips said, adding that his group is already working with activists and state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to take similar steps to curtail union benefits or give public employees the power to opt out of unions entirely.
This all amounts to proof of the expanding role played by nonprofit groups with murky ties to wealthy corporate executives, especially the Koch brothers, as they push a decidedly conservative agenda.
"The Koch brothers are the poster children of the effort by multinational corporate America to try to redefine the rights and values of American citizens," said Representative Gwen Moore, Democrat of Wisconsin, who joined with others in the union protests.
Campaign finance records in Washington show that donations by Koch Industries and its employees climbed to a total of $2 million in the last election cycle, twice as much as a decade ago, with 92 percent of that money going to Republicans. Donations in state government races - like in Wisconsin - have also surged in recent years, records show.
The Koch brothers helped finance conservative candidates in the fall campaigns through their company's political action committee, which spent $2.5 million, as well as through advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity.
Many candidates they supported, including a number backed by the Tea Party, gained election as part of the Republican takeover of the House.
Common Cause, a liberal advocacy group, has filed a petition with the Justice Department challenging the Citizens United ruling which made limits on corporate spending in elections illegal, and arguing that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should not have taken part in the case because they had attended the Koch brothers' annual retreat as speakers and were biased.
Common Cause depicts the Koch brothers as symbols of the "unbridled corporate power" that they maintain was loosed by the Supreme Court ruling in the campaign finance case, which lifted a ban on corporate spending in elections.
"This is a critical moment for us," Mary Boyle, Vice President for Communications at Common Cause, said in an interview. "The Koch brothers embody this ability to tap vast corporate profits and influence policies that undermine the public welfare."
She said the Citizens United case had given the Koch brothers and others license to create "shadowy networks" of well off but largely anonymous donors to further their agenda.
NUPGE, Wed Mar 9 2011
Ottawa (9 Mar. 2011) - Every day for the past 20 days, there have been protests in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin's capital. Tens of thousands of people have joined the protests. The Republican state Governor, Scott Walker, wants to strip collective bargaining rights from 175,000 Wisconsin public service workers.
Under the proposed legislation, workers would no longer have a voice on key issues such as working conditions, health and safety, grievance procedures, or equality provisions. This is a full, frontal attack on collective bargaining rights, public sector unions and the entire US labour movement.
The following report and photos are from Holly Page (BCGEU/NUPGE) who is one of the NUPGE representatives in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Dispatch 1: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine"
Of the thousands of protest signs I've seen, one of my favourite reads: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine." It resonates with what could be the rolling out of union busting not only here in Madison, Wisconsin, but in Canada as well.
I arrived in Madison on the 20th day of the protests. The sounds are spectacular: chanting, drumming, people cheering. This has been unlike any demo I have ever been to.
The Wisconsin Capitol building is the focus of the protest. It sits in the middle of a huge, square block, surrounded by streets on all four sides. Forty to fifty thousand activists are walking around the square chanting and singing. There is a huge rally with another couple thousand people on one side of the building, and another rally with a thousand more people on the opposite side. People are lined up hundreds deep on the remaining sides of the building. Flags, banners and pickets can be seen everywhere. The mood and energy is incredibly powerful, and positive.
On every door of the Wisconsin Capitol building, there are coloured post it notes with messages to the elected. I posted a note of solidarity from the BCGEU. Today I will line up and hang our BCGEU Flag in solidarity.
Nearly every store and business has a sign in the window supporting the unions. There is a lot of local police presence here, but many of them are having pictures taken with protesters and shaking hands and hi-fiving people. The people of Madison are clearly supporting this rally.
Sprinkled throughout the crowds are palm trees all shapes and sizes. Last week, right wing news channel FOX News showed violent demonstrations on their newscasts. They said it was footage from Madison, Wisconsin, that happened to feature palm trees in the back ground. That was obviously not Madison, where the average temp now is six degrees celsius. Home made palm trees of all shapes and sizes now grace central Madison, along with signs stating "FOX lies." FOX News is engaged in a disinformation campaign, calling Madison protestors "greedy" and "violent unions."
As I type, I can hear bagpipes. Firefighters decked out in gear are playing bagpipes and drumming. As I get closer in the middle of the parade, I see Michael Moore has come to join the rally. He addressed the rally for about 20 minutes thanking everybody who has maintained a hold on Wisonsin's Capitol for almost three weeks.
He told them not to walk away. "We're going to do this together. Don't give up. Please don't give up," he said. (Click here for a video of Michael Moore's speech.)
Stay tuned for more BCGEU dispatches from Wisconsin.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good.
NUPGE, Wed Mar 9 2011
Labor has come a long way since then-a long way down. At the outset of the nineteen-sixties, one in four workers had the protection of a union. By the early eighties, after President Reagan destroyed the air-traffic controllers' union, the proportion was down to one in five. Now it's one in eight. In a workforce twice the size it was in Edward P. Morgan's heyday, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s onetime fifteen million has shrunk to twelve million, with a couple of million more in unions unaffiliated with the federation.
Organized labor's catastrophic decline has paralleled-and, to a disputed but indisputably substantial degree, precipitated-an equally dramatic rise in economic inequality. In 1980, the best-off tenth of American families collected about a third of the nation's income. Now they're getting close to half. The top one per cent is getting a full fifth, double what it got in 1980. The super-rich-the top one-tenth of the top one per cent, which is to say the top one-thousandth-have been the biggest winners of all. What is always called their "compensation" (wage workers lucky enough to have a job simply get paid) has quadrupled.
Over the same period, the composition of the labor movement, as it still defiantly styles itself, has radically changed. A few weeks ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, for the first time, more union members are government workers, not private-sector employees. The Times quoted an official of the United States Chamber of Commerce as pronouncing himself "a little bit shocked," and he wasn't the only one. Yet this development has nothing to do with some imagined spike in public-sector unionism. It is entirely a function of the collapse of organized labor in the private sector. For the past four decades, the portion of the public workforce belonging to unions has held remarkably steady, at a little more than one in three. In the private sector, just one worker in fifteen carries a union card.
The causes of the disparity are many and mostly familiar, the hollowing out of American manufacturing notable among them. Unlike factories, government agencies cannot be relocated to China. Nor can government agencies flout the (notoriously weak) labor laws with the insouciance of private employers, many of whom, guided by anti-union "consultants," regard it as their fiduciary responsibility to fire troublesome workers illegally now and, in the rare cases where a worker tries to get justice, pay a trivial fine years later. In short, union-busting has traditionally been a matter for private business. But this winter it has suddenly gone public, and its weapon is not flouting laws but making them.
from the issue
Last Friday-in the wee hours of morning, after two weeks of tumult and protest demonstrations-Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that is breathtaking in its fealty to the ideology of the far right. The bill, dictated by the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, strips the state's employees of their half-century-old right to bargain collectively-except over base pay, which can never be increased above inflation without a public referendum. It makes union dues purely voluntary and prohibits their collection via paycheck deduction. It requires the unions to face a certification vote every year-and, to get recertified, a union must win a majority of all employees, not just a majority of those voting.
The bill has not yet passed the Wisconsin Senate, because all fourteen members of its Democratic minority decamped for Illinois, thereby depriving the chamber of the quorum required for legislation of this type. Governor Walker claims that his bill is needed to close a budget gap. That is false: the unions have already agreed to all the cuts and givebacks he has demanded. Anyhow, Walker has called his dedication to deficit hawkery into question by pushing through large tax cuts for business (with more to come) and a law forbidding tax hikes without either a two-thirds legislative majority or a statewide referendum.
Liberals who applaud the Wisconsin senators' interstate flight have been accused of hypocrisy, given that these same liberals indignantly reject the undemocratic use of the filibuster in the Senate of the United States. The analogy is as clever as it is flawed. The Wisconsinites are not trying to kill the bill (they can't stay away forever); they merely want to delay a vote in the hope of mobilizing public support for compromise. And, instead of simply declaring an intention-the only effort a modern filibuster requires-they have to do something; to wit, camp out in cheap motels at their own expense, away from their families. They even have to forgo their own salaries: the Republicans have halted direct deposit to their skedaddling colleagues' bank accounts. If they want to get paid, they have to come back to Madison to pick up a paycheck. And the Democrats have another point: although Walker now claims that he ran on curbing collective bargaining as well as cutting employee benefits, no one has been able to find any record that he ever said anything of the kind.
What's getting awfully difficult to deny is that what the Wisconsin Republicans are doing-and they have plenty of imitators and admirers-is solely for a partisan purpose, and a potentially lethal one. Of the five biggest non-party organizational contributors to political campaigns in 2008, the top two were unions, both of them pro-Democratic and both composed partly or wholly of public-sector workers. The other three were pro-Republican business groups or PACs. In 2010, after the Supreme Court threw open the cash sluices in the Citizens United case, only one union made it into the top five, and it came in fifth. And from now on, thanks to five Justices, corporate campaign spending will be literally limitless.
Yes, unions will have the same freedom. But unions are already maxed out-and their resources, stretched to the breaking point, are diminishing. If, as Anatole France observed, the law in its majesty forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, the Supreme Court, in its majesty, permits both to spend as much as they can lay their hands on. If a Republican Party that has lately become rigidly, fanatically "conservative" can succeed in reducing public-sector unions to the parlous condition of their private-sector brethren, then organized labor-which, for all its failings, all its shortsightedness, all its "special interest" selfishness, remains the only truly formidable counterweight to the ever-growing political power of that top one-thousandth-will no longer be anything close to a match for organized money. And that will be the news, brought to you by a few very rich, very powerful Americans-and many, many billions of dollars.
New York, Mon Mar 7 2011
Byline: Hendrik Hertzberg
It wasn't the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn't mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did - after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.
In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what's happening in Wisconsin isn't about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker's pretense that he's just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin - and eventually, America - less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that's why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators' side.
Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away.
In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.
But Mr. Walker isn't interested in making a deal. Partly that's because he doesn't want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers' ability to bargain.
The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state's workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers - namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning - are exempted from the ban; it's as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.
Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state's budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there's not much room for further pay squeezes.
So it's not about the budget; it's about the power
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we're a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we're more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it's important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
You don't have to love unions, you don't have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they're among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years - which it has - that's to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.
And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.
There's a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America's oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.
So will the attack on unions succeed? I don't know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn't.
Both the Canadian and Colombian governments maintain that Colombia in a post- conflict era after years of violent civil war in which thousands of union leaders and social activists disappeared,were killed, or injured by government paramilitary. Ms Celeyta told a group of 50 at CUPE's national office that since August, 2010 under the newly elected Santos government there has been the assassination of more than 2,000 people.
One of the key issues in the ongoing conflict is land ownership. Multinational companies are interested in mining the land - and indigenous peoples are being removed from their homes. It is estimated that 4.5 million Colombians have been displaced because of potential resources in their land.
Celeyta said,"We are persuaded that peace has to be accompanied by health, education, housing and public services. But the Colombian government is carrying out free trade treaties, which will not respect these rights. They say Colombia is Latin America's oldest democracy, but more people have died under this so-called democracy than under the dictatorships of Chile or Argentina."
CUPE partners with NOMADESC - the association for social research and action, in the union's work in Colombia. The three pillars of NOMADESC are education, research and communication. CUPE national president Paul Moist committed CUPE's ongoing support to NOMADESC and their important labour and human rights work.
cupe.ca, Thurs Mar 2 2011
One of the key points of the Walker bill is that it would remove public employees' right to bargain collectively for anything, except for higher wages. However, any wage increases would be capped at the federal Consumer Price Index rate of inflation, thus inhibiting any real wage increases.
Further, the proposed legislation would force public employees to have new union elections every year and employer collection of union dues would be prohibited. Such actions would severely handicap and inhibit public employees' unions from functioning.
Walker claims the reason for such drastic legislation is because the state is facing a deficit and public employees are paid too much and need to sacrifice. Yet the fact is, is that Wisconsin was facing a budget surplus until Walker brought in two corporate tax breaks, thus lessening state revenues. So while corporations will see extra profits, workers' standard of living and democratic rights are under threat.
Walker is one of many Republicans supported by the Koch brothers who run Koch industries. The Koch brothers, who are billionaires, fund millions of dollars to think-tanks that deny global warming. They also provide similar amounts of money to the right-wing Tea Party movement. Finally, they have provided millions of dollars to support anti-labour legislation and to bust unions in the USA.
But the people of Wisconsin are not taking it lying down! Rallies have been growing, with attendance reaching 70,000 and 100,000 and workers have even occupied the State Capitol! There is even talk and attempts to broaden the fight back and organize a general strike. What we are witnessing is one of the most momentous mobilizations by working people in North America in decades.
We gather here not merely to show our solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are fighting for their right to organize, to represent themselves collectively and democratically, but also to draw attention to the similar attacks here in Canada.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has stated he wanted to see public transit declared an essential service. He's now gotten the help of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose government has introduced legislation that will strip the unionized Toronto transit workers of the right to strike. The right to withdraw their labour when an employer refuses to negotiate is an essential right workers have fought and won over many, many decades in North America.
The only way to win is to broaden the scoop of struggle and solidarity to oppose the war on workers. An attack on any section of working people, is an attack on all working people. By undermining unionized workers, all workers face the threat of lowered standards, wages and quality of life. If the labour movement is to grow and extend itself it must fight. An injury to one is an injury to all!
Telecommunications Workers Union