Stephanie Taylor: What Wisconsin's Governor is Really Threatening

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Stephanie Taylor is a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and a doctoral candidate in American history at Georgetown. Her research focuses on the relationship of labor and the state in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.]

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared war on state workers, almost literally.

First, he proposed a state budget that would cut retirement and healthcare for workers like teachers and nurses, and strip away nearly all of their collective bargaining rights. But even more significantly, he announced last Friday that he had alerted the National Guard to be ready for state workers to strike or protest, an unprecedented step in modern times.

This would be the first time in nearly 80 years that the National Guard would be used to break a strike by Wisconsin workers, and the first time in over 40 years that the National Guard would be used against public workers anywhere in the country. The last time was the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968, just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination....

To understand the visceral, emotional nature of this outcry, you have to understand the history of the National Guard and the labor movement -- and what this means for the relationship between labor and the state today.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, governors often mobilized the National Guard during strikes. Sometimes the Guard was genuinely neutral, assigned to buffer the dangerous zone between strikers and their employers. Other times, the Guard was explicitly charged with breaking the strike. During these instances, violence often erupted between strikers and soldiers with terrible, bloody results....

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Arnold Shcherban - 2/21/2011

Amazing. Inspiring. This is what people power can do.

When Republican Governor Scott Walker attacked state workers and threatened to call out the National Guard if they protested, it sparked a popular uprising in Wisconsin. And now the extreme proposal to take collective bargaining rights away from public employees is temporarily blocked as a result of mass protests.

Tens of thousands of people -- including members of CREDO Action -- have been out in the streets and in the Rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin. Students and citizens are protesting in solidarity with nurses, teachers and workers.

And the people are not alone. Instead of caving to the opposition, their elected representatives are fighting with them. In fact, Democratic state senators boldly left the state in order to deny Republicans the quorum they need to pass Governor Walker's radical anti-worker, anti-union bill. As long as every Democratic state senator refuses to go to the capitol, a vote cannot be held.

If only current US President were firm and resourceful enough, instead of being narcissistic, self-serving nobody, we would not only had public option in HC and financial reform with some teeth in it, instead of existing lame-duck (80% Republican) HC law, but he would have a good shot for his second term, while having practically none now.

Michael Furtado - 2/21/2011

The unions have already stated that they are willing to make the economic concessions that the Governor is trying to force on them unilaterally. That has never been the real issue.
It is both the annual re-certification provision and the extreme limits on the subjects of collective bargaining that are the real issues. The financial issue was created by the Governor's out-of-the-gate spending provisions that will help no one, as a trigger to 'justify' these draconian union-busting provisions.
Before you bring up the false 'taxpayers have no say' argument, remember who owns the corporations with which 'private sector' unions negotiate - the shareholders. Neither of the 'employer' groups are involved directly. Each group has elected representatives act for them. Shareholders are represented by the board of directors and those employed by the board, while shareholders have the legislators and executives (i.e., governors, etc.) who act on their behalf.
Nobody is negotiating at the point of a gun (except when one side tries to dictate terms unilaterally - as the Governor is doing here).

Arnold Shcherban - 2/20/2011

"Bring on the National Guard and send them down here to Illinois to drag the Wisconsin legislators off our highways on the lam!"
Heil, Hitler!

John a Wilson - 2/19/2011

"Labor historian Fred Siegel offers further reasons why unions are manning the barricades. Mr. Walker would require that public-employee unions be recertified annually by a majority vote of all their members, not merely by a majority of those that choose to cast ballots. In addition, he would end the government's practice of automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks. For Wisconsin teachers, union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year."

This is what all the screaming is about.

John a Wilson - 2/19/2011

The teachers are being asked to make modest contributions to their health insurance and pension funds. Why is that such a problem?

Could it also be the provision to recertify the union annually in order for the local municipalities to better manage their budget negotiations with the unions.

Bring on the National Guard and send them down here to Illinois to drag the Wisconsin legislators off our highways on the lam!