Walker claims that the introduction of bargaining prohibitions will help save the state money, and vowed to call out the national guard to suppress popular opposition.
Union members of all ilk balked, but none as loudly as teachers, who yesterday and today pulled students out of class to protest at the Capitol building in Madison.
“If people say the only way to solve this budget crisis is to take away from people who are working hard, they are wrong. We believe that we have a right to have a fair wage for our hard work,” said Michael Langyel, head of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. “More importantly, the collective bargaining process allows us to positively impact school policy issues. We are the advocates for our students, and we will maintain our voice in defending our students.”
Another teacher remarked yesterday, “I’m not intimidated by the National Guard. I know my fellow teachers aren’t either.” The crowd, including hundreds of students who joined the protests, cheered.
The AFL-CIO has released a commercial denouncing Walker’s motion, and state secretary-treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale called it an assault on the middle class: “Much of the bill is not about saving money for the state, but about crippling unions and their ability to have a voice in the workplace, and thus, the middle class.”
President Obama too seems irked by the developments, saying that Walker’s proposal “seems like more of an assault on unions.” But Walker’s not the only Republican who has taken aim at unions as of late.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has recently backed legislation that would limit collective bargaining for unions, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, popular on both sides of the aisle, finds himself under fire for a plan that would strip union members of certain benefits.
On a national level, House Speaker John Boehner made his antipathy to unions known by saying “so be it” if federal workers lose their jobs because of his party’s budget cuts. These and other Republicans are inflaming a powerful political force.
Labor unions are integral to any democratic movement. Just look at Egypt, where the introduction of labor unions helped tip the scale against former President Hosni Mubarak, and where strikes are complicating matters for the military-run government.
Meanwhile, in the fight against Apartheid, increased protest on the part of the Congress of South African Trade Unions guaranteed unions a central role in the transition to democracy.
Here in the states, the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis helped open the nation’s eyes to the ongoing discrimination happening in their own backyard, and provided the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech.
It’s no secret the Republican party has a pro-business agenda — they receive millions in donations from anti-union “merit shop” groups — but their politicking against laborers will curry them no favor among the electorate.
There are an estimated 14.7 million union members across the nation today. If the GOP doesn’t start respecting their place, position and power — as well as their right to collective bargaining — they will find that union-based popular protest can and likely will outmatch that of the Tea Party, guaranteeing a swell of grassroots opposition against them and their candidates.
Add the fact that students getting involved in the Wisconsin protests, and the GOP’s attacks on unions could also turn an entire generation off of the party, something that could prove disastrous if the GOP plans on winning future elections.