The protests in Wisconsin continue into their third week, with thousands holding strong in the capitol in Madison, a huge showing of support for the economic rights of union members and the restoration of a strong middle class. The following is a collection of updates and items on what’s happening in Wisconsin and the rest of the country.
Update: Last week, Gallup found that Americans opposed stripping collective bargaining rights from public employees by a 2:1 margin. A new poll released today by CBS and the New York Times found that in general, a third of Americans have a favorable view of unions and a quarter view them unfavorably. But opposition to killing public’ unions right to negotiate or balancing budgets on the backs of public workers is strong:
Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them. Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Bad news for conservative union-busters.
Update: Twice in the last week, Media Matters has caught Fox “News” interviewing GOP activists about the standoff in Wisconsin and identifying them only as concerned parents. It’s very fair and super-balanced.
This morning, Fox & Friends hosted an “upset Wisconsin parent” to discuss her objection to Wisconsin public schools’ teaching of labor union history. Left unsaid during the segment: The parent, Amber Hahn, is also a local GOP official….
…On February 18, Your World guest host Chris Cotter interviewed “Wisconsin parent” Dave Westlake to attack teachers for calling in sick to protest, resulting in some schools in Madison, Wisconsin, being closed. Not noted was the fact that Westlake ran for Senate in Wisconsin, losing in the GOP primary.
Update: Last week, Joshua Holland noted that there has been talk of a general strike in Madison –an event not seen in this country since the 1930s. Today, the Capital Times talks to a range of experts about the prospect.
On Feb. 21, the Madison-based South Central Federation of Labor took the unprecedented step of endorsing a general strike among its 45,000 members if Gov. Scott Walker‘s controversial budget repair bill is made law.
Could such a radical action get off the ground here?
Local labor leaders are careful to point out that no strikes have been called; the federation does not have the authority to call a strike and several union leaders stressed that job actions would be individual workers’ decisions. But students of labor point to a confluence of circumstances in Madison with dramatic potential.
It is just possible, they say, that it could happen here….
It is dissatisfaction with the political system, not economic desperation, that sets the stage for a general strike, says Reza Rezazadeh, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville who has studied revolutionary strikes against repressive regimes in his native Iran and elsewhere. In the United States, he says, activists are challenging a political system that, despite freedom of the press and freedom of speech, is shaped by the influence of the economic elite and corporations.
Walker’s challenge to union power is part of an established movement by the Republican Party to cripple unions, the most influential funding source for Democratic candidates and causes, say analysts of the showdown in Wisconsin. Aside from increasing contributions by employees for pension and health care costs, Walker’s budget repair bill would also sharply restrict the power of most public unions to bargain with their employers. “It is viewed nationally and correctly as a decisive turning point for the future of labor nationally and for the Democratic Party more broadly,” says Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
Whether a general strike would be an effective tool for labor, local leaders will have to decide, Shaiken says. But the likely public reaction to any widespread job action would be an important consideration, and polls show a majority are opposed to stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights, he points out. A nationwide Gallup poll released last week found 61 percent of respondents opposed to an erosion of collective bargaining rights among public unions, and even a Wisconsin poll funded by the conservative-leaning Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity found 56 percent in favor of public unions’ collective bargaining powers.
To mount a general strike, labor unions would have to take a more unified stance than is usual, with truck drivers and food service workers finding common cause with public sector workers, says Gene Carroll, director of the Union Leadership Institute at the New York City campus of Cornell University. To gain public support to allow it to be effective, an even more embracing class perspective would need to take shape, he says. “In Wisconsin, to the extent that people who are not in the public sector begin to understand that the designs of the government to break collective unions’ bargaining rights are in fact an attack on the economic and political rights of anyone working for a living – the possibility of a general strike is conceivable.”
On the other hand, a strike that does not win public support can be a public relations disaster, says Don Taylor, an assistant professor at the School for Workers at University of Wisconsin-Extension. But in Madison, where the battle over collective bargaining is centered, circumstances favor support for widespread job actions, he says.
Update: Lynn Welch reports for PR Watch that an out-of-state group is leading a charge to recall 8 of the 14 Democratic state senators who are blocking a vote on Scott Walker’s union-busting bill.
The conservative American Recall Coalition, a group from Salt Lake City, Utah, is leading the charge to reel in eight Democratic Senators in Wisconsin who are among 14 lawmakers who left the state in protest of Governor Scott Walker‘s budget repair bill, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB).
The out-of-state group last week filed with the GAB website to recall the Senators, but initial filings did not have anyone from the local senatorial district as part of the recall requests.
“They didn’t have any local people involved, so we contacted them and said they need to have one local person in each district,” said GAB spokesman Reid Magney. “They withdrew those initial filings and made new ones and we are waiting for the signed paperwork.”
Wisconsin senators targeted in the campaign are Lena Taylor, Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, Mark Miller, Robert Wirch, Julie Lassa, Fred Risser and Dave Hansen.
According to a Reuters report, the American Recall Coalition is also campaigning to recall Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Arizona, who drew conservative fire last month after linking the Tucson shootings that killed 6 and seriously hurt 13 people, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, to “political vitriol, prejudice and bigotry.”
Update: According to FDL’s David Dayen, the wisconsin Constitution prohibits denying citizens’ access into a public building, but this morning the doors remained shut for at least 4 hours after the building’s scheduled 8am opening:
Clearly Scott Walker and the Capitol police are trying to deprive protesters of having access to the building. Both Defend Wisconsin and a coalition of labor unions have filed lawsuits and other enforcement actions. Defending Wisconsin went to US District Court to try to pry open the Capitol. Labor is separately filing for a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Later reports indicate that a small number of people are being allowed into the building through a single entrance.
The surprise lock-out didn’t just impact the protesters, according to this report, which we were unable to independently confirm:
A cancer patient needing a colostomy bag change — a medical emergency— was denied access to the Capitol building holding the patient’s medication due to a surprise lockdown that has lasted for hours past the scheduled and well-publicized 8:00 AM doors-open time Monday morning.
This patient was kept outside for 80 minutes in the cold while Walker flexed his political muscle and ordered DOA to close the Capitol during normally-open daytime business hours in order to gradually muffle the overwhelming dissent of his proposed legislation, which denies health care to many of our most vulnerable citizens, including many children, and strips unionized workers of collective bargaining rights for which people have fought and died for decades.
If passed, this bill will directly cause the death of many people, including this patient, as the patient has explained for several days now overthe People’s Microphone in the center of the Rotunda floor.
Update: Scott Walker often says that he’s only doing what the voters elected him to do. Here’s a reality-check from Public Policy Polling:
We’ll have our full poll on the Wisconsin conflict out tomorrow but here’s the most interesting finding: if voters in the state could do it over today they’d support defeated Democratic nominee Tom Barrett over Scott Walker by a a 52-45 margin.
This finding is especially interesting:
It’s actually Republicans, more so than Democrats or independents, whose shifting away from Walker would allow Barrett to win a rematch if there was one today. Only 3% of the Republicans we surveyed said they voted for Barrett last fall but now 10% say they would if they could do it over again. That’s an instance of Republican union voters who might have voted for the GOP based on social issues or something else last fall trending back toward Democrats because they’re putting pocketbook concerns back at the forefront and see their party as at odds with them on those because of what’s happened in the last month.
Update: Earlier, we passed on reports that windows at the capitol building were being welded shut. Those reports are now in question; According to FDL’s David Dayen, it may be a matter of routine maintenance rather than something more nefarious, but photos posted by protesters suggest otherwise. As Dayen says, “There does appear to be some bolting of windows, but it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff” on this story. Labor attorneys are investigating the reports.
Update: They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, and our correspondent Adele Stan took this one at a rally in Washington, DC this weekend:
That’s Marilyn Schulman, who was there with her son, Joshua. Joshua is also a teacher. Both teach in Montgomery County (Maryland) public schools. Their union voluntarily gave up scheduled cost-of-living increases and other raises through 2014. “There are some teachers who think there’s money out there that we just haven’t found yet, but those folks are very few,” teachers union President Doug Prouty told The Washington Examiner. “The vast majority of our membership realize that the economic situation is what it is.”
A major issue for the union is whether the pay freeze will continue when the economy starts showing signs of life. “If not, that’s money we’ll continue to lose down the road,” Chris Orlando, a math teacher at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, told The Examiner. That’s why they need strong unions.
Update: Think Progress highlights the Koch brothers campaign to destroy the American labor movement:
The Koch brothers have played an integral role in provoking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) notorious attempt to crush Wisconsin’s public sector unions. Koch Industries contributed $43,000 to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, and Koch political operativesencouraged the newly elected governor to take on the unions. Koch Industries is a major player in Wisconsin: Koch owns a coal company subsidiary with facilities in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan; six timber plants throughout the state; and a large network of pipelines. Since the showdown began two weeks ago, Koch-funded front groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — which is chaired by David Koch — and the American Legislative Exchange Council have organized counter-protests, prepped GOP lawmakers with anti-labor legislative talking points and even announced an anti-union advertising campaign. For now, however, the AFP message doesn’t appear to be resonating: Koch-backed pro-Walker demonstrations have had low attendance and were dwarfed by pro-union supporters in Madison this week.
KNEE-CAPPING UNIONS: In a speech earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Americans For Prosperity-Michigan Executive Director Scott Hagerstrom revealed the true goal of his group and allies like Walker. Speaking at CPAC’s “Panel for Labor Policy,” Hagerstrom said that even more than cutting taxes and regulations, AFP really wants to “take the unions out at the knees.” Knee-capping free labor has long been a goal of the Koch brothers and their many front groups. In the run-up to the 2010 elections, the Kochs worked with other anti-labor billionaires, corporations and activists to fund conservative candidates and groups across the country. Now after viciouslyopposing pro-middle class policies for years, Koch Industries is trying to eliminate the only organizations which serve as acounterweight to its well-oiled corporate machine. Believing he was talking with David Koch, Walker told a prankster his plans to crush the unions. Koch’s AFP operatives are now working with “state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to duplicate Walker’s crusade in Wisconsin.”
Update: Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll considers what the next steps in the Wisconsin uprising might be.
There’s no mistaking the feeling that Saturday’s 100,000-strong rally was the high water mark, and that nothing going forward can match that kind of outpouring. After all, the students and teachers and workers who have walked out of their classrooms and jobs can’t do so forever. They have families to feed, bills to pay, classes to pass.So how do organizers—including the national unions, several of which are digging in for the long term, renting Madison office space and hiring staffers—plan to maintain their momentum? The most obvious strategy is putting more pressure on the three or four Republicans in the state Senate who might be wavering about Republican Governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill. Then there are the 14 state Senate Democrats who fled the state on February 18 to prevent the state senate from voting on Walker’s budget bill; one called it a “filibuster on feet.” If even one returns to work, Republicans will have a quorum and the bill can pass. Plenty of ideas have been floated to keep those senators busy, including taking them on a national tour to raise money and drum up support for their cause. But for now they’re simply biding their time in Illinois, doing the occasional TV appearance and closely watching the events back home.
There’s also talk of a organizing a general strike should the Wisconsin legislature find a way to pass Walker’s bill. A week ago, the South Central Federation of Labor, a Madison-based umbrella group representing 97 labor unions with 45,000 members, endorsed the idea of a strike if Walker’s bill passes, even though the SCFL doesn’t have the authority to demand a strike itself. “Some unions have talked about this could result in a strike, so we wanted to make sure that we were upfront that we’re on board with that,” SCFL president Jim Cavanaugh told a local TV station.
A big unknown in the next week is Walker’s announcement of his 2011-2013 budget, scheduled for Tuesday. The governor is expected to call for massive cuts to state spending, including slashing $1 billion from funding for schools and local governments. Will the budget announcement add momentum to the protesters’ fight or distract from it? No one will know until later this week.
Update: Amanda Terkel reports for the Huffington Post that GOP leaders in Madison are becoming downright petty:
In a motion submitted to the Committee on Senate Organization on Monday and obtained by The Huffington Post, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) proposed that while the senators remain away, all Democratic staffers must have his office sign off on their timesheets and will lose access to office copy machines…
When asked what the motion’s result would be, one Democratic staffer said, “I’ll guess we’ll just have to scan things.”
Update: At the Washington Post’s website, Greg Sargent reports that GOP lawmakers in the Wisconsin legislature are outraged at the prospect of a compromise being struck with the state’s public employees.
I’m told that some Republicans in the state senate were so angry at fellow Republican senator Dale Schultz for proposing a modest compromise with unions and senate Dems that they actually threatened at a private meeting to kick him out of the state senate GOP caucus.
This comes to me by way of a source close to the situation. While the idea didn’t go anywhere, and it didn’t appear to have the support of Wisconsin GOP leaders, it shows how high tensions are running among Wisconsin Republicans who are under heavy pressure from unions, Dems and mass demonstrations to break with Walker.
The proposal by Schultz that so angered fellow Republicans was, after all, a modest one: He suggested that unions agree to have their bargaining rights rolled back right now on the understanding that they would be restored in 2013, after the state got its finances under control. Schultz’s compromise got national media attention, which further angered his GOP colleagues, the source tells me.
Schultz has emerged as central to hopes for a compromise in Wisconsin. As multiple people have reported — including Dave Weigel,David Dayen and Andy Kroll — Senator Schultz has privately indicated he will vote No on Walker’s proposal. Schultz’s office is saying this is not the case, but the fact remains that he is involved in trying to persuade his fellow Republicans to reach a compromise with labor and Dems. And this isn’t sitting well with his GOP colleagues.
Update: President Obama has taken some criticism for not inserting himself more forcefully in the debate over public employees unions. Today he weighed in on the controversy during an address to the National Governor’s Association. The LA Times reports:
“I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon,” Obama said in televised remarks. “We need to attract the best and brightest to public service. These times demand it.”
Initially, Obama had questioned Walker’s proposal to curb collective bargaining. saying in a television interview that “generally seems like more of an assault on unions.” Some Democratic allies had also urged Obama to make good on his campaign comments in 2007 that he would picket if workers were denied their right to organized and collectively bargain.
But the White House last week argued that Obama could speak forcefully on the issue without having to join the demonstrations, which have been going on for more than two weeks.
We assume the calculus at the White House goes something like this: right now, this is a battle between a far-right ideologue who refuses to compromise, and middle-class public workers. Public opinion is not on the governor’s side. If the president visits Madison, then the story becomes Walker versus Obama, which changes the dynamic significantly.
Update: AFL-CIO Political Communications Director Eddie Vale reports a classy move by the embattled Wisconsin governor:
As we speak, Gov. Scott Walker & the Senate R’s are literally having the windows of the capital welded shut to keep people from passing food into the building to the people inside.
Our attorneys are collecting affidavits from the people who witnessed this, along with people who have been illegally denied access to a public, government, building.
We will be filing for a TRO [temporary restraining order] to open the Capitol.
It is a sad for democracy when Governor Walker and his R Senate allies are locking the people of Wisconsin out of their own state capitol.
Update: In a must-read analysis titled,”Facts overshadowed in debate over union bill,” the Associated Press demolishes Scott Walker’s claims. An excerpt:
Walker argues the sweeping step is necessary to balance the budget not only over the next two years but into the future. School districts, cities, counties and other local governments need the flexibility, he says, to deal with more than $1 billion in state aid cuts Walker will announce Tuesday in his two-year budget plan.
That’s certainly one way to tackle the problem, but it’s not the only solution.
Walker has refused even to consider some of the other ways to raise the massive amount of money needed. He repeatedly has said his measures are the only way to fix the state’s budget problems now and for the long term as he proposes deep cuts to state and local governments in his upcoming two-year budget.
He also is resolved not to raise taxes — an option used by Democrats who controlled the Legislature when the state faced a deficit that was nearly twice as large as the one Walker inherited. The Democrats also relied heavily on federal stimulus aid, which the state does not have available this time around.
Not raising taxes and not tapping federal aid leaves Walker with few alternatives other than reducing the money the state gives to schools and local governments or reducing Medicaid to the extent allowed under federal law.
Aid to schools and local governments is more than half of the entire state budget. Medical assistance programs are 9 percent, as is funding for the state prison system and money for the University of Wisconsin system. Walker won’t make cuts to the prisons, but he’s expected to make deep reductions in higher education.
As for Medicaid, Walker gives himself as much leeway as possible under the bill that passed the Assembly early Friday but remains hung up in the Senate because of 14 AWOL Democrats who skipped town to stymie efforts to vote on the proposal in that chamber.
Walker’s bill gives his administration the power to make any changes necessary to Medicaid to save money, regardless of current law and without approval of the Legislature. Medicaid is a $1.2 billion part of the budget, but even with the freedom the bill gives him, Walker will be hamstrung by federal law that limits how many cost-saving changes states can make without a waiver.
Walker’s new health department secretary, Dennis Smith, is a former federal Medicaid official who has advocated that states drop out of the program entirely. That position and others taken by Smith are worrisome to advocates for the poor, disabled and elderly, who are largely the beneficiaries of the program.
Update: Wisconsin public workers filed a complaint charging Governor Scott Walker with unfair labor practices for failing to negotiate with public workers in good faith, as required by law. According to a press release issued by AFCSME council 24:
Instead of trying to find real solutions to the challenges facing the state, the governor is attempting to dictate terms. This not only in ineffective, it’s against the law.
The unions have already agreed to all of Walker’s concessions on wages and benefits.
Update: Scott Walker is playing a game of chicken with senate Democrats, with a non-controversial provision in his bill that would save the state millions at stake. Today he issued a statement noting that the lawmakers who left the capitol to block his bill have 24 hours to return or the state will miss out the opportunity to refinance its debt. Reuters reports:
Under Walker’s proposal, Wisconsin’s general obligation bonds would be restructured and that would push debt service payments due by March 15 into future years to save the current state budget $165 million. The deadline is because it takes a couple of weeks for the state to prepare to go to the bond market and implement the refinancing before the payment is due on March 15.
Update: Yesterday police allowed protesters to stay in the Capitol past the 4 PM deadline set for their removal. Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said that officers are trying to persuade the remaining protesters to leave voluntarily, but did not say when police would resort to forcible removal. Protesters have vowed to stand their ground. Possibly hundreds could be arrested, reports the AP:
It’s unclear how many protesters plan to be arrested rather than disperse, but the number could be in the hundreds. Protest leaders say they plan to cooperate fully and are urging everyone to remain calm.
Update: In an op-ed in the NYT Mayor Michael Bloomberg defends unions’ right to collective bargaining:
But unions also play a vital role in protecting against abuses in the workplace, and in my experience they are integral to training, deploying and managing a professional work force. Organizing around a common interest is a fundamental part of democracy. We should no more try to take away the right of individuals to collectively bargain than we should try to take away the right to a secret ballot.
The AP profiles the volunteer organizers in Madison who have kept the protests going:
Nearly two weeks after the start of massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal that would strip nearly all public employees of their collective bargaining rights erupted, a network of volunteers has emerged as the skeleton that keeps the daily demonstrations alive. … In a third-floor room where the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants Association has based its support operations, a wood conference table is dwarfed by a mountain of bedding supplies, while posters organizing protests, rides and class coverage for absent TAs line the walls. “I think in general having a sense of humor in all of this has been important,” said Kevin Gibbons, TAA co-president. “You have some students I’ve been talking to reflecting on it and they say, `Everybody sort of seems happy, this is a serious protest.’ But it is needed to sustain this kind of energy.”
The New York Times reports on efforts made by the police and other authorities to quell the protests from inside the Madison capitol:
In recent days, the Capitol police have made it harder for protesters to spend the night by banning sleeping bags and containers of food from being brought inside and by gradually forcing people to move from upper floors to lower floors. “They have been trying to condense us,” said Michela Torcaso, who has spent six nights in a row inside.
AlterNet’s Joshua Holland on the latest events on Sunday afternoon in Madison, Wisc:
According to reports via Twitter, Republican state senator Dale Schultz has withdrawn his support for Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting bill. Last week Schultz, a veteran lawmaker who’s served in the senate for 20 years, offered a “compromise” proposal in an attempt to break the deadlock, but it was rejected by Walker and panned by the protesters.Two other GOP members would have to join Schultz and break ranks with their party in order to kill the bill. Journalist Micah Uetricht reports via Twitter that a huge sign at the capitol reads, “we need 3 courageous senators,” and protesters are now changing the number to 2 to deafening cheers.
Earlier, Scott Walker had ordered that the capitol be closed and the protesters removed at 4pm CST but they said they wouldn’t leave, setting up a standoff.But the hour came and went, and now there are multiple reports via Twitter, yet unconfirmed, that police have announced that protesters would be allowed to spend the night in the capitol. Micah Uetricht reports that an earlier pizza embargo has been lifted, and food has arrived on the scene.
Read Daniel Denvir’s rundown on the Rally for the American Dream that took place on Saturday:
Thousands rallied nation-wide on Saturday, with MoveOn putting the total at over 100,000 people in Madison and 50,000 in other state capitols and major cities. Protests at state capitols were also a warning shot to governors around the country: workers will fight major cuts to social programs and attacks on unions.The protests in Wisconsin have now sparked a nation-wide movement. They are a clear demonstration of unity against the Tea Party’s cruel agenda to break the back of union representation, and a rejection of the notion that deficits and government spending are the country’s biggest problem.