A sign from Saturday's protest in Madison (mjs538 at Buzzfeed)
The labor movement spreads across the country
Heated action spread from Wisconsin across the nation today, where Democrats have left the Statehouse in order to prevent the passage of another Tea Party bill that would eliminate the right of public employees to collectively bargain. This prompted Indiana Governor Daniels to suggest dropping the bill!
Unfortunately, leaving the state is not an option in Ohio, where Republicans can maintain a quorum without Democrats, though protests continued in the state’s capital, Columbus.
More rallies were held around the country in solidarity with the state employees in Wisconsin. There was a rally in Phoenix, Little Rock, there were 6000 in Sacramento, also in Palmdale, and a large rally in Denver, and in Des Moines, union protests vastly outnumbered a 50-person Tea Party squad. More rallies took place in Annapolis, 2000 showed up in Boston, workers packed the state capitol in St. Paul while a large group rallied outside Fox News in New York City, thousands surrounded the Statehouse in Columbus, joining several hundred people in Santa Fe, and in Providence, and Montpelier
Unions continue to plan more events, including Wednesday rallies in Hartford, Atlanta, Baton Rouge and Scranton. Check the SEIU website for more details. A number of unions around the country, including the Madison area AFL-CIO, are also preparing for a general strike if the union-busting bill is passed.
The crowd in Madison may have reached 68,000 again as demonstrations took place across the state of Wisconsin Tuesday, including up to 450 people in small towns like Waupaca (population 5,700). Meanwhile, Walker responded with threats during an ironically named “fireside chat”
in which he said that if the state budget bill is not passed by friday, he would lay off 1500 state workers.
Despite the Governor’s declaration that employees must avert disaster by paying more into their pensions, the state pension fund is one of the healthiest in the nation because pension payouts are funded to the tune of 99.67% while some states have pension funding levels as low as 54% due to a failure to act upon the promises made to workers. The pension fund is independent of the state’s general fund as well, which does have a roughly $140 million deficit due to the Governor’s tax subsidies and health care adjustments given to corporations.
But this bill is not about balancing the budget. Today, Walker signed a bill that would require a 2/3 majority vote for approving tax increases. That is right – Walker created a budget deficit, argued that state employees must pay for the difference in addition to losing their collective bargaining rights and the ability of unions to deduct union dues from their paychecks all while making it more difficult for the state to balance the budget. Here is what he said:
“I went to work today, met with my cabinet, and signed legislation that will help government operate within its means,” Governor Scott Walker said. “Wisconsinites can’t turn to raising taxes to balance their own family budgets when times get tough. This bill will ensure that we don’t kick the can down the road for a quick budget fix only to slap a long-term tax hike on the backs of Wisconsin taxpayers. I thank Senator Leah Vukmir and Representative Tyler August for their leadership on this issue.”
It gets better, the Governor, who was kicked out of Marquette University for cheating with a 2.4 GPA, has a long history of cronyism and incompetence. As Milwaukee County Commissioner, he illegally fired publicly-employed security staff from the Milwaukee County Courthouse and replaced them in a no-bid contract with members of a private security firm that has now obtained a rather inglorious reputation while working in Afghanistan.
Rachel Maddow discusses Walker's incompetence as Milwaukee County Commissioner (Rachel Maddow Show)
That is not all. The “Budget Repair Bill” has another provision, Section 16.896:
16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).
So Governor Walker is planning to sell state assets – steam and power plants – in no-bid contracts to private companies. Could this perhaps involve Koch Industries? A Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity (an ironic title) is now purchasing ad time in support of Governor Walker’s proposals. This is corruption pure and simple: A Governor, elected on the purse strings of billionaires sells state assets to them so that they can charge the state to receive power from their new plants.
Scott Walker wants to sell state-owned power plants in no-bid contracts (Rachel Maddow Show)
Shenanigans continue in the Wisconsin State Legislature, leading to an impassioned response by a Democratic Assemblyman from Oshkosh. Today, the Democrats offered over 100 amendments to the Budget Bill in order to delay it a bit longer. The State Legislatures Phone Comment Line has shut down due to too many complaints and a pro-union website was blocked inside the Wisconsin State Capitol. Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats joined Wisconsin Democratic Senators in Illinois, following a similar strategy.
Popular opinion in the country is decidedly against the actions of the Tea Party. In a USA Today/Gallup Poll, Americans oppose weakening unions ability to collectively bargain 61-33%. Furthermore, the AFL-CIO hired Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to conduct surveys over the past week. They were simple approve/disapprove surveys. Huffington Post reports the change in the data most prominently, which is unfortunate because it is a weak result that lies within the error bars but does show popular opinion moving from Walker to the Democratic Senators now out of state. The real, statistically significan result from the poll is shown here:
Reaction of Wisconsinites: With which groups do you agree given the current situation? (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, via Huffington Post)
Scott Walker has nowhere to go. His approval rate is around 39%. He has just gone all-in and the state will turn on him provided that everyone learns his overreach in the deals to sell state assets in no-bid contracts. The state will become even more enraged if he follows through on his threat to fire state workers without a budget bill. Even some Republican Senators may be wavering. The protests can take them down, even if the corporate media is circling the wagons.
Yet, what is happening in Wisconsin is also happening across the country as Republican and Tea Party-led legislatures show the public what astroturf is made of. Bill after bill is designed to eliminate worker’s rights, sell public assets to companies so that the services can be sold back to the states. They seek to redact environmental laws. They cut jobs, and education, entitlements and health care, all being inefficient when viewed through the lens of the state as a funding source for corporations. The only way to stop this dismantling of American society now is to organize and to protest the leaders who adopt these draconian and corrupt laws. Scott Walker may be the first to break under the pressure – but you will not read that on CNN, Fox, or in other corporate media. They are circling the wagons and putting out headlines intended to dissuage protestors. More on that later.