February 27, 2011- "Mom’s in intensive care. Mom says: Go to Madison."
Such was the conversation with my sister last week as demonstrations erupted across Wisconsin to stop Governor Walker’s union-busting, health-care-gutting, budget "repair" bill. My 88-year-old mother was admitted to the emergency room with heart problems just as a statewide emergency was being unleashed upon the heart of Wisconsin. An immediate and continuing response was, and is, required.
"Go to Madison." My dad walked the picket line in 1973 when teachers in Watertown went on strike for teachers’ dignity. As I drove to Madison last week, I learned that teachers in Watertown organized a sickout, resulting in the school district being closed for the day. Last November 75 percent of Watertown’s voters cast their ballot for Walker.
As in 1973, public workers today know that the heart of Wisconsin is at stake. Now, with the Wisconsin State Assembly passing the bill Friday morning, Wisconsin is on life support – dependent upon the commitment of 14 Democratic senators who left Wisconsin to prevent a vote on the bill.
Walker is firing the opening salvo upon public worker unions in the same manner that Ronald Reagan fired the opening salvo in wars upon unions in 1981. While the 1970s were hardly an era of labor, it was Reagan’s firing of all striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO) in August 1981 that signaled the federal government was fully on the side of the employer. Subsequent strikes at Greyhound, Phelps-Dodge, Hormel, Staley and elsewhere were defeated, with private sector union membership now standing at only 7 percent of the private sector.
Walker, though, may actually be doing Reagan one better. Reagan fired PATCO workers engaged in an illegal strike. Reagan pursued policies antithetical to organized labor. Reagan did not, however, destroy the very fabric of collective bargaining laws. Walker protests that his bill leaves the collective bargaining relationship and unions intact. But it does so in such an eviscerated form as to be ultimately meaningless.