February 28, 2011- After my parents got back from a weeklong vacation in Florida, funded in part by the pensions they receive as retired Wisconsin public educators, they went to Madison and, after enjoying lunch at the hip, local-food-oriented The Weary Traveler, took to Capital Square to protest Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill.
No, seriously. My parents returned to Milwaukee early last Tuesday after spending six days at my aunt and uncle’s condo in Hollywood, Florida. My parents aren’t wealthy enough to buy their own Florida condo—and they probably wouldn’t buy a condo in Hollywood, Florida if they had that kind of money, anyway—but they do, after a combined sixty years working in public education, have enough money and security to head down there on a whim when my aunt calls and says (and this actually happened), “Hey, we’re going on a nudist cruise with Snuffleupagus and the gang for a week, so why don’t you come down here and get out of the cold. You can stay at our place and use our car.”
So off they went, southbound. And back they came. Two days at home clearing snow and ice from the roof—we’ve got a little insulation problem up top—and then westward, to Madison. Not ten minutes ago, in fact, I got a call from my mother, the second of the day. She didn’t say anything, so I suppose she just wanted me to hear—and to hear her participate in—the chants of “Hey-hey, ho-ho, this bill has got to go” resounding in the capital building rotunda, ground zero in what some in Wisconsin have taken to calling “The Battle of Wisconsin.”
At issue in this battle, for anyone who has been too captivated by Libya, gay marriage, or American Idol to pay attention, is a provision in the new governor’s budget that would strip public employees unions of all collective bargaining rights except the right to bargain for base wages commensurate with inflation. In addition, public employees unions would not be permitted to deduct dues from member paychecks, nor to make political donations. Surely, this has something to do with Walker’s interest—and a more general interest on the part of Republican governors across the country, who apparently decided on this course of action at some kind of Republican governors camp they attended—in dismantling these unions: they are the only institutions with big money and big power that consistently support Democratic candidates in political campaigns.
Whatever the “real” motivations behind the effort, what is at stake, given the massive manufacturing exodus facilitated by NAFTA and everything after and the well-documented ravaging of the service industry unions, may be the very survival of American unionism itself.