The battle lines seem familiar enough: on the one hand we have a coalition of the most regressive right wing forces who have set out to destroy unions and the rights of labor generally; and who appear intent on driving wages to levels commensurate with those of the age of robber barons. On the other hand, a coalition of unions who are bearing the brunt of this unrelenting assault, and who, inspired by events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are making a determined stand against it.
Labor historian and author Peter Rachleff provides us with an overview of the forces arrayed in this battle, which, at first glance, seems less like David and Goliath, and more like a collision of two massive powerful sumo wrestlers:
WITH THE Koch Brothers footing the bill for his campaign, Scott Walker assumed the governorship of Wisconsin on January 7, 2011. Walker’s first action as governor was obeisance to the corporate class that that put him in office: he gave $140 million in tax breaks to businesses, including WalMart, and then screamed “budget crisis!” This move allowed him to introduce his “budget repair bill,” which would require state workers to pay $5,000 to $7,000 a year towards their health insurance benefits and pensions.
Uninformed, public-sector-bashing Walker supporters see this as an overdue come-down in public sector workers’ unfair advantages. But the scope of Walker’s bill is much broader than public sector wages, benefits and unions. It is a salvo in the broader Republican war against working people and all unions, proposing radical positions in the right’s plan to create a permanent under-class of non-unionized workers: 1) reduce public employee collective bargaining strictly to wages; 2) prohibit all public employee strikes (the National Guard is on stand-by in Madison); 3) eliminate automatic deductions for union dues; 4) limit collective bargaining contracts to one year; and finally, 5) require union members to vote each year to “re-certify” bargaining units.
Of course, the bill also proposes cuts in public education and public services. And right behind Walker’s “budget repair bill” is an additional bill to make Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, which would severely limit the powers of private-sector unions. The one-two punch.
Giddy with the alignment of Republicans behind him in the House and Senate, Walker called a special session to demand immediate passage of his “budget repair bill.” Simultaneously, he sent a letter to every state worker, warning that there would be no extensions of current contracts beyond March 13–a decree which would eliminate collective bargaining. He declared all of this non-negotiable.
Look for the Union Label
The sheer breadth and depth of Walker’s comprehensive demands on the unions should be enough to alert us that, though formally appearing as equals on the plain of battle, the unions are far from equal to the forces Walker has deployed against them. Walker has essentially demanded that the unions cease to exist: constantly fight for their life as organizations by stripping off the routine automatic deductions that fund their operations; seek annual recertification from their members; and make it impossible for them to enforce any of their demands by threat of strike. Such demands as he made would be unthinkable had Walker confronted labor organizations capable of fighting back and both willing and determined to bring Wisconsin government to its knees to defend themselves and their members.
Simply placing these demands on the unions, Walker exposed them as coddled, dependent in-house organizations, that survive and operate only at the pleasure of the State. The demands are excessive not by reason of the comprehensiveness of the ultimatum, but because the comprehensiveness of the demands themselves demonstrate how little need there was for the demands in the first place. These organizations were never unions, they were in-house organs for the management of public employees by the State.
The Union-busting Kochtopus from Hell
If you want poster boys for the Right-wing conspiracy against working people, you need look no further than Charles and David Koch. Name an organization on the Right that wants to strip workers’ rights and turn the economy into a vassal-state of Capital, and more than likely you have named an organization receiving contributions from the Koch Brothers. They have been linked to astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity, Patients United Now, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Citizens for the Environment.
According to the Wiki:
Charles and David Koch also have been involved and have provided funding to a number of other think tanks and advocacy organizations: They provided initial funding for the Cato Institute, they are key donors to the Federalist Society, and also support the Mercatus Center, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Institute for Justice, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, the Institute for Energy Research, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
With billions of dollars at their disposal and a family history of extreme Right-wing causes — including the founding by Papa Fred Koch of the John Birch Society — the family has long been opponents of the post-war statist agenda. In 1980, Charles Koch was candidate for president on the Libertarian Party ticket and has long advocated not only the abolition of Social Security, but also public education and even the Central Intelligence Agency. In the 2010 election cycle, according to the wiki, the Koch Brothers backed Scott Walker’s campaign and one of their related organizations, Americans for Prosperity, lobbied for Walker’s public union-busting plan.
Today, Charles and David Koch must feel a little like a young black man on trial: convicted of an as yet unknown crime before the trial has even started. On the Left, almost unanimously, they are being singled out as the chief instigator of the unrelenting assault on the company unions in the public sector. Somehow, against alleged widely held, long-standing, liberal society expectations, these minor bit players in the oil industry, who barely garnered one percent of the vote in the 1980 presidential election, have managed to change the terms of the debate in all of society against the public unions who compose half of all unionized workers in the country.
Frankly, I smell a frame-up.
To be continued