After the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Admiral Isoroko Yamamato said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
The new Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, may want to keep those words in mind as he wages a war on Wisconsin public employees and the middle class of America. Approximately 68,000 Wisconsinites were awakened last weekend and showed up at the state capitol to protest Walker’s budget plan (see slide show).
Under Walker’s budget plan, most public workers – excluding police, firefighters and state troopers – would have to pay half of their pension costs and at least 12 percent of their health-care costs. They would also lose collective bargaining rights for anything other than pay.
Wisconsin has many creamy traditions that go far beyond milk, cheese, beer, brats, and the Green Bay Packers. One of those is organized labor and the right of public employees to collectively bargain.
Wisconsin is the birthplace of public employee unions. The first union for public employees was started in Madison in 1932, to ensure living wages for the workers and end political patronage for government jobs. The biggest public union, AFSCME, was born where the protests are happening today in Madison.
Amidst the farms and abandoned factories in Wisconsin, there are working-class people with a strong populist ethic. As thousands of them made their presence known at the state capitol last Saturday, their elected, so-called leaders were nowhere to be found. Where were you, Mr. Walker? Obviously not “open for business.”
Of course, some reporters like Ryan J. Foley of the Associated Press will say that the Wisconsin Democrats have “fled” and are in “hiding,” or “scattered” out of state. Mr. Foley, people do not flee as they are being cheered on by thousands of others, people tend to flee when they anger the majority of people in their community. Perhaps some legislators left the state to avoid getting a bill “rammed down” their throats against the will of their constituents.
Like most states and middle class citizens, Wisconsinites are struggling in the recession, but the state government is not bankrupt. The so-called budget “crisis” was not handed to Gov. Walker, it was created by him. Walker claims his power grab is an attempt to close a budget gap, but the budget “crisis” was engineered by Walker as soon as he got into office.
The state legislature’s fiscal bureau estimated the state would end the year with a $121 million balance. Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit, but it is not because of an increase in worker wages or benefits. According to the Cap Times, it is because “Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for corporate and special-interest groups in January.”
You can read the fiscal bureaus report here (PDF). It states that “more than half” of the new shortfall comes from three of Walker’s initiatives:
- $25 million for an economic development fund for job creation, which still holds $73 million because of anemic job growth.
- $48 million for private health savings accounts.
- $67 million for a tax incentive plan that benefits employers, but at levels too low to spur hiring.
A number of the big business interests standing with Walker are beneficiaries of his administration’s tax giveaways. The greatest ally to Walker, however, is the dirty energy company Koch Industries. In response to the growing protests in Madison, the Koch front group, Americans for Prosperity, bused in Tea Party protesters to support Walker and his union-busting campaign.
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 in Wisconsin. While Koch controls much of the infrastructure in the state, they have laid off workers to boost profits. At a time when Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch awarded themselves an extra $11 billion of income from the company, Koch slashed jobs at their Green Bay plant.
Many people do not follow politics, but many hate corporations – and for a good reason. The economy is not in tatters because state workers in Wisconsin, or any state, have decent pensions. It is because Wall Street bankers stole our money, Bush and now Obama have us in two trillion-dollar wars, corporations offshore jobs and states like Wisconsin keep spending more on prisons than schools.
And what do corporations contribute to the public coffer? According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, corporate tax income has fallen by half since 1981 and over two-thirds of corporations operating in Wisconsin pay no taxes. In essence, public workers are being asked by Scott Walker to pick up the tab for this agenda.
Not coincidentally, Walker fails to mention the fact that every troop deployed in Afghanistan costs the U.S. $1 million per year, so simply bringing home 151 troops would save more money than his plan.
A common refrain against the public employees under siege in Wisconsin is that if private sector workers cannot have the same benefits, then public sector workers should not get them. The truth is that hurting public workers will not get you a better job. It is not true that public workers are better off. They usually get lower salaries in exchange for better benefits.
More important, though, is the idea that we should try to bring one another up, rather than continue this race to the bottom. Perhaps anger should be directed at the companies that are downsizing and outsourcing jobs, not at teachers and the lunch lady.
What is happening in Wisconsin is more than what is apparent on the surface. What happens this week in Madison has national ramifications.
It is more than about unions, collective bargaining, contributions to pensions, health care and worker’s rights. This is about public education, affirmative action and basic human rights. This is about how much the Radical Right thinks they can get away with. This is about drawing a line in the sand between what amounts to corporate fascism and the future of your children – “if first they come for the unions,” who will they come for next? If bought and paid for politicians can force this through relatively progressive Wisconsin, your state could be next.
The real Badgers of Wisconsin have drawn the proverbial line in the sand. It is our state, our lives, and once again, our moment in history to proudly stand up and change the course of this nation.
For more information about what you can do, check out the information regarding Wisconsin’s recall process at Think Progress.
Read more here:
Walker Bio – Wikipedia
The Nation – Green Bay Packers sound off against Scott “Hosni” Walker
AFSCME – You Tube
AP via MSNBC
The Cap Times
WI Legislative Fiscal Bureau
EPA (ECHO) Report – Koch Industries
Madison Independent Examiner
Fox 11 WLUK TV
The Huffington Post
Madison Independent Examiner
Wikipedia – First they came…