Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wisconsin's partisan attack on (some) unions

Attempts by Wisconsin's governor and legislature to emasculate their teachers unions have ignited a firestorm of controversy well outside the state's borders. Gov. Scott Walker has claimed that the unions must be stripped of collective bargaining rights in order to solve the state's budget gap. Copycat efforts are now underway in Ohio and Indiana.

A few problems... first, Wiscoinsin's budget is presently in balance. The gap is expected to occur later in the fiscal year but is not yet here. Second, the state had no fiscal crisis until the Republicans pushed through a large package of tax breaks. Third, it's pretty well-documented that the state could fill the budget gap without stripping unions of collective bargaining. Walker has made his intransigence clear by categorically refusing to negotiate, even though teachers have agreed to concessions that would fill the budget gap.

Both supporters and critics alike acknowledge that the real objective of the bill is to emasculate the power of public sector unions. But even that analysis is only partly on the mark.

The bill's attack on collective bargaining rights exempts police, firefighters and prison guards, three groups generally favorable to the GOP.

If union-busting were truly necessary to ensure the state's short- or long-term fiscal future, then the Republicans would try to bust all unions. Instead, they are only going after union whose members are seen as more liberal and doing favors for those seen as more conservative. They are punishing 'the other guy's' public servants and protecting 'their' public servants.

What Republicans are doing is not necessary and not even solely ideological. It's partisan and punitive and must be stopped. They may have awoken a sleeping giant.

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