Now that Governor Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, has successfully rammed through a bill that takes away collective bargaining rights from unions, workers across the country need to understand that the fight is on. The “Madison Melee” is just the first in a coming series of battles that Republicans in state houses across the country are prepared to engage to kill labor unions. It is time for unions representing private and public sector workers to take a real stand for the American worker, and engage in all-out political combat.
Labor has played it cute for too long; resting on its political muscle with the Democratic Party and, in the case of certain labor factions, resisting efforts to embrace the nation’s changing demographics. By the time labor got up to speed in Wisconsin, the “junk science” of fiscal conservatism had won the day in the state. Fleeing the state, Wisconsin Senate Democrats were the equivalent of Osama bin Laden sending missives from a cave; flailing away at Walker from unknown locations outside the state. It was a sad day for the American worker and a glaring example of the impotence of labor when their members need them most.
All is not lost though. It seems the actions of Governor Walker and Wisconsin Republicans has lit a fire under labor and Democrats. The real issue is what’s next? The governor is certain to sign the legislation, passed with no Democratic votes, and Walker has indicated he wants to sign it as quickly as state law allows. A response is needed, and not some feeble expression of outrage or angry declaration of “war.”
Labor has been most effective in protecting the rights of workers when it has demonstrated its might. Now is the time for such a demonstration. Most Americans give little thought to the role that labor has in supporting the American economy. They see trucks on highways and don’t think about the goods and commerce union members, Teamsters, move across the country. They take for granted the construction cranes and highway work crews, and the role labor has in building this nation. Americans send their children to school and give little credit to the role of teachers in securing the future of our nation, demand safety in their home and community and overlook the unionized police force or the firefighters who protect our property, or the sanitation workers who ensure that litter will not lead to a public health crisis. Americans are blind to the essential role workers play and are in need of a reminder.
A general strike in Wisconsin will put Governor Walker and Republicans in the state on notice, and send a message to Americans who benefit from labor but want to deny workers their rights that their quality of life is not guaranteed. When food is not delivered to supermarkets, cars are not delivered to dealerships, and goods sit on docks and in warehouses, there will be a serous reconsideration of the current assault on labor. Likewise, when travelers avoid the state and meetings get canceled, Governor Walker will have to explain to residents that his state has become a pariah because of his actions.
Remember Wisconsin! It needs to be the rallying call of the American worker.