OPINION | The debate is not about budgets… It’s a war on workers and unions


Since last month’s issue of the Labor Review, the events in Madison, Wisconsin have put the right to collective bargaining front and center in the news – and have awakened a sleeping giant.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, using the cover of a budget crisis, sought to strip Wisconsin public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Wisconsinites by the  tens of thousands flooded the State Capitol square and occupied the halls of the Capitol to stand in defense of the rights of teachers and other public employees.

The legislation ultimately passed – separated from the Governor’s so-called “Budget Repair Bill” – and as a result, people across the United States have woken up to what’s really going on in state legislatures newly-captured by right-wing majorities.

The debate in Wisconsin – and in Minnesota and in other states – isn’t really about budgets at all.

Rather than finding balanced solutions to state budget woes, legislators are using the economy as an excuse to advance an irresponsible agenda that puts the big corporate special interests ahead of regular working people.

Rather than address state budgets in a responsible way, the legislation offered in response by the newly-elected right-wing majorities has a different purpose: to attack collective bargaining rights and weaken unions.

The public outrage that followed Wisconsin’s assault on collective bargaining rights brought more than 100,000 people to a demonstration March 12 in Madison.Busloads and vanloads of union members from Minnesota join the protests there in solidarity.

The protests drew not just public employees, but building trades workers, nurses, students and non-union workers, too.

Without strong unions, more and more people are remembering, corporate power will have no restraint.

Without strong unions, people are remembering, we will go further on the road to becoming a nation without a strong middle class.

Without strong unions, people are remembering, workers will not have a voice on the job and will not have the power to bargain for good wages, health care, and a secure retirement.

Union membership has dropped to just 6.9 percent of the private sector workforce, thanks to a corporate strategy to export U.S. jobs and maintain weak labor laws. Now the corporate funded attack on workers has shifted to unionized public sector workers — currently 36.3 percent of the public sector workforce.

We are in a historic moment. Now is the time for unions to come together in solidarity as we haven’t in years. Now is the time for union members to support affiliation with their central labor bodies and their state federations.

Now is the time for union members to stand shoulder to shoulder with all workers who seek a better life. Now is the time.