Ellen Ratner is the White House correspondent and bureau chief for the Talk Radio News service. She is also Washington bureau chief and political editor for Talkers Magazine. In addition, Ratner is a news analyst at the Fox News Channel.More ↓Less ↑
We are not seeing an end to the protests that are occurring in Wisconsin. The Democratic senators in that state have “gone missing,” and people around the world are donating pizzas so that protesters can continue their activities and remain fed.
The pizza donations are really quite startling because they are not being donated just by United States citizens. Like the union protests of 30 years ago in Poland, people from around the world are paying attention to what is happening in Wisconsin.
In December of 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan said that one of the fundamental human rights was the right to belong to a union. He was referring to Solidarity in Poland. Thirty years later, the public employees union AFSCME reprinted a letter as a full-page ad from current Solidarity President Plotr Duda.
It would have been unthinkable 30 years ago that our unions would receive support in the form of letters from a Polish union or pizza from workers across the globe.
President Reagan recognized the political value of supporting worker unions, and now smart politicians on both sides of the aisle are realizing the political impact of these unions. The Republicans understand that if they can reduce the power of the unions and the impact of union money, then they can win more elections and make money from their donors and friends count more. The Democrats realize that if ending collective bargaining effectively shuts down the unions, this also is an important aspect of political power and money. Each side has a stake in this, and it goes way beyond the budget of Wisconsin.
There is no doubt that the Republicans are betting that if they can win this fight in Wisconsin, then they will be in good position to win similar fights in Indiana, Ohio and other states. What is at stake here is broader than the budgets; it is the ability of corporations to make the landscape friendlier to their cause at the expense of the workers.
Make no mistake about it: This is an important fight to determine who is in control and who reaps the money for future political wars. Gov. Scott Walker refuses to talk with the Wisconsin Democratic senators but had no problem having a lengthy conversation with an impostor prank caller when he thought the caller was David Koch. Even the chief of police in Madison has asked for an explanation of the call from the governor. The Koch brothers gave $1 million to the National Republican Governor’s Association campaign fund in the most recent election cycle. Although that money was not solely specified for Wisconsin, $1 million works out to one-third of the money that the Republican Governors Association spent in Wisconsin. In addition, the Koch brothers have been major funders of “Americans for Prosperity, ” a group that has been pushing for an end to the powers of unions.
This protest in Wisconsin increases in the numbers of protesters on weekends, and it is not going away. It has prompted similar protests all over the United States. Middle-class workers, the bread and butter of any political party, are not going away, either. When asked in a poll if collective bargaining should end, 61 percent of Americans said the workers should have the right to collectively bargain in their state.
Often it is the conservatives that push their association with police officers and firemen. Conservatives are not touting those public-safety workers now, in Wisconsin. In 1975, Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis decided to “take a meat cleaver” to the state budget. State workers banded together, and everyone from the troopers to the state hospital workers worked together to mitigate the “meat cleaver.” This is a reprise of that time; only the organization of these workers is made much easier because of the Internet.
What will happen over time is anyone’s guess. However, one thing is for certain: It will not be so easy count on the middle-class worker to buy into the “lower taxes” story. They will not do this at the expense of their public sector neighbors, especially since those workers have shown a willingness to negotiate, unlike Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker.