The Battle Continues in Wisconsin
Correction: The labor unions’ lawsuit was filed on June 15th, not May 15th
DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: Ongoing tensions in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill have culminated in renewed protests in the state capital of Madison this month. The state supreme court released a ruling on Tuesday, June 14, in favor of the controversial bill, essentially eliminating collective bargaining rights for most public workers, amid a number of other provisions, with the purported goal of closing budget shortfalls and tackling a soaring deficit. On Thursday the 16th, the state legislature improved the two-year budget that includes a number of cuts in public spending. But a vocal and diverse number of social sectors in Wisconsin continue to reject the idea that a fiscal crisis is the real driving force behind the far-reaching legislation that will also have major implications in such areas as education, health care, public services and transportation, and immigration.
PILAR SCHIAVO, NATIONAL NURSES UNITED: There is a coordinated attack right now. This is about corporations getting their agenda through. Corporations are writing this legislation, very literally. There was a tax break for Philip Morris last week. I mean, you know, the kind of tax breaks that are going through are egregious and they’re a clear transfer of wealth, you know, balancing this budget on the backs of workers and the poor, and putting, you know, every last penny that people have in this difficult economy into the pockets of corporations. It’s truly a reverse Robin Hood budget.
ED SADLOWSKI, AMERICAN FED. OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES: This is really about the right again to unions to have a place at the table, our democracy, what type of society we want to live in. And it’s nothing more than a ruse. It’s really just a divide-and-conquer tactic. You know, the same interests have busted the unions in the private sector. I’m a fourth-generation steelworker out of Chicago, you know, so I lived through the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s, watching some 85,000 workers in my own neighborhood lose their jobs, never to go back. And they too were described as greedy at the time and making the industry non-competitive. So that’s the oldest trick in the book.
DOUGHERTY: On Tuesday, June 14, Republican lawmakers held an unprecedented extraordinary session in an attempt to rush through last-minute changes in the budget while cutting back on debate and timing regulations. There have been several demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience as the bill now makes its way to Governor Walker’s desk for signing, though none have reached the levels of the mass mobilization seen earlier this year. Just over a week before lawmakers began their discussion on the budget, residents received a permit to erect a tent city on the sidewalks surrounding the Capitol Building. The encampment has been dubbed Walkerville, hearkening back to the impoverished Great Depression-era Hooverville shantytowns.
UNIDENTIFIED: We’re standing up for middle class, working class, and, really, all Wisconsinites when we’re here. We’re protesting against legislation that negatively affects a tremendous number of people. We’re here for the people that can’t be here, the people that can’t afford to have a car to drive down here, and we’re fighting for you. We’re fighting for everybody. And that’s why we’re here.
KRISTINE MATTIS, GRADUATE STUDENT, ACTIVIST WITH TEACHING ASSISTANTS’ ASSOCIATION: We’re trying to make a presence again at the capital. Part of the reason we haven’t been around so much is because we’ve basically been locked out of the Capitol Building. And that was the purpose of this Walkerville tent city, mostly to show that we’re still here and we’re still around, and if we can’t get in the building, then we’ll surround the building.
DOUGHERTY: Protests were held earlier this month at the capital, and also several days later at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where Governor Walker and Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan were guest speakers at a real estate conference. Much of Walker’s speech, with the noises of outside protest audible in the background throughout, focused on defending his policies as governor.
SCOTT WALKER, GOVERNOR OF WISCONSIN: You see, what we’re experiencing is a momentary bit of political uncertainty. What it provides is long-term fiscal sustainability. The political uncertainty [incompr.] political [incompr.] political horizon may not be certain. But what we’re doing is not only reining in government spending at the state level, but to empower every local government, every school, every municipality, and every county across the state to now have the tools to put their financial house in order–provides us with the kind of long-term sustainability that makes it worthy to make investments here in the state of Wisconsin.
DOUGHERTY: Wisconsin’s political future, at least for Governor Walker and a handful of state legislators, is indeed uncertain as the state prepares for upcoming recall elections for six Republicans and three Democrats. Republicans are running six false candidates as Democrats in order to force primary elections and push general recall elections back another month in a move that is reportedly going to cost over $400,000 in public money. Governor Walker himself could also be eligible for a recall vote after holding office for a year, in early January 2012, if enough signatures are gathered and filed. Allen Ruff, a longtime social activist in Wisconsin and host on the local WORT radio show A Public Affair sees the recall movement as an important piece of a broader political process.
ALLEN RUFF, RADIO HOST, WORT 89.9 FM: Well, number one, its significance. No one denies that it’d be a very important political victory for a number of these right-wing legislators [incompr.] Republican right-wingers to go down in defeat. It would change the composition of the state legislature and would be a step in the right direction. There was some concern, has been some concern, that a total focus on recall and recall unto itself would dissipate the popular mobilizations that have been going on. And that has taken place to some extent. Many of us have argued right along that there’s a symbiotic relationship. I’m optimistic, because the generalized sentiment across the state, especially in these districts where the recall petitioning has taken place against specific Republican legislators, has been quite incredible, people going door to door, again, this activation of people who have never been really political before.
DOUGHERTY: On Tuesday, May 15, several unions in Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision. Many Wisconsinites are bracing for the potential impacts of Walker’s legislative victory, as it remains to be seen whether people will return to the streets in their previous numbers while momentum for next month’s recall elections builds. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.
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