Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared war on teachers and other public sector workers on Friday, Feb. 11. Most of us activists knew when the Republicans swept both chambers of the state Legislature and the governorship that things would get bad, but few dreamt they’d get this bad, this fast.
Walker claimed his “budget repair” bill was needed to fill a $137 million shortfall in the state budget, and blamed the crisis on excessive pension and health insurance benefits for public employees. His solution: a frontal attack on the right to organize. His 144-page bill bans all unions in the state university system, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hospital, and among state childcare workers. It essentially eliminates collective bargaining rights for all other public sector unions, requires that unions have recertification votes annually, and prohibits collecting union dues through payroll deduction. Within 30 minutes of Walker’s announcement, the right-wing Club for Growth aired TV commercials in Wisconsin’s major media markets. The message: Public employees are the “haves” and others in the state are the “have-nots.”
Hours after Walker proposed his anti-worker plan he placed the Wisconsin National Guard on alert. He also asked the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly to pass his proposal immediately. The legislative leaders, who a week before had approved $117 million worth of business tax breaks, put Walker’s proposals on the fast track.
But a funny thing happened on the way to passing the bill.
First, there was just a small picket line.