Controversial Anti-Union Law Struck Down in Wisconsin

Controversial Anti-Union Law Struck Down in Wisconsin

Other States Make Progress Against Ultra-Conservative Anti-Union Initiatives

     Today is a good day for America's working class. A Wisconsin judge has struck down Gov. Scott Walker's controversial anti-union law, which would have taken away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public employees other than base salary. The judge, Dane Country Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, found that Republican senators violated the state's open-meeting law during the passage of the bill, which renders the law void. Reactions to the decision, though still relatively new, are mixed. Many unions and state workers, understandably, are overjoyed, while others expected this outcome. Still other Wisconsinites (Wisconsonians?) maintain that the fight isn't over. The state's Supreme Court will begin debate on June 6th to see whether they will take the case or not. There's also a fear by many that Republican legislators will convene to pass the law again, this time obeying open-meeting laws.

     Despite the lingering concerns, the fact that the law was struck down by a circuit judge is the first legal step in what has mostly been a strong popular reaction. As far as the anti-union melodrama has played out, as Wisconsin goes, so goes the rest of the country. One example of the pushback against Republicans' attacks on unions also happened in Nebraska.

     As I wrote last week, the state was embroiled in a heated debate over the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR), which arbitrated between municipal boards and public employees' unions when negoatiations reached an impasse. If the CIR were reformed to the point where it no longer had powers of arbitration, unions would love any leverage in collective bargaining, and would have to accept whatever elected officials decided to offer. This bill was heavily endorsed by both Republicans and the state Chamber of Commerce, and at one point even had a provision to lower teacher salaries as much as 15%. In some heated negotiations between legislators last week; chamber members and senators reached consensus on a bill (LB 397) that would reform some components of the CIR without hamstringing the collective bargaining process. The bill was passed on Tuesday this week.

    Similarly, Indiana Democrats were able to defeat anti-union legislation in February and again in March, effectively stopping any major changes to the collective bargaining rights of unions in that state. Michigan passed its version of a union-attack law, allowing the governor, Rick Snyder, to appoint "emergency financial managers" that could, among other things, nullify collective bargaining agreements. Though the bill still rests in the hands of the courts, there's a very real possibility of it being overturned as it violates Constitutional protection of contracts.

     So the latest battle on union-busting legislators and their corporate financiers (Kock industries, Wal-Mart, Amway, you know who you are) continues. One thing I find particularly telling, and makes me optimistic for the future, is that the unfettered ego of the Republican party is getting in their own way. For one thing, the Republican senators in Wisconsin, accused of violating their own open-meeting law, refuse to reconvene to pass the law because they believe that it would be admitting that they did anything wrong; "Principle" over substance. For another, many of these ultra-conservatives are so confident in their control over a reactionary constituency that they are blindly swimming through legislation and assuming they'll come out on the other side high and dry. The truth is that many voters in this country are starting to feel some "voters' remorse", and that reactionary constituency is now reacting to consrvative attacks on unions, slashes in funding for public services, and deep cuts to basic entitlements.

    It's historically difficult to mobilize middle-class Democratic voters, but I think the Hack-n-Slash Republican legislators in many of these Midwestern states may have done exactly that.