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Labor Battle in Wisconsin

posted Mar 25, 2011, 10:44 PM by Golden Knight   [ updated Mar 25, 2011, 10:48 PM ]

By Christian Romo

3/1/2011

Photo Credit: CNN

In the past two weeks, not even the United States avoided the rebellious mentality that has swept the Middle East. As a result, the center of the American political world is currently in Madison, Wisconsin.

Thousands of pro-union demonstrators have flooded the state capital in protest of newly elected governor Scott Walker’s proposal to curb union power to cut the state’s deficit. His proposal calls for the end of all public union collective bargaining rights, significant cuts to healthcare for lower-income residents, and the ability for private-sector organizations to take over public utility plants. The governor’s office claims the reduction in spending will save the state $165 million over the next fiscal year.

In what is considered the largest demonstration since the passing of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, Wisconsin workers, mostly teachers and factory employees, have come out in droves to bear the bitter cold and support union rights. The demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, but some rhetoric and signage bears an uncanny resemblance to the presentations of the Tea Party during their rallies in late 2009 and early 2010.

In response to Governor Walker’s proposition, 14 Wisconsin Senate democrats fled the capital when the vote was set to take place. Many of the hiding Senators have been found in Illinois, and this tactic, though strange, has been successful in blocking an attempt to vote for Walker’s legislation. The Governor threatened a layoff of nearly 1,500 state employees if the bill wasn’t passed by Friday, but Walker has yet to declare whether or not he will fulfill his end of the ultimatum.

Many conservative leaders have placed the blame, if not the explanation, on the Wisconsin voters themselves. Wisconsin, traditionally a blue state, experienced some incumbent distaste in the 2010 midterms by voting in the conservative Walker and voting out the 17-year democratic senator Russ Feingold. Walker’s office has said the voters should not be surprised by the policies endorsed by Walker and that any blame should be placed on the voters.

Many on the left disagree with Walker’s sentiments. Although it is true the voters should be held responsible for a dramatic change in policy to the right, they claim Walker lied in his campaign by claiming he would negotiate with unions to decrease benefits and salaries to avoid massive layoffs. His proposal, they say, would be historic in that it would revoke any power unions have accumulated over decades of existence.

It’s safe to say the clashes will not get violent, but it would be unreasonable to assume the hostility will be limited to Wisconsin. Many states are considering similar pieces of legislation and many pro-union lobbies in Washington are scrambling to give support to the nervous labor organizations they represent. It may not be as dramatic as what is currently happening in North Africa, but the tremors in Madison may give organized labor in the United States a facelift.

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