On Wednesday night, the Republican-controlled Senate in Wisconsin passed a measure fulfilling Governor Walker’s pledge to rein in the power of public sector unions in that state. Frustrated with absentee Democrats who fled the state in order to prevent a vote on the issue, Republicans stripped the measure of the budget appropriation items which required a 20-vote quorum, and crafted a resolution focused solely on limiting the bargaining rights of state workers, increasing their contributions to their own health and pension plans, the elimination of mandatory dues, and the necessity of holding annual votes to remain unionized. The bill passed in an 18-1 vote in the Senate. Late Thursday afternoon, after the capitol building was cleared of protesters, the state Assembly also passed the legislation by a 53-42 vote.
Prior to the afternoon vote by the Assembly, protesters once again engaged in thug-like tactics to prevent that vote from taking place. An on-the-scene correspondent from Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website described the chaos after Wednesday night’s Senate vote:
“We have almost completely lost control of the Capitol building. We now only control the 3rd and 4th floors. Teachers Unions are sending out robo calls and emails to all their members, asking them to get to the capitol NOW. We know this as a fact. Democrat Senators are opening windows and letting protesters in. Doors have been ripped off their hinges. Next 6-8 hours will determine who controls the capitol. If we lose control, the assembly can’t meet tomorrow.”
One can only wonder if such tactics were considered legitimate by State Senate Democratic Minority Leader Mark Miller when he issued a statement saying, “tomorrow (Thursday) we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.” An obvious question arises: Take back the government from whom, Mr. Miller? The 2010 election was the last legitimate referendum in which the people of Wisconsin had the opportunity to express their preferences with regard to state leadership. To make a long story short, Democrats got hammered, losing both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s office by wide margins.
Apparently this reality meant nothing to the unions and their enablers–including law-enforcement officials as well. According to Madison.com, “hundreds of protesters gathered outside the locked King Street entrance to the Capitol, chanting ‘Break down the door!’ and ‘General strike!’” Police relinquished control of the State Street entrance to the capitol building, allowing thousands of protesters inside. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, a Democrat, told Madison Police Chief Noble Wray not to allow his officers to participate in removing demonstrators from the building, in an apparent violation of a Dane County Circuit Court judge’s order telling protesters who had occupied the building for two week to leave. The Mayor then joined the protest himself, calling the bill’s passage “disgraceful.”
After Wednesday night’s vote, Republican Senators were taken out of the building through an underground tunnel where they were loaded on a bus taking them to their cars parked in a remote area. Protesters surrounded the bus, and a witness claimed they attempted to rock it back and forth. Union organizations used the Internet to rally their forces. From the AFL-CIO website: ”This will not stand. We are holding an emergency vigil at the Capitol in Madison TONIGHT and a rally there first thing in the morning.”
From Brandon Davis, SEIU Political Director: ”There’s an emergency brewing at the Capitol. Republican Senators just voted to strip working families in Wisconsin of their rights by gaming the system under the cover of night–and they did it without a Democrat present.” Some of the 14 Senate Democrats still in hiding out of state appeared on MSNBC Thursday morning, and called the vote “an affront to democracy,” vowing to challenge it in court.
Such statements reveal the true face of progressivism in all its democracy-be-damned and Orwellian glory. ”This will not stand” is the essence of a threat revealing the AFL-CIO’s contempt for the voting process when it doesn’t go their way. ”Gaming the system,” as the SEIU’s Mr. Davis refers to the vote by Republicans, is exactly what Democrats did when they fled the state to prevent “the system” from used as intended. And Democrat Senators claiming Wednesday’s vote was “an affront to democracy”–even as they remained in hiding to prevent the democratic process from being exercised–was exactly one hundred and eighty degrees removed from reality.
As for going to court, Republicans consulted with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau prior to the Senate vote. The Bureau assured them that while some of the provisions in the bill were “fiscal,” they were not technically “appropriations.” This enabled the state Senators to vote absent the three-fifths quorum requirement Democrats attempted to thwart with their absence.
None of it mattered a whit to the protesters and their Democrat enablers. A Fox News update early Thursday afternoon reported that “all hell is breaking loose in the state capitol,” that “Democrats are helping [protesters] into the building,” and “no one is safe” because “we’re not sure what side our security is on.”
The possibility arose that Governor Walker would be forced to call in the National Guard to restore order. Even now the State Department of Justice is investigating a death threat mailed to Republican Senators Wednesday night, telling them to “put your things in order because you will be killed and your familes (sic) will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks. Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families then it will save the rights of 300,000 people and also be able to close the deficit that you have created.”
All of it was designed to prevent the Assembly from holding a vote. And while Democrats, labor leaders, and a largely union-compliant media would like the focus to remain on Wisconsin, the big picture here is far more relevant. The Democrat party and labor unions have been inextricably entwined for decades. With respect to private sector unions such a relationship is, for the most part, above board because private sector unions are constrained by the realities of profit, loss and bankruptcy. Yet even the track record of private sector union negotiations reveals that such realities are often disregarded. Many businesses have been driven either overseas or into bankruptcy by union profligacy, and union workers themselves have often opted for higher wages and better benefits even when they know such concessions will result in far fewer of the fellow workers remaining employed.
As for Democrat support, it is worth remembering that two of America’s largest auto manufacturers, GM and Chrysler, would have gone bankrupt absent government nationalization–nationalization which included the Obama administration casting bankruptcy laws aside in order to give unions, who were secondary creditors, more rights than the primary creditors who legally deserved them.
Public sector unions are far more onerous. There is no genuine adversarial relationship between overwhelmingly Democrat politicians who receive over ninety percent of union campaign contributions, and union leaders who expect quid pro quo at the bargaining table as a result. Even politicians who might consider resisting union demands have far less incentive to do so than their private sector counterparts, because those who are paying the costs, aka taxpayer, can be forced to underwrite union demands until such time as the politicians themselves can be replaced in an election.
Yet even elections are no guarantee that the will of the electorate won’t be undermined. Some outgoing politicians have seen fit to write binding contracts favoring unions during lame-duck legislative sessions. This is is exactly what outgoing Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle attempted to do before leaving office. That cynical attempt to force the new legislature to accept a “done deal” on union contracts failed by a single vote when lame-duck Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston), refused to go along.
Behind the facade of “workers’ rights” lies the real issue: mandatory dues collection. In both private and public sector unions, the ability to extract mandatory dues from union workers creates the foundation of power for labor leaders, and by ideological extension, the Democrat party. Regardless of the political sentiment of union workers themselves, labor leaders have been able to direct well over ninety percent of campaign contributions to Democrat politicians, such as the $400 million they gave to that party in the 2008 election.
Without mandatory dues collection, the power of both entities is severely diminished. But that is only part of the story. Once dues become voluntary, union members themselves are free to demonstrate their “solidarity”–or not–with union leaders. If, as Americans have been led to believe, such solidarity is the given union leadership purports it to be, then in theory at least, workers will be more than happy to continue paying those dues, regardless of whether they’re forced to or not, right?
Wrong. When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels ended mandatory dues collections in 2005, contributions dropped by 90%. At the very least, this suggests that the much-vaunted union “solidarity” is far less than solid, absent the coerciveness of mandatory dues.
Late Thursday afternoon, after the capitol building was cleared of protesters, some of whom had to be carried out, the Republican-controlled state Assembly did what was expected.
Governor Walker, who held firm through three weeks of protests designed to intimidate he and his Republican colleagues, offered his congratulations. ”I applaud all members of the Assembly for showing up, debating the legislation and participating in democracy,” Walker said in a statement. “Their action will save jobs, protect taxpayers, reform government and help balance the budget.” Mr. Walker has promised to sign it “as quickly as I can legally.” Again, despite all the noise, it is worth remembering that as many as 12,000 jobs could have been lost if this bill didn’t pass. One can only wonder what many of those workers think about their fellow unionists’ willingness to sacrifice them for “solidarity sake.”
As Republicans left the capitol, protesters were chanting “Shame! Shame! and “Recall Walker.” If the people of Wisconsin choose to hold recall votes that is their right, after an elected official has spent one year’s time in office. Yet by next January, public sector unions and their Democrat echo-chamber will very likely have far more to worry about than the state of Wisconsin. Similar confrontations are being contemplated in other states. For example, Idaho just eliminated tenure and other bargaining rights for teachers.
For the first time in recent memory, members of the Republican party stood firm against the tactics of intimidation, name-calling, death threats and compromised media coverage which has far too often caused them to cave into the kind of demands that have led virtually every state in the union to the brink of fiscal insolvency. The bet here is such an unprecedented display backbone is likely to be contagious.
Yet there may be something even more important developing here: a genuine re-invigoration of a two-party political system. The cynicism that has far too many Americans complaining that both parties are essentially interchangeable has been dealt a serious setback. Say what one will about Wisconsin, but one thing is certain: nobody in that state is going to confuse Republicans with Democrats, or vice versa.
Here’s hoping such stark delineations between the parties go national in time for the 2012 election.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.