War On Unions Goes Viral, Wisconsin is Patient Zero

In a shocking move, Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate convened in the Capitol on Wednesday night to pass a union-busting bill without a quorum. The bill passed the State Assembly on Thursday afternoon, and Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law Friday morning. The Democratic state senators have returned from exile. Now, activists are shifting their attention to recall campaigns, court challenges, and even a general strike.

Madison Firefighters Union President Joe Conway was in the Capitol on Wednesday night to witness what he called “a criminal act by the Republicans” and “game changer for everyone.” Conway called for a general public strike.

John Nichols of the Nation describes the procedural move the Republicans used to pass the bill without a quorum, on what he calls “one of the most remarkable days in American political history”:

After weeks of intense debate inside and outside the Capitol, and at a point when most Wisconsinites thought a compromise was in the offering, Republican legislative leaders suddenly announced that they would pass the most draconian components of Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill — including a move to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

At this point, the 14 Senate Democrats were still in exile in Illinois, attempting to deny the Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the bill. Under Wisconsin law, the state Senate only needs a quorum to pass non-fiscal legislation. So, the Republicans ostensibly stripped out all the fiscal language from the bill and passed it hastily, without hearings or debate, in the dead of night.

Budgetary hypocrisy

Micah Uetricht and George Warner of Campus Progress call this “non-fiscal” dodge the height of hypocrisy. For weeks, Walker has justified stripping unions of their bargaining rights as a measure needed to balance the budget. The bill clearly affects the state’s budget, arguably making it a fiscal bill in disguise, and possibly opening the door to a court challenge. If it is a financial bill after all, then the state Senate didn’t have the power to pass it without a quorum.

Uetricht and Warner also note that the South Central Federation of Labor, the labor council that represents unions in the Madison area, with a combined membership of 45,000 workers, voted in February to begin preparations for a general strike.

The Progressive‘s Matthew Rothschild, who was at the Capitol, estimates that 15,000 people converged there as word spread that the bill had been passed. Cries of “General Strike!” rang out in the Capitol on Wednesday night.

As I reported in Working In These Times, the Senate Republicans may have violated Wisconsin’s strict open meetings law, which requires 24 hours’ notice for meetings, unless there’s some kind of emergency that prevents organizers from getting the word out earlier, in which case, a minimum of 2 hours’ notice is still required. The Senate was in emergency session, but nobody is claiming that there was any kind of real-life emergency that prevented the Republicans from notifying the public in a timely manner.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones notes that the bill would allow the state to fire public employees who join a strike, walk-out, sit-in, or make a coordinated effort to call in sick.

Here’s more news from Wisconsin:

  • Peter Rothberg of the Nation asks whether the time has come for a general strike.
  • Public News Service argues that Walker’s government is staging a power grab at the expense of local control, a value Republicans supposedly hold dear.
  • State Rep. Kelda Hellen Roys tells The UpTake that last night’s vote was illegal because the original bill wasn’t even drafted when it was voted on.
  • At TAPPED, Pima Levy argues that the strategy that Republicans in Wisconsin used to pass the bill was similar to that used by federal Democrats to pass the Affordable Care Act. After the U.S. Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority, they passed a “budget neutral” version of the bill, which bypassed the filibuster. She predicts that the Wisconsin GOP will face a significant backlash.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state waging war on the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Ohio’s Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature are poised to restrict the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public servants. Michigan seems poised to pass a “hostile takeover” bill that would give the Republican governor unchecked power to declare cities bankrupt and appoint a manager who could cancel union contracts. In Indiana, state House Democrats are boycotting the legislature in an attempt to derail anti-union legislation.


Michigan’s Republican-controlled state senate passed and sent back to the state house a “hostile takeover” bill that would give the governor the power to declare cities insolvent and appoint a city manager, who in turn, could cancel collective bargaining agreements and sell off city property without anyone else’s approval, Adele Stan notes in AlterNet. Hundreds of pro-union demonstrators rallied in the state capital of Lansing on Tuesday to protest the measure.

Eartha Jane Melzer reports in the Michigan Messanger that the bill is on the fast track to passage, despite raising serious constitutional questions about the limits of executive power. “This is a takeover by the right wing and it’s an assault on democracy like I’ve never seen,” Michigan State AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney said.


Republicans in Indiana have had their sights set on public sector unions since they took the General Assembly in 2010. Huge crowds gathered in Indianapolis on Thursday in support of union rights. This was the 18th day of uninterrupted union protests outside the state House. Police estimated a turnout of 8,000. Democratic lawmakers, who had fled the state to prevent the passage of an anti-collective bargaining bill, said they had no plans to return.


About 3,200 people gathered at the Statehouse in Ohio to protest a bill that would severely limit the collective bargaining rights of some 350,000 public workers including teachers, firefighters, and police. Democrats say they will fight to recall the bill if it is signed into law. Mark Miller of Change.org summarizes the key provisions of the bill, SB 5, which recently passed the state Senate. Ohio Democrats are trying to stall the progress of the legislation by demanding public hearings. Unlike their counterparts in Indiana and Wisconsin, they don’t have enough seats to deny the Republicans a quorum by leaving the state.

The public sector is the last bastion of high union density in the United States because public sector workers have historically been protected from the kind of union-busting tactics that are routine in the private sector. If the public sector unions are destroyed, the U.S. labor movement will die with them. The very future of the middle class is at stake.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.


Related Stories:

Fascism Comes To Michigan

Highlights From Madison’s Protest (Video)

What’s Next in Wisconsin?


Photo from WxMom via flickr
written by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger


Lika S.
Lika S5 years ago

As a Wisconsin resident, I'm royally disgusted!

Jane R.
Jane R5 years ago

Politicians forget that we pay their salaries and that they are working for us.

Blaise G.
Blaise G5 years ago

You are correct Sound Mind. It is NOT Communism...it is Fascism...Corporate Fascism at its finest...hahaha...or worst. Some people mean well when they speak, but if they don't really do real research and only tune into Corporate Talking Heads on "Talk?" Radio...especially the Right-Wingers who espouse vitriol and rhetoric that supports these corporate fascist ideals and agendas with twisted, and barely veiled smoke screens or in many cases nowadays, blatant and open support of "The Agenda", then they truly do not know what they are talking about.

But let's not waste our time with these people...shall we? Let's pack these forums on Care2 with as much information as possible and keep the public debate going. Let's keep doing our best to educate our fellow readers with the best information we can from the most reliable sources of fact-based research.

I congratulate those here who make positive, intelligent comments and statements...and if you can throw in some humor, wry, dry, dark or whatever, then all the more power to you all.


Blaise G.
Blaise G5 years ago

Save our country..._______ a Republican Politician!!! Oh...that blank spot is for the word: RECALL. What did you THINK it was for? ;-) And if RECALL isn't fast enough...then why not IMPEACH these corporate fascists?

Sound Mind
Ronald E5 years ago

Blaise G, I believe you're absolutely right but the problem is nobody has ever heard of Cynthia McKinney. No C of C thugs funneling money from foreign interests into her campaign coffers!

Sound Mind
Ronald E5 years ago

David W, it's NOT Communism, you dolt. It is Fascism, just the opposite. Tune out Faux Spews and try thinking for yourself.

david weitendorf
david weitendorf5 years ago

DEM or REP = Same Shit they work for banks and corporations
don't vote for parties vote for the few good individuals there are in the government regardless of there party affiliations. Ron Paul for 2012!!!!!!!!!!!

david weitendorf
david weitendorf5 years ago

most unions are no more than Mafia forcing you to fork over protection money or you don't get to work!
But that does not excuse what is an undemocratic move by government to intercede with no public input. Smells like Communism! Which is what the system of the US has been for some time now not a democracy like they clam and not a republic like it was founded as! WAKE UP THE BANKS and CORPORATIONS are in control of the government what ever one you vote for does not matter they have the same bosses and they are not you or me!

Gina P.
Regina P5 years ago

Sounds like Wisconsin makes their own rules - ignoring American history and rights!

Blaise G.
Blaise G5 years ago

I am SO sick and tired of Republicans. What scum. I'm not talking about the ignorant little voters who support Republican politicians, because as I said, they are just ignorant. But these fascist pigs who pose as politicians but nowadays appear to actually be corporate CEO's and the like, somehow fool the weak minded voters into believing in their campaign promises and their facade of words that espouse real change just leaves me laughing. I didn't even vote for Obama because Obama took a $#it load of money from AT&T as well as other corporate "friends" as campaign contributions. I do not understand when it is that my fellow compatriots are going to get it through their think heads that you cannot vote for a RepubliCrat because it is essentially the same party. I voted for a blacker person than Obama and that person even had a vagina! I voted for the only reasonable human being running for the Oval Office at the time, and that beautiful human being was Cynthia McKinney! She's the only person who stood up against Shadow President and Puppet Boy's War of Profiteering in Iraq and not even ONE Black Caucus member stood up to support her!!! That tells you something about our Congress and our Senate. What a bunch of worthless human beings.