Wisconsin Republicans Have Done Progressives a Huge Favor

By Don Taylor

Photo by Mark Riechers

I stood outside the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin Wednesday night. Late in the afternoon, I had been alerted via Facebook that senate Republicans were readying a sudden legislative maneuver to ram through the evisceration of workers’ rights that had previously been attached to a “budget repair bill.”

As thousands converged on the capitol, the vast majority were barred from entering the public building. The crowd swelled, chanting “Shame!” and “Our House!” as fire trucks arrived, sirens blaring to respond to the burning of democracy.

The Republicans separated the anti-labor provisions from the budget bill, creating a “non-fiscal” bill with lower quorum requirements. They then passed that “non-fiscal” bill, 18-1, with no Democrats present. The next day, the state Assembly passed the bill 53-42.

In doing so, they have done the Wisconsin democracy movement a huge favor.

From the time that the fourteen Democratic senators left the state to prevent a vote on the budget repair bill, I have worried about the outcome. In my view, it was very likely that a “compromise” would be reached and the Democrats would return. Such a “compromise” would still include massive setbacks for working people. The recent email exchanges between the Democrats and the governor’s office revealed that a number of options were at least being proposed; for example, allowing slightly more collective bargaining than the original bill, but retaining the prohibition of dues deduction and the requirement for annual decertification votes.

I feared that one or more of the Democrats would take such a deal, feeling they were out of options. The result would have been a disastrous deal for workers – a deal in which the Democrats had gone over to the dark side. What would then have happened to the recall efforts and the movement that is clearly building toward 2012? It would have lost focus, just like 2010 when labor and progressives struggled to be enthusiastic about the Democrats. Thousands of Wisconsin workers would have remained angry, but with no clear political options.

The favor the Republicans have done the progressive movement is that they have made the political lines of this fight crystal clear. The Democrats’ hands are clean in this fight. The distinction between those who stood with us and those who are against us is obvious and unblurred.

Granted, the Democrats are not a progressive political force at all times. But in the current fight in Wisconsin, with no reshaping of the party system imminent, we have a clear example of a party that mounted an unprecedented assault on working people and a party that took a stand against that assault.

Despair is hard to find; the people in the streets are more determined than before. The next stage of escalation has begun. The scale of direct action will grow and become more strategic. Yesterday, people withdrew nearly $200,000 from M&I Bank, a contributor to Gov. Walker’s campaign – causing the branch near the capitol to close. These types of actions against Republican politicians and their campaign donors will multiply and spread statewide.

Ahead of us lies a string of recall efforts and eventually, the 2012 elections. The Republicans have thrown a tanker full of fuel on the fire, and have done so in a way so that the people’s movement will not hesitate to support Democrats right down the line. They have removed the “lesser of two evils” from the political calculation, making our choices starkly apparent.

For that, I suppose, we can thank them.

Don Taylor is labor educator based in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Mark Riechers under a creative commons license,

One Response

  1. maybe, maybe not.

    They have been observing our political behavior for years and have mountains of academic studies showing our voting tendencies, among which is a political equivalent to ADD.

    What the situation most closely resembles is a medieval siege of a moated castle. The Republican lords are up on the battlements of the Wisconsin government laughing at the peasant army, knowing that the soldiers in it will eventually drift off back to their villages. This is the gamble they took when they threw the dice and only by an unprecedented political stamina can we defeat that smug assurance.

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