The Walker Experiment vs. Democracy

Of all the news in the Trib today I think this was the most important to educators. (Once again, its not on the DNT’s website. Maybe they are charged to put AP stories in their own site)

What’s happening in Wisconsin is a grand experiment in control of public sector unions. The law which the 19th century leaning Republicans passed is a “Right to Work” lobbyist’s dream and a pretty wet one at that. In one fell swoop Republicans have eviscerated public employee union’s political power.

Before the law passed, WEAC had about 98,000 members and was one of the most powerful unions in the state, contributing millions to Democratic causes. Lobbying reports show the union spent $2.5 million lobbying lawmakers in 2009 and 2010, more money than any other group.

This summer, the union reported spending $500,000 in support of Democratic candidates in recall elections, and in August announced 42 workers had been laid off as a result of the law. Earlier this month, unions representing about 50,000 public workers opted not to go through with recertification, citing the fees and the lack of bargaining power beyond wages even if the elections succeeded.

My gut instinct tells me that this is overreach which will result in an equal and opposite reaction. True, Only two of recalled GOP legislators fell to the unions in recent special elections but someday there will be a countervailing wind and when Democrats take over the legislature these labor laws will be drastically rewritten. Just what they will look like is anybody’s guess. They may only be a partial repeal of Republican laws or full repeal or they may be full repeal with unappetizing protections built in so that the Democratic changes can not be easily modified again.

I’ve been a long time critic of labor overreach. Unions in Duluth are particularly drawn to making a mockery out of union certification elections with something they call a “card check” instead of waging a hard fought battle which is what they should be. In doing this they are subverting the idea of democracy just as GOP legislators all over America are doing by discouraging the poor from voting. Just as the Duluth School Board did with its Red Plan by fiat.

Governor Walker turned back 50 years of labor history. He’s banking on voters in Wisconsin keeping his anti-union measures in force. If he’s right politicians in all fifty states will be tempted to follow Wisconsin’s example.

I got a lecture on how to deal with unions during labor negotiations when I was on the Board by an old time Duluth Board member who told me about the good old days when the School Board called the shots. I reminded him that when he served on the Board teachers couldn’t strike.

Teachers got the right to strike in Minnesota back about the time I was in high school or shortly thereafter. They went through a few heavy strike years just after the Minnesota Miracle was passed putting great pressure on the State to fork out more money for public schools and the new more generous teacher contracts. l suspect that the right to strike helped kill the Minnesota Miracle because its a shell of its former self. That’s why the Legislature passed a law allowing excess levy referendums so that voters in hungry districts could extract a little more regressive property taxes for the schools. Early in that excess levy legislation the state offered up generous carrots to get voters to up their own property taxes which the state would match with state funds.

This need for operation levy referendums flies in the face of the Minnesota Miracle’s first principle of equally supporting both rich and poor school districts. The Miracle assured that all District’s would get state funding to bring them up with everybody else. Under the new referendum laws rich school districts have a much easier time passing referendum levies than property poor districts. The days of equality have ended although they have not fallen as far as the inequities in other states.

Walker is banking on the voters to keep the unions muzzled. Goodness knows union leadership can be every bit as myopic and greedy as Tea Partiers. Time will tell whether he wins this gamble or not. Wisconsin has had great progressives, like Fighting Bob LaFollette who would likely side with the unions today. Then again its also been represented by Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy.

All of Walker’s anti-democratic laws have been sanctioned by his own democratic election. As I’ve noted before he may have gotten his sorry arse elected but he sure didn’t tell the voters what he planned to do. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t trust the voters.