Over the last three weeks, Gov. Scott Walker and his allies in the Wisconsin Legislature made a mockery of representative government. Rather than listen to the citizens of Wisconsin, who are strongly opposed to stripping teachers, nurses and other workers of their rights, Walker rammed through a bill that was a blatant political payback to his out-of-state major campaign donors and cronies, who have sought for years to crush the aspirations of workers who dare to demand a voice in the workplace. This charade culminated when Walker shredded 50 years of labor peace, built through bipartisanship and a democratic process, and signed a bill into law against the wishes of a majority of the voters in Wisconsin.
The governor may have won a short-term political victory, but history and Wisconsin voters won't be so kind. Power exercised without discretion and prudence is corrupting. And based on Gov. Walker's actions -- his underhanded maneuvering to get the bill passed, his misrepresentations that the bill was part of reducing the budget deficit, and his manipulation of the process so the bill could be brought to a vote -- it is clear that the process was indeed corrupting. The people of Wisconsin watched this sorry spectacle and took to the streets to protest it. It was deeply unpopular, and record numbers of Wisconsinites are signing recall petitions to force Republican state senators to stand for election again to defend why they stripped workers of their rights. As brazen as Walker was by stripping workers of their rights in the workplace, he can't strip their democratic right to check his abuse of power at the ballot box.
Walker's unpopularity was in further evidence when, during the past three weeks, faculty at the University of Wisconsin at the Stout and La Crosse campuses ignored his threats and insults, and voted to unionize and be represented by AFT-Wisconsin. Hundreds of employees expressed their desire to have their voices heard in the workplace.
Many champions have emerged from these fights, including the 14 Democratic Wisconsin state senators whose principled stand provided the time and space for Walker's true intentions to be revealed. The champions also include the tens of thousands of workers in Wisconsin who agreed to help address the state's fiscal problems -- which were not of their making -- but would not hand over their rights. That sentiment of shared sacrifice was echoed, day in and day out, by Wisconsinites of every stripe, who raised their voices and even slept on floors in the Capitol.
Our challenge now is to take this moment and turn it into a movement. And the way to do so is by renewing America's labor movement, which is the only institution able to fight for working people at both the ballot box and the bargaining table. What happened in Wisconsin is a blow to anyone who values democracy and fairness. But it is also a clarion call to defend these principles, and the call is being answered by thousands from across Wisconsin and beyond, who will not be cowed or silenced by this act. They are emboldened and determined to right this wrong. And Gov. Walker probably never imagined that his disregard for fairness and justice would inspire people to stand up for the very values for which he has shown such disdain.
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