Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's victory over Tom Barrett Tuesday night was another sad reflection of the corrupting influence of money in American elections. Organized labor took on Walker over his budget repair bill in 2011 that saw workers' rights slashed, their salaries decreased, collective bargaining rights vanish and mandatory yearly votes for unions to continue representing government workers. They fought a long, hard campaign against Walker, but ended up losing after being outspent 7-1 and being deserted by the Democratic Party.
As Gary Younge writes:
Money matters and the Republicans have a lot of it. Walker outspent Barrett by seven to one, with most of it coming from outside the state. This is a very corrupting fact about American politics, particularly since Citizens United. But it is a fact nonetheless. So either unions and grassroots organisations don't participate in the electoral process but work outside it to change the debate and mobilize public opinion -- like Occupy Wall Street -- or they have to find money from somewhere.... If progressives are looking for political support they should look down to the grassroots, not up to the Democratic party. Rhetorically Obama was with them all the way. Not only was he all about the audacity of hope. But in his campaign he would quote the late poet and essayist June Jordan, with an empowering message about the need for political activism: "We were the ones we are waiting for."
Wisconsin radicals could have been waiting for him until the cows in this dairy state came home. He wasn't coming. The fierce urgency of now had given way to the tepid ambivalence until November. He could have sent Joe Biden as a show of solidarity. Instead they kept their distance.
The fight to defeat Scott Walker was an incredibly important one in American history. It was only the third gubernatorial recall in the nation's history, and a sign that the labor movement in America was far from dead. A remarkable grassroots campaign was lead to recall the governor in an attempt to regain long fought for rights that Walker had cavalierly dissolved under the guise of fixing the state's budget deficit.
The move to destroy workers' rights was straight out of Milton Friedman's playbook -- Walker used a crisis to scare the people of Wisconsin, took away their rights and then implemented his own ideology-based economic model on the state. As Naomi Klein noted in her extremely important book The Shock Doctrine:
The bottom line is that while Friedman's economic model is capable of being partially imposed under democracy, authoritarian conditions are required for the implementation of its true vision. For economic shock therapy to be applied without restraint -- as it was in Chile in the seventies, China in the late eighties, Russia in the nineties and the U.S. after September 11, 2001 -- some sort of additional major collective trauma has always been required, one that either temporarily suspended democratic practices or blocked them entirely.
For Klein, Walker's draconian measures in Wisconsin were simply another example of this -- a highly undemocratic and manipulative way of forcing through unpopular economic measures without real consent. She told Amy Goodman at the time:
It should not be in any way surprising that we are seeing right-wing ideologues across the country using economic crisis as a pretext to really wage a kind of a final battle in a 50-year war against trade unions, where we've seen membership in trade unions drop precipitously. And public sector unions are the last labor stronghold, and they're going after it.... Scott Walker was not elected with a mandate to bust unions and to strip collective bargaining rights. He did not mention that in his campaign. He talked about balancing the budget. He made some vague statements, you know, about shared sacrifice. But he absolutely did not campaign promising to do what he is now doing
Walker's move to strip collective bargaining rights had nothing to do with the budget deficit -- it was simply an excuse to follow through with the economic orthodoxy of his party that has radically changed the face of the country over the past three decades. By vilifying public workers and making them the enemy of economic recovery, he was able to ram through measures that make the long term recovery of the state even more difficult.
The left's loss to Walker shows just how badly outgunned the general public is when it comes to the ceaseless assault on workers' rights from big money interests. The GOP threw huge amounts of cash at Scott Walker so he could defeat Tom Barrett, and their gamble paid off. It takes an extraordinary amount of organization, propaganda and money to convince regular people that unions are responsible for the nation's economic problems, despite union membership being at a 70-year low, and despite no evidence that cutting wages leads to any sort of benefit to the economy. It does however, benefit the wealthy, and that is why Walker was able to raise so much money.
The fight is not over, and Wisconsin proved that organized labor can still go to battle and fight hard. They'll just need more money to actually win.
Ben Cohen is the Editor of the recently relaunched TheDailyBanter.com