Although largely ignored by the media, the victory of two Democratic Wisconsin senators on Tuesday against Republican efforts to recall them has major significance both for Wisconsin and nationally. They won the recalls easily, despite huge money poured into the fight, even improving their voting margins over their original elections.
In the Wisconsin recall campaign overall, Republicans lost their commanding majority in the state senate, leaving them with 17 senators versus 16 Democrats. As John Nichols points out in the Cap Times, “… that does not tell the whole story, as one of the seventeen Republicans is Schultz, the Wisconsin maverick who has broken with the governor and his party on key issues. … the governor’s proposal to strip state, county and municipal employees and teachers of most collective bargaining protections did not pass unanimously. Schultz voted ‘no’. … the Senate majority is now at odds with the governor on the issue that provoked last winter’s mass demonstrations against the governor’s agenda and the recalls.”
And the reaction against right-wing laws reached Ohio, where Governor Kasich is pleading with union leaders to withdraw a ballot initiative aimed at repealing anti-union legislation similar to Wisconsin’s — it passed the Republican-controlled legislature in March, but can’t come into effect until the ballot has been held in November. A recent poll found that 56 percent of Ohio voters say the collective bargaining law should be repealed, compared with 32 percent who favor keeping it in place.
Greg Sargent blogs in WaPo: “… the headway made with the Dem/labor populist message in traditionally Republican districts — and the national polls showing their message resonated with the broader public — constitute real, meaningful ground gained. They will influence how both sides write their playbooks for 2012, particularly Democrats, in this key swing state and among other swing voters. As a dress rehearsal for 2012, Wisconsin will persuade national Dems not to refrain from sharp populist messaging.”
Nationally, the significance of the result is that it encourages resistance to anti-union plutocrats and underlines the gulf between extremist Tea Party Republicans in Congress and opinion in the country. Political Science professor Thomas Ferguson of UMass Boston gives an in-depth account of why there is such a divide: “… a tidal wave of political cash that emerged in the 1970s has washed away the remnants of the old seniority system in Congress, drastically changing the way that body operates. In its place, Congress now uses a system of ‘posted prices’ for selecting who serves on committees and assumes leadership positions. Individual members of Congress compete for key slots by raising enormous amounts of money not only for themselves, but for the national congressional and senatorial campaign committees. …
“In dividing so sharply and refusing compromises, Congress is listening primarily to those who contribute political money, not the public. As a political slogan ‘No new taxes’ was around long before the Tea Party. It is the mantra not of the public, but of a huge swath of super-rich Americans.”
Verizon technicians are engaged in the first major strike struggle against the extreme demands of the super-rich and the parallels with Wisconsin are not lost on them. Jonathan Leonard, 23-year Verizon systems technician and vice president of Local 2336, told labor correspondent Brian Tierney: “This all started in Wisconsin. This is corporate greed and I think this country is waking up after Wisconsin.” Tierney commented: “while the austerity agenda in Washington has established ‘the new normal’ as defined by social cuts, attacks on public sector jobs and services, and low taxes for the wealthy, the same upside-down dynamics are mirrored in the private sector, where executive salaries are skyrocketing to obscene heights at companies like Verizon even as they demand severe cuts at the bottom.”
Letter-carriers too are taking strike action as the USPS threatens to lay off 120,000 workers, close nearly 3,700 post offices and cut benefits. Like in Wisconsin, there’s a long fight ahead. This fight can be aided by building Wisconsin Clubs within the Democratic Party which will support the strike struggles against the highly-paid CEOs who aim to make profits by outsourcing and union-busting, and intervene in the primaries to elect union-supporting candidates.