Wisconsin: war declared on state workers
May 22, 2011 Leave a comment
The Governor of the State of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has just dropped the anvil on public sector workers statewide. This is the start of a nationwide offensive to wipe out public sector unions.
The state are going bankrupt and slipping into default because they refuse to increase revenue from the only potential source left to collect from, income taxes. The answer to this probably is popularly portrayed as needing necessary cuts to state, county and municipal workers pay, health insurance, and pensions. Ultimately the right to collectively bargain will be legally restricted to pay alone, while no pay increases beyond the Consumer Price Index adjusted inflation measure (which is a hedonically weighted fraud that doesn’t reflect real price inflation). State workers are asked to contribute between 17% to 18% out of their paychecks to health insurance and pensions–amounting to a massive pay cut. Pay will be frozen for the next three years. University employees would lose the right to form unions. Some 170,000 state, county and municipal workers stand to be affected by this move. AFSCME was born among state sector workers in Wisconsin, to crush the union would be a feather in the cap for the state bosses and could effectively bring about the eventual deaths of all state sector unions nationwide. This will hit teachers hard as well. Further unionization in the state sector would be against the law. Unions stand to lose automatic dues check off that comes out of all workers checks in areas where their union negotiated their work contracts. This could amount to a quarter to a third of all dues payers being off the rolls. This situation is one faced by state workers in Ohio, Florida and around the country, even around the world. The threat to call out the army in this situation is probably not simply a bluff.
The unions already negotiated a deal with the previous administration for $100 million in cuts to benefits along with an outright 3% pay reduction. The Governor was looking for much more than this and could’ve bargained much more from the unions than they offered in their first offer. He has threatened to call out the National Guard to take over the entire state sector in the event of a strike, which is not likely because state sector workers haven’t ever technically had a right to strike and will not be able to go on strike, even if they wanted to. If the state prison guards go on strike, he will have the army come and they will start running the state prisons.
In 1971 when unions got their collective bargaining agreements legislated along with a no strike clause. This was legislated into state law and has been the basis of peace among state sector workers for forty years. This agreement is gone. The best the unions can do is call for a two day protest followed by lobbying of state legislators. There has been a move to recall election of the Governor as well, this is largely just a protest and stands no chance of gaining an actual recall vote. Unions have planned protests in the coming week. The unions will protest this but there is little they can do.
Over the years the State of Wisconsin has farmed out all custodial work to private custodial services that heavily exploit immigrant labor. Thousands of positions have gone unfilled for years. Almost every time a worker with seniority retires a job is eliminated permanently. Office functions have been distributed into a hub system where different branches of educational and government functionaries have been combined into one single support staff.
The current hiring freeze has been in effect for years now and followed a hiring freeze in the 1990s. The use of temporary workers and “limited term employees” has increased alongside the privatization schemes, hiring freezes, and cuts. The previous Governor introduced furlough days that amounted to a three-week unpaid leave (a rolling layoff) for all state employees. On the same token, the legislators voted themselves a 4% pay raise.
Workers here in Madison are asking their unions “when will we go on strike”, and many are more than ready to do so, most workers don’t realize that there is no “right” to strike here for any government employees. The right to form a union was allowed because of legislation that precluded strike activity and gave collective bargaining and grievance procedures.
Only the police, and firefighters unions were spared from this because they supported the Governor’s election bid and were rewarded accordingly. The election bid for Wisconsin governor was typical for capitalist elections. It was bought and paid for by the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have most likely never so much as stepped foot in Wisconsin. So the bourgeoisie elected itself an idiot “businessman” who was given his position at his company by his wife who was the daughter of the founder. The police and firefighters will get cut sooner or later it is only a matter of time, for now their support is useful to the administration in helping to divide and crush the other unions. Without raising revenue, belt-tightening will only beget more belt-tightening. That’s the operating idea in order to eliminate the costs associated with variable capital in the state sector.
Students in the state are facing a “Badger Partnership Plan” put forward by the state university administration that aims at increasing their tuition by removing caps on tuition increases. It also aims at eliminating requirements to allot seats for students from Wisconsin to attend their own flagship university. It further seeks to cement the deep relationship between corporate donors and the University’s corporate research business.
The State teachers union WEAC has recently given its approval to plans to cut up the Milwaukee Public School district, destroy teacher seniority pay, and introduce “merit pay” determined by administrators who have no real knowledge of what it takes to actually do the work (most ed “reformers” are talking out their asses of course). Either you spend $15,000 to $20,000 per pupil per year or you get what you pay for–a bad education. Milwaukee spends about $12,000 per pupil or less. We have African-American “leaders” in the Urban League stumping for schools segregated by race and sex, in effect supporting a new “separate but equal doctrine” of re-segregation of public schools under the guise of “reform”. Milwaukee was a laboratory of reactionary experiments in education such as school voucher programs so that parents could take their students out of Milwaukee schools and get a voucher from the city to pay for their children’s private school educations. This bled yet more needed funding as well as skimming high performing students out of the public schools that affect the test based performance school funding schemes. The AFT, called WEAC here in Wisconsin support these schemes that attack teachers, so school employees cannot rely on them to wage any serious struggle against these attacks.
Taxes in Wisconsin consist of cigarette taxes, alcohol taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, the “Lottery” (taking money from chumps suckered into the dream of “winning”) and many similar punitive anti-worker revenue collection measures. The Federal government has long starved the states of funding for those things the federal government has asked the states to do. This in turn has accelerated the bankruptcy of the states. The state-capitalists here are using bankruptcy to shed themselves of expensive pension benefits, just as was done to autoworkers in the “private sector”. The states’ bond ratings are heavily based upon the state regimes willingness to attack state workers. The refusal of the executive branch in Washington DC, under Clinton, Bush and Obama, has created this situation by refusing to give any aid to the states at all while giving the last of everything to the military and the security apparatus.