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One of the reasons the Wisconsin recall is such a huge event is this: Unions are being weakened, and as they are weakened, corporations will represent the majority of organized political activity, leaving people -- actual real, flesh and blood people -- without any voice at all. Unions are, after all, best at organizing and deploying people to get out the vote, to galvanize voters, and to push back on corporate messages.
The statistics on union membership in Wisconsin post union-buster bill passage are stunning. As Rachel explains, in one year public sector union membership in Wisconsin has shrunk with frightening rapidity. Before the union-buster passed, AFSCME membership in Wisconsin was 62,818 members. Today, post-passage, membership has shrunk to 28,745. AFT membership pre-passage was about 17,000 members. Post-passage, 11,000.
That's in one year. ONE single year.
From the transcript:
We've shown this chart a bunch of times on this show. These were the heavyweights when it came to outside spending in the 2010 election cycle. These were the ten groups that spent the most money on the election that year. Six of the ten spent big time on the right. They spent on the republican side. They were led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The biggest spender in 2010. Almost all the of groups spending on behalf of the republicans were corporate funded groups like that, business groups.
The only major spenders on behalf of Democrats in 2010 were unions. That was it. They made up only three of the top ten spenders. The only thing that Democrats had were unions. If you kill public sector unions in Wisconsin, you can kill unions altogether and you can kill this key source of strength. It's true around the country. They're doing it in Wisconsin.
Republicans set out to kill the unions and that's what is they have done. Look at this headline. Wisconsin unions see ranks drop ahead of recall vote. This is the membership for Wisconsin's second largest union of public sector workers. This is before the union stripping law. Here is that same union's membership today. We don't have the stats on all public unions but what we have looks the same. This is the American Federation of Teachers before the stripping law went into effect and this is the membership now.
A year after Scott Walker's law took effect. That's what they have been able to do in a year. Now because they could not stop the implementing of this law, the Democratic side in the Wisconsin recall effort doesn't have the means to compete politically that they usually have the unions play a political role. To the extent that unions are going away, they can play less of a political role.
It's a big reason why the Republican side has had a spending advantage that's reached at times 25 to 1. $25 on the republican side for every single dollar on the Democratic side. This recall election on Tuesday is really close. Democrats might yet pull it off. They say that the ground game is key.
Who used to be best at the ground game? Unions. Killing off the unions is what Republicans want to do in every state of the country. That's why Scott Walker is the poster boy for the Republican Party this year. They understand this is the way they can win not just now but forever. Republicans get this, and they want it to happen in every state in the country. Do Democrats get it? Do they understand what's at stake?
I would ask the question a little differently. I would ask whether people in general get it or whether they're so thoroughly spellbound by corporate mumbo-jumbo that they've lost their ability to reason. I say that because one of the most disappointing emails I ran across in the big email dump earlier this week was one from a union member to Scott Walker before the union bill was introduced, commending him for his approach.
This email is from Cynthia Taylor, WSEU (Wisconsin State Employees Union) Local President. She goes on to write this:
This comes to you from a WSEU Local Union President but someone who believes more along your lines. I worked at the University of Florida for over 10 years and thought our benefits were extremely good. When I moved back to my home near LaCross, WI and got a job at UW-L I was SHOCKED to learn how good the benefits are here. The one draw back is that I took an almost 50% cut in pay coming back here but my husbands increase offset my decrease for the most part.
There is more, but that paragraph illustrates how utterly ignorant this woman is about what it means to be part of a union. Unions aren't just thugs roaming around trying to beat innocent workers and corporations into submission, no matter how much the hard right wants you to think so. That 50 percent cut in pay she took was offset by the awesome benefits she received, and yet she criticizes. My head is bruised from banging it on the desk.
Unions are the uniting of collective voices which speak for the greater good of workers who would otherwise have no voice. None.
Now the right wing is having lots of fun with the membership decrease after the union-busting law kicked in. They're claiming that it's proof positive that unions are universally loathed by the left and the right, and people are voting with their feet. Actually, it's more likely people are doing what people do when times are hard and they're paying more for their pensions and health insurance by payroll deduction already. That lump sum doesn't exist in their checking account and so they're forced to let it go until it is, which is never.
The union-busting bill hit unions from three vantage points: 1) It forces union members to re-authorize the union each year; 2) union dues may no longer be paid via payroll deduction; and 3) collective bargaining is limited to salary issues alone.
In the debate between Scott Walker and Tom Barrett Thursday night, Barrett tried to get Scott Walker pinned down on whether he would sign the right-to-work law that's wending its way through the state legislatures right now. Walker weaseled on that question in a big way, saying the last year and a half of conflict should prove that such a bill would never reach his desk, which doesn't answer the question. All of us who have been following Wisconsin know he absolutely would sign such a bill if given one small chance.
What I have come to understand over the past three years is that the hit job on unions in the public eye has been so deep, so strong, and so wrong that we have, as a society, come to demonize unions without really understanding what they do. How many of us were educated properly on labor organizing in the 20th century? I doubt many. It's a topic that tends to come at the end of a long school year, receives short shrift, and never is studied in any depth, but what we know is that states which have gone with the right-to-work model are poorer, the jobs pay less, and employees have no job security whatsoever when compared to union states.
Wisconsin is ground zero as far as whether unions thrive or barely survive. And if unions go, the oligarchs win.