Three weeks and counting since Wisconsin public workers began heroically protesting for rights too important to lose, including collective bargaining without which all others are threatened.
Daily, many thousands braved cold and snow - marching, demonstrating, and sleeping over, sacrificing personal comforts to keep struggling for justice. Teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, maintenance workers, and other public employees were joined by union and nonunion private sector ones, along with doctors, lawyers, other professionals, and thousands of college and high school students from across Wisconsin and other states.
Behind the scenes, however, union bosses and Senate Democrats plan capitulation. Negotiations accomplished nothing, Senator Bob Jauch saying, "In order to kill this bill we could never go home. That's not practical and most people realize it."
They, in fact, "realize" that elected officials are supposed to serve them, governing fairly, what neither party does, serving only wealth and power interests, not their constituents. That's the core issue - partisan politics for the privileged, producing unprecedented wealth inequality both parties conspire to exacerbate.
At the same time, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said:
"Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said he came away from a meeting with Walker on Thursday with hope that an agreement could be reached. He said Walker was talking to Senate Democrats and understood the two sides needed to come up with a 'win-win' solution to bring them back."
However, neither side knows it's possible so faking it is planned, pretending collective bargaining will be saved when, in fact, returning assures its demise, followed by greater draconian measures without it. Even union bosses agreed to let workers bear the budget balancing burden, not Wisconsin elites and corporate favorites getting handouts, not ultimatums that sacrifices must be shared.
On March 7, New York Times writer Monica Davey headlined, "Talks to Resolve Wisconsin Battle Falter," saying:
"Senator Fred Risser (one of 14 absent senators) said it now seemed conceivable that he and his fellow Democrats would return to Wisconsin, at some point in the future, without a negotiated compromise."
"We have always said we would go back eventually," he said. "We will have accomplished some of our purpose - to slow things up and let people know what was in this bill."
In fact, returning is capitulation achieving nothing, what Republicans are counting on and expect. They've held firm, yielding nothing, threatening layoffs and other draconian measures, stiffening their resistance, daring Democrats and public employees to blink. Workers won't. Democrats will, so it's up to rank and file people to struggle on alone. More on how below.
Meanwhile, general strike calls keep growing, perhaps the best alternative left, despite clear negatives, including empty classrooms and essential services not performed. Yet thousands of copies of this statement circulated, saying:
"Walker must go! For a general strike in Wisconsin!" calling for mass action to:
-- halt state activity;
-- force Walker and his administration out;
-- reject unfair healthcare and pension contribution hikes;
-- demand social spending increases and right to continue bargain collectively; and
-- raise taxes on state elites and corporations, making them close Wisconsin's budget deficit and pay for essential social spending, the way all fair societies should function.
Public workers know Walker's "budget repair bill" is fraudulent, a way to reward special interests by gutting hard-won gains. Democrats and union bosses agree. Protesters want none of it, displaying signs saying, "tax the rich," and "we didn't create this crisis; don't make us pay for it."
Workers know draconian cuts mean more are coming, placing an enormous burden on them, already struggling to make ends meet. Many can't. A Madison teacher spoke for others saying:
"We need a general strike. We have to shut down the whole state unless they kill this bill and budget. Walker is gutting BadgerCare (healthcare for needy Wisconsinites earning too much for Medicaid) and education, selling off the publicly owned power plants," and providing more benefits to corporate favorites while hammering workers.
So far, public demands are firm despite powerful odds against them. No mas signifies street sentiment. Hopefully it won't wane when Democrats and union bosses blink. Indications are they already have short of announcing it. In Wisconsin and across America, battle lines indeed are drawn in a struggle affecting all public and private sector workers, victimized by predatory capitalism, the real villain needing to be expunged.
A Final Comment
On March 6, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert headlined, "Recall drives could make history: Rarely have multiple lawmakers faced such action," saying:
After three weeks of street protests, "Wisconsin is about to embark on another wild ride into the political unknown - a series of legislative recall campaigns on a scale the nation has rarely, if ever, seen."
According to Boise State University's Political Science Professor Gary Moncrief:
"I don't think there's a precedent for what's going on in Wisconsin. I don't think there's ever been a case where pretty much everyone has been subject to a recall attempt at one time on both sides. That's really amazing."
He and other experts mentioned only four other times when multiple state lawmakers were recalled at the same time for the same issue:
-- 90 years ago in North Dakota for the governor and two other state officials;
-- two in Idaho in 1971 over a pay raise;
-- two in Michigan in 1983 over a tax vote; and
-- two California Republicans in 1995 for collaborating with Democrats.
Notably in 2003, a recall election let Arnold Schwarzenegger replace California Democrat Governor Gray Davis. Voters, in fact, removed one top official for a worse one, not a hopeful sign for Wisconsinites.
According to University of Iowa Professor Caroline Tolbert, "Recall is an extreme measure (under) extreme circumstances." Wisconsin and other state public and private sector workers face them through no fault of their own. "We're all watching," said Tolbert. "Everybody's watching." UC San Diego Professor Thad Kousser calls Wisconsin uncharted territory. In the state's history, only two lawmakers were ever recalled.
So far, recall efforts have been initiated against eight Republican and Democrat senators, everyone able this year. Amazing indeed, and despite enormous obstacles, "some political insiders expect (current) petition drives (will force) multiple lawmakers to face recall elections this summer."
Moreover, far more than Wisconsin is at stake. Success there could spread everywhere, even to Washington against corrupted Democrats and Republicans who long ago sold out their constituents. Relieving today's crisis depends on it there, from state capitals, and local communities, replacing them with independent populists, despite long odds against success, and the hurdle of only 20 states permitting recall efforts, each with its own barriers, presenting daunting challenges.
Nonetheless, widespread public anger is real. Effective leadership can mobilize it. Wisconsin requires enough signatures from 25% of voters in the most recent gubernatorial race in the district of targeted legislators. In Kansas, it's 40%. In California, it's 12% for governor, 20% for legislators.
Wisconsin also requires one year in office before recall is possible. In other states, it's only 90 days. As a result, only 16 Wisconsin senators have served long enough to qualify. The remaining 17 and Walker may be targeted next year. In his case, over 540,000 valid signatures are needed.
Moreover, Wisconsin petitioners have only 60 days to collect enough signatures once collection drives began. Other states provide more time. Nonetheless, full-scale campaigns are underway, aided by social networks promoting them. If enough signatures are gathered, a 31-day grace period follows for review and challenges. Court-ordered extensions may be granted.
If enough signatures are declared valid, elections six weeks later follow. If for more than one challenger, a primary is held, then a general election if no candidate gets a majority.
According to University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor John Coleman:
"Once this story became such a national flashpoint and the first recall effort was launched, it increased the incentive for further (ones) - neither side wants to be outpaced by the other. That kind of perceptions battle can feed off itself and multiply, and the recall efforts themselves become part of the battle for public opinion, along with ad campaigns (and) rallies."
Moreover, what's ongoing in Wisconsin can spread anywhere, perhaps even in states with no laws permitting them if enough residents demand they be enacted. It's high time they did, rousting lawmakers everywhere for betraying their constituents - especially corrupted Washington Democrats and Republicans, serving America's aristocracy, not popular interests they disdain.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.