Editor's Note: Each week we excerpt Katrina vanden Heuvel's column for the WashingtonPost.com here on TheNation.com. To read the full post, please visit WashingtonPost.com.
As demonstrators in the tens of thousands flooded the Capitol in Madison, Wis., a sign captured the spirit: "I didn't think Cairo would be this cold." Even conservative Republican Rep. Paul Ryan saw the parallel: "It's like Cairo moved to Madison."
Got that right. As the demonstrations for workers' rights head into their second week, Madison has become ground zero in the battle for democracy in this country.
Don't fall for the dodge that this is about money, the pay and perks of public employees. This is about basic democratic rights, and the balance of power in America. This is a fight in which every U.S. worker has a direct stake.
Wisconsin faces budget deficits in the wake of the Great Recession, although not nearly as severe as in many states. In the 2010 election, Republicans captured control of the statehouse and both houses of the legislature. Scott Walker, the newly elected, self-declared "Tea Party" governor, signed off on tax cuts for businesses and then demanded harsh concessions from public employees, forcing them to pay more for pensions and health care. He coupled this with a direct attack on teacher and public employee unions, seeking to ram through legislation curtailing their right to bargain collectively, limiting any pay raise to the increase in the cost of living, and requiring an annual vote of members to continue the union. These measures aren't about the budget crisis; they are about eliminating the unions. And to make the power grab blatant, Walker exempted those unions—police and firefighters—that supported him in the last election. This is straight ugly, folks.
And it isn't limited to Wisconsin...
Read the rest of Katrina's post at WashingtonPost.com.