In the nationwide struggle to protect the ability of unions to collectively bargain, progressives have been much more successful in framing the debate as a fight for basic rights on the state level than they have at the national level. The Nation’s John Nichols, who has been covering this fight for months, joined MSNBC’s Hardball to discuss the strategies behind the national standoff over who will bear the brunt of austerity cuts.

The national Democratic party has failed to win the debate around unions because they tend to relay their message in “stilted, weak, compromising terms,” Nichols says. In Wisconsin, the message was “an injury to one, is an injury to all,” and in response there was a bipartisan outpouring of support against Governor Scott Walker’s proposals, he says.

“In a sense these state struggles have borrowed a page from some of the more militant Republicans. Conservatives don’t pull their punches. They talk tough, and you’re seeing these unions talk tough, be aggressive—and people like it,” he says.

—Sara Jerving