Now that a series of crude power plays—violations of open meetings laws, restricted debates, denial of access to dissenting legislators, snap votes—have given Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a momentary victory in his fight to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, the governor and his allies are claiming that they are implementing the will of people of Wisconsin.
Referencing last November’s election results, which gave him the governorship and control of the legislature, Walker has repeatedly said through the month-long fight in Wisconsin that “the “people have spoken” and “the voters have spoken.”
And, if we elected monarchs (or “kings for four years,” as Thomas Jefferson feared), then Walker’s pronouncements from on high might have to be accepted—at least by those inclined toward a docile citizenship.
But, of course, the United States went with a representative democracy model where elected officials are supposed to at least note and ideally respond to the will of the people.
The clear will of the people of, as confirmed by contacts with the offices of Republican legislators that ran in some cases 10-1 against the governor’s proposal, in polls that show less than one-third of Wisconsinites support the governor’s approach (and that a clear majority would replace him as governor if they could) and in mass demonstrations that have already drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets and that could draw hundreds of thousands more this weekend.
There is a lot of talk about where to take this energy, and a lot of options—all with credible arguments and all with support from serious players.
In Madison and Milwaukee, you’ll see posters calling for a general strike. The calls frequently reference some of the boldest and most romantically recalled moments in labor history, harkening back to the great 1934 struggles in San Francisco and Toledo, both of which garnered such broad support that they forced the hands of private employers and yielded significant gains for what would become the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the West Coast and the United Auto Workers in the Great Lakes states. Those actions, like the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936 and 1937, are the stuff of labor lore. But the Wisconsin struggle, a statewide fight that involves public-sector workers, is a different game in many senses. What’s significant is that some Wisconsin unions are serious about exploring options for mass action that borrow from more recent experiences—especially the “Days of Action” strikes organized by Ontario public-employee unions when they came under attack from the government of Conservative Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s.