This Tuesday, as Wisconsinites went to the polls to vote in primaries to replace Governor Scott Walker and five other statewide office holders, the union of graduate students at the heart of the 2011 Capitol protests that sparked the recall stood apart from their union fellows and refused to endorse any candidate.
The Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) the union of graduate student workers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, kicked off the 2011 Capitol protests. Their Valentine’s Day rally and their call to keep the Capitol open for public testimony on Governor Walker’s proposed attacks on union rights, public education and public services led to the recall movement that has forced the governor, lieutenant governor and four state senators to face new elections. The process began this Tuesday, as Wisconsinites went to the polls to vote in primaries. The TAA was in the thick of things again, but not because they were rallying people behind their chosen candidate. Rather, because the union had refused to do just that.
Salon’s Josh Eidelson summarized the points of contention this way:
At issue is whether the union should support a candidate who hasn’t pledged to restore cuts to public workers’ wages and benefits — one of the criteria the TAA originally listed as a a prerequisite for an endorsement. [Former Dane County Executive Kathleen] Falk, who entered the race in January, is the only candidate who has pledged to veto any budget that doesn’t restore collective bargaining rights. But she also frequently touts the $10 million in concessions that she secured in negotiations with local unions as county executive. [Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett…is more problematic when it comes to cuts: Last year, as the debate over collective bargaining raged, he told a conservative radio host that he opposed Walker’s collective bargaining changes but supported his proposed cuts.
Falk was the union favorite, securing endorsements from WEAC, AFSCME, SEIU and the TAA’s parent union, AFT-Wisconsin. In debating an endorsement, the TAA fell into divided camps with the union’s Political Education Committee and one of two co-president’s voting to get behind Falk. Co-president Adrienne Pagac opposed making an endorsement. I caught up with Pagac this weekend, where she spoke at a conference convened by Labor Notes. Unions have developed a well-oiled machine to get their members to the polls. What they haven’t built is the on-the-ground might to produce candidates who share their priorities, she argued. The TAA majority refused to split their union priorities from their priorities as Wisconsinites, equally affected by slashes to public budgets as they are to attacks on public workers’ rights. Here are Pagac’s comments just days before Tuesday’s vote.
Where Wisconsin is already, the nation is headed soon, namely into an election. Substitute TAA for Occupy, or the radical movement of your choice—and you have the quadrennial quandary for radicals in a nutshell. Or, possibly, a cheesehead hat.