They’re having an exciting time up there in Wisconsin at the moment, where the current rumor is that every single Democratic state senator has left the state in order to deny the state senate Republicans the quorum they need to pass a bill that essentially guts the right of collective bargaining for state workers. Meanwhile thousands of state works and sympathizers are have been protesting for days over the bill, which the Republicans, including the governor, say is essential in order to bring the state budget back in line.
Well, no. The bill may or may not bring the state budget back in line, but let’s not pretend that breaking the backs of the unions is not also what this bill is about. And it’s a fine test case for it, because if you can crack the unions in Wisconsin, which has a strong labor and union history, then chances are pretty good you can crack them elsewhere. It’s also a fine test case for the proposition of advancing a social and philosophical agenda under the cover of budget constraints – i.e., “we just can’t afford to support [insert thing Republicans don't like] anymore, we have to tighten our belts.” The economy is the stalking horse for ideological ball-cutting, and what we’re seeing here is whether Republicans can get anyone to believe that this is not in fact what they hope to do here.
Should the Wisconsin Republicans be doing this? Well, why shouldn’t they — or, to put it somewhat more accurately, why wouldn’t they? They did get elected, have majorities in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, and as far as I can tell neither Governor Walker or anyone else on his side was particularly ambiguous about their political goals to roll back state employee benefits. I’m sure as far as they’re concerned, union-busting is just part of fulfilling their mandate to the people; nor, given the low levels of support unions have these days, are they entirely politically foolish to think so.
I’m not saying that I personally think it’s just fine for the Wisconsin GOP to ball-cut the unions; I don’t. I am saying I can certainly see why they’re making the attempt now; there will likely not be a better time. We can could get into a long discussion about how we got to this point — indeed I expect people will be getting into that discussion in the comments — but for right now I’ll just say this is where we are at the moment. If the Wisconsin Republicans are successful in stripping away a substantial amount of collective bargaining rights from the unions, and they may very well do it, then you’ll see similar attempts elsewhere. Count on it.