Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Wisconsin!

For many years I lived in Wisconsin, which has always been a politically diverse state. It has strong urban centers and old big-shoulder industry, farming and granger movements, universities and a proud heritage of progressive politics. Historically, the state politicos have ranged from Bill Proxmire to Russ Feingold. As a result, it can move politically from the very progressive to the very conservative according to the whims of its voting mass.

And at the moment, it is in the hands of its conservative faction, and paying the price for it. Its new governor, Republican Scott Walker, has already made waves by turning down funding (and jobs) for pointy-headed intellectual stuff like high speed rail and rural Internet (which gives more for the other states, so - Thanks Governor). And it should be no surprise that he wants to engage in the time-honored sport of union-busting, particularly with the state workers.

So the governor wants to deny collective bargaining to the state unions (we're talking public service, teachers, prison guards, but not police and firemen (he specifically did not hit them in hopes of their support)), and have the right fire employees engaged in labor actions. Again, not out of the ordinary for this stripe of politico. Thing is, he's not doing it in a legislation, but rather as part of his emergency budget, hoping to slide it in without any type of opposition.

OK, that's a little snakier than normal. Oh, and when announcing it, he said he has already contacted the National Guard in case the people get all uppity about all this.

Hang on. He did what?

The Governor's office clarified that he did not call OUT the National Guard. He just briefed them on the possibility that as a result of his imperial, unilateral action, people might take umbrage and they should be aware. I think that this is the one bit that went too far, that spun everyone around from "Oh, this is politics as usual" to "Hey, this guy is crazy". Despite having a governor funded heavily by the US Chamber of Commerce (hence the union-busting), the population has a strong history of union support.

The end result has been protests today and tomorrow in Madison, a gem of liberalism in the midst of farm country (think of Austin with better weather). They had 12,000 people there Tuesday, and another thousand who decided to drop by the governor's house to express their displeasure.[Update: Estimate from NPR for Wednesday is 30,000]

Why do I bring it up? Just to get the word out. Most of what I know about this is coming through Facebook and email, from fellow Alliterates who live in the area, and individuals like comic artist John Kovalic (who does the strip Dork Tower). The teachers are turning out tomorrow, and the firefighters are showing up (so much for splitting up the unions). I'm getting some bits from the lefty analysis from the Stranger Blog. But for the most part, the media is pretty durn quiet  (The Seattle Times covered the initial statement from the governor on Page A8, burying the lede in paragraph four). Not a lot of news teams seem to be bound for Madison, Wisconsin.

Maybe they're caught up dispatching teams to Egypt, trying to catch up with THOSE protesters.

More later

[Update: As of the next morning, the story in the Times had moved to A4 and a picture showed huge numbers. The NY Times has picked up the story as well. And the Packers Player Union has chimed in with solidarity for the state workers]

[Update Update: You know the budgetary crisis that the Governor states that the unions have to take cuts to pay for? Turns out it is the result of the Governor's Own Budget.]

[Update Update Update: Now the media is paying attention, but I gotta say - Guys, It ain't Cairo. It's important, but it ain't Cairo. Just saying.]

[Final Update (and I mean it)]: Page one, Seattle Times, below the fold.  Rightwing pundits refer to protesters as rioters. Local police chief, who is used to students burning sofas after a big game, thanks the protesters for their well-mannered behavior so far.