MADISON, Wis. — On Friday, February 11, at the same hour that the world watched the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resign his post, the newly appointed Republican Governor of Wisconsin quietly launched a ferocious attack on public sector unions — and the very notion of organized labor in America.
For nearly fifty years unions have sought to safeguard and advance their rights through a process known as collective bargaining, which is the most powerful tool labor has for peacefully resolving disputes and ensuring workers a voice in negotiations on everything from fair wages to safety conditions and sick leave.
The bill championed by Wisconsin’s governor takes dead aim at this process by stripping most state workers of many of their collective bargaining rights. Union leaders have responded uproariously, claiming that the bill effectively guts public unions of their most critical asset in a state that pioneered many of the fundamental fights for worker’s rights. Political chaos has ensued on both sides. State Democrats fled the state last week to prevent a vote on the legislation, while many Republican governors — some who already have similar bills on the table — watch carefully to see, if the bill succeeds, how they might pass anti-union legislature in their own states.
President Obama called the bill “an assault on unions.” On the ground in Wisconsin, the growing crowd of protesters portray their actions as part of a once-in-a generation struggle to shape the dynamic that determines what voice workers will have in the workplace. They feel the eyes of the world upon them. Last Friday as millions swarmed the streets of Egypt in a “Day of Victory” rally, a young man posted a picture on his Facebook page showing a sign reading “EGYPT Supports Wisconsin One World One Pain.”
Solidarity with Wisconsin Workers!