In Wisconsin we stand
Right now, the people of Wisconsin are voting on whether or not to sack their governor. Scott Walker is one of only three people in US history to face the stress of a gubernatorial recall vote. And boy does he deserve it.
The vote isn’t just historic because it is rare. It is historic because it will mark a line in the sand for the post-2008 neoliberal revolution. Since the financial collapse, right wing governments across the western world have taken the opportunity to dismantle the last vestiges of the social democratic consensus in a way they used only to imagine in their most exited dreams.
In the UK, we are seeing vast cuts to public funding, curbs to protections to workers and privatisation of almost everything. The story is the same across Europe. In Montreal, thousands are rallying against tuition fee rises.
But the testbed for the radical extreme of the brand of economics dreamt up in the economics department of the University of Chicago is in its own region. In Michigan, and over the lake in Wisconsin, Republican governors Rick Snyder and Scott Walker respectively have been attempting an assault on democracy and trade unions perhaps more extreme than any ever seen before. In Wisconsin, this meant essentially ending all collective bargaining rights of public sector unions in a measure Walker was caught on tape as typifying his strategy of ‘divide and rule’.
We can bet our soon-to-be-privatised health insurance that a generation of young Tories obsessed with everything stars and stripes is keeping a careful eye.
The response to the radical assault on democracy and union rights in both states was extraordinary. Both saw mass occupations of their State Capitol buildings. In Wisconsin, Democratic state senators realised that they didn’t have the votes to prevent the legislation from passing. But they could stop the meetings from being quorate – if they fled the state. And so that’s what they did – with state police out hunting for them, attempting to forcibly return them.
Once the legislation finally passed, grassroots organisers started a campaign to sack those who had pushed it through. Last year, they successfully got two Republican State Senators recalled. But they had to bide their time for the big fish, as he hadn’t been in office for a full year yet. Once he had, they rapidly gathered more than 900,000 signatures – nearly one in five people in the state calling for Scott Walker to be sacked for ending the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin’s trades unions.
Which brings us to today – the vote. Throughout this process, Walker has become as much a poster boy for the right as he is a villain for the left – he is delivering what most have only dreamt of. And so they are throwing vast amounts of cash at his campaign. If the unions can turn out enough people today, they will win. If they can’t Walker’s dollars will replicate Romney’s primary win, and secure victory down the barrel of TV attack ads.
Lots of people are writing about what this says about Obamas vs Romney in November. But it is important to realise what this means to the rest of the world. If Scott Walker can wipe out the unions in his state with one blow, and then buy the recall election with the money of those bosses who benefit from the death of unions then we all have much to fear. If the organisers of Wisconsin have ensured that enough people turned out to sack the man who is stripping them of the victories of their parents, then perhaps the shock troopers of neo-liberalism will pause for a second.
So, good luck to the trade unions and the organisers of Wisconsin – you are fighting for us all.