by Mike Konopacki and Kathy Wilkes
Wisconsin governor-elect Scott Walker and the new Republican legislature have declared war on working people. They want to abolish public employee unions and turn Wisconsin into a so-called “right-to-work” state, meaning no more “union shops” and no more dues from anyone who objects. This also means no more pressure from anywhere to keep wages at a livable level for anyone, union or not.
It’s all under the guise of cutting the State’s $3 billion budget deficit and creating 250,000 jobs. Sound familiar? Since the Reagan era, Republicans and corporate Democrats have pushed the big lie that tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and busting unions would bring jobs and prosperity. Instead we got the Great Recession. And now the people of
Wisconsin have voted to cure the disease with more disease and turn our state into an economic dictatorship.
Harsh words? You bet. Reality is worse. One of the first things dictators do is go after organized labor:
- When Hitler outlawed “trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike, the German worker in the Third Reich became an industrial serf, bound to his master, the employer, much as medieval peasants had been bound to the lord of the manor,” writes William Shirer in his classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. This was done “democratically” when Germany’s parliament passed the 1934 Charter of Labor that “put the worker in his place and raised the employer to his old position of absolute master.”
- Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini abolished free trade unions.
- Communist China—America’s banker and manufacturer—only allows government-controlled unions.
Walker won’t round up labor leaders and have them jailed as Hitler did; he just wants them neutered. And there’s no comparison with Mussolini, who reportedly made the trains run on time. Walker hates trains; he lost us $810 million dollars and 5,500 jobs opposing high-speed rail. And where China requires even antiunion Wal-Mart to be unionized, Walker would never permit such an outrage.
A better comparison is Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, and L. Paul Bremer. In 1987 the Iraqi dictator declared that workers in his huge state enterprises were civil servants and therefore prohibited from forming unions and bargaining collectively. After Bush invaded Iraq, Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority abolished all of Saddam’s laws but one: the ban on labor unions.
For 80 years, Republican plutocrats have chipped away at “New Deal” laws that raised millions of families out of poverty and into the middle class. They’ve busted union membership down from 35% of the private sector in the 1950s to less than 8% today. Wages stagnated while income inequality soared. From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in incomes went to the richest 1% percent, which now owns more wealth than the bottom 90%.
Republicans don’t care about creating jobs or cutting deficits. GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan, for example, sat idly by as the remains of his district’s auto industry were dismantled, leaving Racine, Kenosha, and Janesville the most economically depressed cities in the state. Instead he plotted to privatize Social Security, despite the Wall Street debacle, and promoted tax cuts for the rich, despite the ballooning deficit.
If Republicans win their war against workers, we face dire consequences. As Shirer observed, “Between the Right and Left, Germany lacked a politically powerful middle class, which in other countries – in France, in England, in the United States – had proved to be the backbone of democracy.”
Mike Konopacki is a labor cartoonist in Madison. Kathy Wilkes is a Madison writer and editor.