Wisconsin recall effort sparks labor movement debate

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MADISON, Wis.—The law stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights, which spurred hundreds of thousands to take to the streets and occupy the State Capitol building last spring in what became known as the Wisconsin Uprising, was partially struck down by a federal judge on March 30.

The judge’s ruling held that it was unconstitutional for the state to bar public workers from voluntarily having union dues withdrawn from their paychecks (a practice known as dues check-off) and force public worker unions to recertify every year. However, the court left in place the provision of the law that restricts collective bargaining for public workers to quibbling over cost-of-living increases, eliminating their legal right to protect working conditions, seniority, raises, and benefits at the bargaining table.
Meanwhile, campaigning is heating up for the state’s recall election to replace Republican Governor Scott Walker. It is sure to be the most expensive election in Wisconsin history. Most unions have once again kowtowed to the Democratic Party, endorsing candidates for the recalls before the election date was even set and the candidates’ paperwork filed.
A massive “Reclaim Wisconsin” rally on March 10 brought some 50,000 or more working people to the Capitol Square and was largely directed toward pushing them to campaign for Democrats.
The favorite candidate among unions is Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the long-time administrator of the county that includes Madison. As part of her platform, Falk cites the cuts she imposed on county workers’ wages through collective bargaining for a give-back contract in 2010. The same budget included a huge increase in regressive local property taxes. This is the “good cop” approach to attacks on public workers’ standards of living that has most union officials singing Falk’s praises as the best possible alternative to Gov. Scott Walker!
The UW-Madison Teaching Assistant’s Association, which played a leading role in last year’s protests and occupation, once again made waves on the left by passing a resolution declaring its intent not to endorse any candidate that does not agree to a full reversal of these attacks, including restoration of funding for public services and the 8%-plus pay cut taken by public workers under Act 10. Unfortunately, pro-Democrat forces within the union were able to mobilize enough opposition at the following meeting to rescind the resolution; however, a motion to endorse Kathleen Falk also failed.
Left activists in the union are continuing to organize and push publicly for what should be a given—independent workplace action and no confidence to the so-called friends of labor who stab us in the back!
> The article above was written by Carl Sack, and first appeared in the April 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.