Following their supreme court’s recent 4-3 ruling, Wisconsin now becomes one of only six states in the union (joining North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Texas) where it’s illegal for public employees to engage in collective bargaining?which is, arguably, the working man’s sole recourse and the life-blood of organized labor.
Despite Wisconsin having one of the finest public school systems in the United States, the virulently anti-union governor, Scott Walker, and his Republican state legislature nonetheless took it upon themselves to declare war on the teachers’ union. Eliminating collective bargaining (under the guise of “fiduciary responsibility”) was their weapon of choice.
Even with the budget problems Wisconsin was experiencing (and, in truth, compared to California’s budgetary woes, they were in relatively minor), this decision didn’t make sense. It was like dropping an H-bomb on an anthill. By any reckoning, the state of Wisconsin (birthplace of LaFollette progressivism, for crying out loud) simply doesn’t belong in the same company as the Gang of Five.
Not to drown ourselves in regional/cultural stereotypes, but history is history, and if we wish to pretend for reasons of political correctness that certain geographical regions don’t hold certain views, or don’t vote a particular way, we do so at our own peril. Georgia is simply different from Wisconsin?.not in every way, but in some important ways. For instance, as recently as 1964, it was illegal for black people in Georgia to drink out of the same water fountains as white people. That ain’t going to happen in Madison.
Moreover, the AFL-CIO never dreamed that a progressive northern state would be the next domino to fall, that Wisconsin, of all places, would become the sixth state to prohibit collective bargaining. Alabama or Tennessee would make sense. Indeed, Tennessee, which recently made it illegal for classroom teachers to refer to homosexuality?as either a sexual orientation or “gay” life-style?would make eminent sense.
North Carolina makes sense. North Carolina is a vehemently anti-labor state, with the lowest (3.2%) percentage of union workers in the country, compared to Wisconsin which, at 14.2%, has one of the highest rates. South Carolina makes sense. It sent segregationist Strom Thurmond to the Senate. North Carolina sent paleoconservative Jesse Helms to the Senate. By contrast, Wisconsin elected Russ Feingold, the only senator?Democrat or Republican?to vote against the Patriot Act.
Texas also makes sense. Even though it has produced some cool people?Ann Richards, Larry McMurtry, Willie Nelson?it was the Texas State School Board that drew national attention by ordering the publishers of their high school history textbooks to alter the contents, having them conform more closely with the state’s conservative views.
Among other things, Texas insisted that the contributions of Latinos and African Americans be played down, that the validity of the separation of church and state be openly challenged, and that the tenets Darwinian evolution be questioned. (On the other hand, they were open-minded enough to acknowledge that Alaska was still the largest state.)
Stereotypes and sweeping generalizations aside, these are the facts. Oregon isn’t like Florida, and California isn’t like Mississippi. And lumping Wisconsin with Texas?a state that boasts of low test scores, a high dropout rate, a high percentage of teenage pregnancies, and the most state-mandated executions in the nation?is incongruous at best, and totally bizarre at worst. How could this have ever happened?
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at email@example.com