Wisconsin again

by Harry on March 11, 2011

I apologise to everyone for taking up so much space here. I’ve kept going in part because I know there are still people who are looking here for news and discussion and impressions. And because, although at some level it seems parochial, this has been the most remarkable political movement I’ve witnessed close-to (and that included the 1984-5 Miners Strike and the peace movement in the early 80’s which was my first experience of a mass movement), and by far the biggest thing of its kind that I’ve known about in the US since moving here a quarter of a century ago. Unless something surprising happens, I’ll slow down from hereon, with maybe a couple of posts in the future giving more impressions and analysis, and maybe suggestions about where the movement could go.

But for the moment, there is one urgent thing. Several plans seem to have been made for events at the Capitol tomorrow. This is a sign of the lack of coordination among the diverse leaderships of a more or less spontaneous uprising. The time that most people are quoting is 11 a.m. I urge readers who can make it to get there, and those who cannot to encourage others to do so. The Bill is passed, and there is no point trying to kill it now. The key is a massive show of strength—not to show the Republicans what they will be up against in the coming year or so, but to show our quieter supporters throughout the state that we are strong and this is just the beginning of a much less spectacular and sexy movement that can reach far beyond the capitol into the cities, towns, and villages of Wisconsin, in which they can play a part with assurance that their efforts have a real prospect of success.

{ 102 comments }

1

gmack 03.11.11 at 4:39 pm

Personally, I see no need for an apology. This is the first movement of this sort I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I believe it could constitute the beginning of a critical alternative to the current dominance of conservative economic policies. It’s worth the coverage.

And you are absolutely right about the need for a show of strength. Now is not the time for demoralization. A demonstration is not the same as a movement, and my sense is that this has the possibility of becoming the latter and not just the former. Wisconsinites have already achieved far more than I expected when I first heard of Walker’s proposals; they (and the rest of us) need to keep going.

2

Fred 03.11.11 at 5:13 pm

It is well past time to end collective bargaining ……….for businesses. Lets elinate the legal status of all corporate pacs and lobbying groups. If a company has a need to address the Assembly then they need to do so directly, with a member of the board of directors, just as a teach would have to negotiate for working conditions. Fair is fair, afterall.

3

markg 03.11.11 at 5:20 pm

I’ve experienced a good deal of frustration at the lack of coordination noted in the post. As remarkable as the protests have been, I can’t help but think how much more effective a coordinated effort would be in conveying the size and intensity of this movement. This saturday, rallies are scheduled several hours apart, so that the attendance at each, and thus the impact of, will inevitably be less than if they closely followed one another. Frankly, I don’t have the endurance nor the patience to attend the rallies tomorrow morning and stick around for the 3 o’clock labor rally. I imagine that’s true of thousands of others as well. Of course, it will be better than last saturday, when the two main rallies occurred simultaneously in different areas instead of complimenting one another. (While Michael Moore was giving his speech on one side of the square, I and thousands of others were on the other side completely oblivious to it.) It’s still been an amazing month.

4

Salient 03.11.11 at 5:20 pm

Spring break in four hours. Madison in fifteen.

5

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.11 at 5:25 pm

“Unless something surprising happens, I’ll slow down from hereon, with maybe a couple of posts in the future giving more impressions and analysis, and maybe suggestions about where the movement could go.”

You’re going to post less now?

I commented here previously that the legislative walk-out was a stunt that was predictably not going to work, and that protests also never worked in the Bush/post-Bush era, in which slim legislative majorities plus the executive plus powerful backers were all that was required, no matter how much the minority was harmed. Those predictions seem to me to have come true.

Therefore the recall effort is the only real action that can work, isn’t that right? All of the rest was feel-good stuff — excuse me, “building solidarity and showing strength” etc. — and now we’re down to the only action that can actually halt the breakup of the unions. I don’t question that this stage is, as you write, less sexy. But it’s where success or failure is actually going to be determined. Reducing posting on the issue now is a bad sign.

6

Maria 03.11.11 at 5:29 pm

Good for you, Salient!

Harry, please don’t apologise and please keep posting. The eyes of the world, etc. etc. Thank you very much for keeping those of us who can’t be there up to date.

7

Harry 03.11.11 at 5:40 pm

alright Rich, I give in. I’ve been feeling that I’m hogging the space. But I’ll keep up the posting (just for you — no not really, its what I wwant to do) unless my colleagues object (but much less above the fold).

8

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.11 at 5:51 pm

I actually think that you should, Harry. I hate to see things drop out once they’re past the feel-good stage and into the actual determining stage. Bad incentives, or something.

9

Bruce Baugh 03.11.11 at 5:53 pm

Harry, this strikes me as simultaneously interesting and important stuff. I’m happy to have you posting about it.

10

delagar 03.11.11 at 5:57 pm

Please keep posting. I’m down here in Arkansas and it’s nearly impossible to get any information — real information — on what’s happening.

11

The Analyst 03.11.11 at 6:09 pm

This is by far one of the ugliest, most obscene precedents set for labour relations anywhere in the Anglo-American world. It deserves the uttermost attention. If this crap goes unchallenged in the Upper Midwest, former Feingold state of Wisconsin, who knows where else it could spread?

I’d also disagree a bit with Rich Puchalsky. Sure, mass demonstrations aren’t a silver bullet, but they do help draw media attention to an issue and can serve as a springboard for later, more effective actions.

12

chris 03.11.11 at 6:11 pm

Rich: Given what’s going on on the other thread, I’m curious as to why you would support recall, given that the likely result of the successful recall of a Republican is the election of a Democrat. Isn’t that, by your standards, no improvement at all? Or do you limit that view to Obama in particular?

ISTM that Wisconsin is one of the clearest current examples of how the parties *are* different and the difference between them *does* matter.

13

Christopher Phelps 03.11.11 at 6:18 pm

Harry, the reason you must keep posting is that this is just the first state action in what will soon be a cascade. This is like the 1920s open-shop drive all over again. Viz., Reuters:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/11/us-usa-unions-states-idUSTRE7295QI20110311

14

Kevin 03.11.11 at 6:25 pm

I want to third or fourth or fifth or whatever the plea to have you keep posting. I know you’ve already agreed to do so, but still think it’s important for you to know there’s a lot of us out here who are following and cheering you on. This is very important stuff. I’m trying to help my (Montreal based) students keep up to date on events — they’re very interested and inspired once they start to go beyond the MSM reports – and your CT posts are among the best sources of info, Harry. Keep it up!

15

Substance McGravitas 03.11.11 at 6:32 pm

Yes, many thanks for the Wisconsin news.

16

Walt 03.11.11 at 6:34 pm

I fear Wisconsin will be redistricted into “business friendly” for the next decade…

17

Russell Arben Fox 03.11.11 at 6:54 pm

Harry, please keep up the pace. One of the things that has been so vital about the protests and sit-ins and marches of the past month is that they have demonstrated that Wisconsin, whatever else it is (another state in the union, another site for corporations to receive the financial treatment they are used to, etc.), is a place with a history which to a great degree leads to an identification with the cause of unions and labor. That doesn’t exist very many other places in this country. Hearing about the activism on the ground keeps that concept front and center, and thus lends support to those of us who realize that without such a sense of identification, there’s no hope whatsoever of during the capitalist ship around, or even just nudging it a little bit. Every link, every announcement, every scene you relate is valuable. Even if, as Rich says, the activism to come will take “less sexy” forms, it still shows that some people, somewhere, are feeling solidarity–and if they can, maybe others can too. So really, if at all possible, don’t stop.

18

JP 03.11.11 at 7:41 pm

Stop destroying the state capitol at a tune of $7.5 million [heavy does of snark, together with realization of new "damage estimate" at $350,000].

But, that meme is increasingly circulating the ‘nets.

19

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.11 at 8:07 pm

chris, there’s all the difference in the world between “we need to elect Democrats because they give our causes lip service” and between “we need to elect Democrats [via recall of Republicans] in order to show that we have the power and the GOP had better not attack us this way again.” Electoral politics here sends a very focussed message, and that message is that power doesn’t reside with the party, it resides with the people. It’s a very rare circumstance in which this happens.

The Analyst: “Sure, mass demonstrations aren’t a silver bullet, but they do help draw media attention to an issue and can serve as a springboard for later, more effective actions.”

That’s the theory, yes. (Or, in a more Alinskyite vein, demonstrations serve as recruiting tools.) But it counts for nothing unless the later, more effective actions actually take place. Unless that happens, this becomes yet another noble loss, to be remembered in leftist nostalgia, and we’re rather oversupplied with those.

20

Harry 03.11.11 at 8:16 pm

Yes, I agree with both the Analyst and Rich — mass demonstrations at this point are pointless unless they contribute to other action, but they can contribute to other action, and the point is to make sure that they do. Absolutely no interest in making this yet another noble loss — and its playing a long game that will change it.

The 6.5 million estimate was a straightforward lie, the purposed of which was to circulate on the internet. Even the 350k is interesting, because skilled union workers have offered their voluntary labour to do it. At some point the TAA will no doubt offer to reseed the grass areas, and no doubt we’ll hear another lie about how much that will cost.
OK, I’ll keep it up, I promise, but less text (and fewer videos) on the front page. And I will try to post on other things sometimes.

21

ScentOfViolets 03.11.11 at 8:22 pm

Unless that happens, this becomes yet another noble loss, to be remembered in leftist nostalgia, and we’re rather oversupplied with those.

Why is this supposed to be a noble loss for leftists?

22

Leo Casey 03.11.11 at 8:24 pm

Harry:

With all due deference to Joe Hill, Don’t Apologize, Organize! And Keep on Writing.

Leo

23

Sweden 03.11.11 at 8:27 pm

The country where joe hill was born says: keep posting!

24

The Analyst 03.11.11 at 8:34 pm

Rich Puchalsky: “That’s the theory, yes. (Or, in a more Alinskyite vein, demonstrations serve as recruiting tools.) But it counts for nothing unless the later, more effective actions actually take place. Unless that happens, this becomes yet another noble loss, to be remembered in leftist nostalgia, and we’re rather oversupplied with those.”

It depends on you’re scope. There is a very real chance that collective bargining rights will be stripped in a very hard to reinstate way for many Wisconsin public servants. On the other hand, if there’s enough Press coverage and *NOISE* generated over this travesty, it might be possible to prevent it from spreading (Canada’s Cato clone – “The Fraser Institute” – has floated the idea of applying Walker’s idea to Canadian public servants. If there’s enough bad PR, perhaps the idea will never get off the ground in other countries and other US states).

Union activists in Manitoba, for instance, have been quite concerned over this.

25

Brad 03.11.11 at 9:19 pm

Keep posting. News about the recall efforts is very “sexy” to this New Yorker.

26

tomslee 03.11.11 at 9:35 pm

One more vote for more posts. Maybe someone could declare you an essential service so you can’t stop even if you want to?

27

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.11 at 9:36 pm

“If there’s enough bad PR, perhaps the idea will never get off the ground in other countries and other US states.”

I think that with regard to other US states, this is already happening. However, the effect of that PR won’t last unless recall succeeds. Walker boasted to the Koch impersonator who called him that he wanted another Reagan moment, and if he gets all this protest, holds firm, and ends up winning, he’ll have had one. Then every other GOP wannabe will want one.

“Why is this supposed to be a noble loss for leftists?”

For left-ish people? People to the left of the center of the spectrum? I wasn’t meaning to be overly technical. Hopefully people know what I mean: once folk songs start getting written about it, it’s all over.

28

Steve LaBonne 03.11.11 at 9:38 pm

I will echo others in saying, no apologies needed! You are an invaluable source of on-the-ground information about a very significant series of events. Many thanks.

29

tomslee 03.11.11 at 9:42 pm

Once folk songs start getting written about it, it’s all over.

Sentence of the day.

30

Harry 03.11.11 at 10:16 pm

Thanks for all the votes of confidence. Dare I ask this: is it a surprise to some of you (Rich, leo, Steve, eg) that I have been so on top of this and unwavering in support? Its weird to discuss one’s persona openly like this, but I think of this as not my typical kind of posting, which tends to be more reflective and even-handed, and I usually think it seems more moderate to people than, in fact, my overall political outlook is. Of course, I’m being evenhanded here, too, but my actual political commitments (left-of-Dem, solid on unions, etc) are much more clearly reflected in my response to the current events. I know some readers (CP, Joe, Margaret, tomslee eg) will be unsurprised. Maybe its indecent to ask this, and I’m happy if anyone responds off-blog.

31

Sufferin' Succotash 03.11.11 at 10:32 pm

“Remember the war against Franco,
That’s where we all belonged.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!”
Tom Lehrer

32

ScentOfViolets 03.11.11 at 10:38 pm

“Why is this supposed to be a noble loss for leftists?”

For left-ish people? People to the left of the center of the spectrum? I wasn’t meaning to be overly technical. Hopefully people know what I mean: once folk songs start getting written about it, it’s all over.

What I mean to say is, wouldn’t this be accurately characterized as a noble loss for everyday middle-of-the-road people who don’t happen to be particularly liberal or conservative? Or a noble loss for the bottom 90% of income earners in America?

33

Steve LaBonne 03.11.11 at 10:41 pm

Harry, from reading many of your posts, your commitment to this cause is as unsurprising as it is admirable. Thanks to you (and your daughter of course) for fighting the good fight.

34

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.11 at 10:45 pm

“What I mean to say is, wouldn’t this be accurately characterized as a noble loss for everyday middle-of-the-road people who don’t happen to be particularly liberal or conservative?”

They don’t get noble losses. They just get to lose.

“Or a noble loss for the bottom 90% of income earners in America?”

The pleasure of ressentiment will make up for it for a good number of them.

35

mds 03.12.11 at 12:30 am

this becomes yet another noble loss, to be remembered in leftist nostalgia,

Indeed, it’s a loss for the working class in general, but only leftists will someday wax nostalgic about it. Too many centrist and conservative working-class voters have already demonstrated that they don’t remember anything.

once folk songs start getting written about it, it’s all over.

Uh-oh.

36

liberal japonicus 03.12.11 at 12:31 am

I really appreciate your coverage and would hope that you continue to write about this. Finding out the various twists and turns that this takes from a person there on the scene is invaluable. I would especially like to know about the recall campaigns, what they are doing, how they are doing.

37

musical mountaineer 03.12.11 at 1:42 am

a…loss for the bottom 90% of income earners in America

How? Seriously. How? Even just in Wisconsin…how?

A few teachers will get fired, with economic ripple effects. The rest will get to keep their union dues, with economic ripple effects. A few politicians will find their electoral machines grinding to a halt (which is, of course, the whole point). Everyone – and I mean everyone – else, from the Governor right down to the bums under the bridges, stands to gain.

That’s what’s so scary. This union will be gone, and nobody outside the union and its pet politicians will miss it. People who pay very, very close attention will notice they are actually better off.

Or so it seems to me. I really am curious to know just how this is supposed to be such a big disaster for most people. As disasters go, I suspect this latest tsunami is likely to cause more pain in Wisconsin than the union-busting thing.

38

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.11 at 1:43 am

“Dare I ask this: is it a surprise to some of you (Rich, leo, Steve, eg) that I have been so on top of this and unwavering in support? Its weird to discuss one’s persona openly like this, but I think of this as not my typical kind of posting, which tends to be more reflective and even-handed, and I usually think it seems more moderate to people than, in fact, my overall political outlook is.”

From your prior blog persona, I would have guessed that you would be unwavering in support. I think that you posting this much about it is as much geographical accident as anything, in the sense that there are a number of CT posters who I would expect to post a lot about it if they happened to live in Wisconsin.

However. The fact that you think that this series of posts is less moderate than your usual confirms what I’ve always found problematic about that kind of moderation. It’s a sign that something is wrong when taking an actual, not unusual position — “I support unions strongly and would go out and protest if they were being attacked” — is seen as a mark against reflectivity and even-handedness. You don’t have to balance your posts with another series that says “maybe Walker is right, let’s consider it.”

39

nick s 03.12.11 at 1:53 am

Or so it seems to me.

Well, duh. The idea that unions might serve as a bulwark against wage stagnation or the squeezing of benefits right down the income ladder would never cross your beautiful mind.

40

musical mountaineer 03.12.11 at 2:20 am

Baby, I want my benefits squeezed right down the income ladder.

41

joel hanes 03.12.11 at 2:24 am

how this is supposed to be such a big disaster for most people.

By this rubric, Mississippi is paradise for the working class, and Wisconsin should look forward to joining it in the roster of low-wage, low-education, right-to-work, neo-feudal backwaters.

42

Stuart 03.12.11 at 2:30 am

“People who pay very, very close attention will notice they are actually better off.”

Except that most people who aren’t in unions have the option of changing job and taking one in an industry with a union, so their current employers have to compete with the wages/conditions that the union negotiates for its members – so the effect of unions spreads beyond its members and out to the bulk of society. The less unions there are, and the weaker their negotiating power, the lower almost everyones wages get. One strong point of evidence of this has been the median wage stagnation in the US since the 80s when union participation starting falling from a relatively stable position before that.

43

Antti Nannimus 03.12.11 at 2:43 am

Hi Harry,

You WHAT, apologize? What the HELL? This is the MAIN thing going on in the (local vicinity of the) universe.

I nominate you as The Guy In Charge of the Adults.

Have a nice day!
Antti

44

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.11 at 3:37 am

By the way, if anyone wants to participate in recall efforts, this dKos diary, though a bit dated (from last weekend), seems to have the best links of what I could easily turn up.

45

Kevin 03.12.11 at 4:02 am

Harry — your moderation in this instance is, it seems to me, eminently Aristotelian. That is, perfectly suited to the particular circumstances.

46

mclaren 03.12.11 at 4:04 am

By all means, keep on going on about this. It’s a huge development, and has the potential to represent a sea-change in U.S. politics.

If this thing has legs, everything changes. 30 years of Reaganoid depredations could be coming to an end.

That’s worth dwelling on.

47

PHB 03.12.11 at 4:17 am

The whole thing just seems an idiotic waste of time for the GOP

There never was the slightest interest in balancing the budget, the only aim was to bust the Democratic party which has deep ties to the unions in Wisconsin.

Even if Walker has succeeded in destroying the public sector unions it is clear he is going to be the gift that keeps giving for the Democratic party and not just in Wisconsin. Walker’s recall election is now a sure thing and will be occurring in the middle of the 2012 Presidential campaign.

Even now it is pretty difficult to keep up the media myth that the Tea Party rallies are ‘grassroots’ while the Wisconsin rallies are not. That is going to be a lot harder as Republicans start being recalled while they can’t even get the signatures to have a recall election against any Democrat.

In a few days time we should be seeing the administration writing a letter to Walker telling him that he has just lost $43 million that was contingent on not reducing labour rights.

48

nitish 03.12.11 at 4:27 am

Along with everyone else, I’d like to see more posts on Wisconsin.

49

Harry 03.12.11 at 4:29 am

Stuart — forget the empirical evidence, lets go to the theory of supply and demand — high quality public sector compensation raises the level of private sector compensation as they compete for labour. I’m teasing, the empirical matters. But it is odd that nobody says this to people like Walker who claim that somehow screwing public sector workers will benefit others.

Rich — don’t worry, I won’t do that. I guess that my suspicion is that because my non-frivolous posts tend to be about theory, or about an issue on which I have quirky views which give some credence to conservative positions (public education), I wonder whether my actual broader views come through. I confess (maybe I should write about this) that it is a point of pride for me that my students in my large lecture course cannot tell my views about the issues I teach them about or my more general political outlook (in May I went to an event at which a former student called out my name and tried to give me a Feingold sticker, and after we had taken three between us I asked if he was surprised I took it, and his answer was “I just had no idea”). Even though if they cared it would take 5 minutes on google to find it out.

50

ScentOfViolets 03.12.11 at 4:34 am

The less unions there are, and the weaker their negotiating power, the lower almost everyones wages get.

And:

Along with everyone else, I’d like to see more posts on Wisconsin

Agreed. Now, I’m not a liberal, don’t pretend to be one (Eisenhower Republican would be more like it.) But to paraphrase some dead guy, “If we do not all hang together we will most assuredly separately hang.” So count me in as being very interested in further developments in WI.

51

Harry 03.12.11 at 4:39 am

And I saw mainstream network media on this for the first time yesterday (whatever network has Brian Williams). It was stunningly bad — designed for sensation, completely unrepresentative of the phenomena on the ground, and glossing over too much. I suppose that I have been sucked in by the (stunningly positive) local coverage, but still, the thought that that is how it is being presented to the world was depressing.

52

Gene O'Grady 03.12.11 at 6:07 am

I’ve avoided the mainstream media, partly because Harry has provided better coverage than I expect from my TV, just as I get all my Irish political news from CT, but in response to #51, I can only say you shoulda been there in the sixties if you wanted to see bad, like really dishonest, coverage of would-be mass movements. And the New York Times was the most annoying. Didn’t need Fox with them on the job!

53

Brett Bellmore 03.12.11 at 12:05 pm

“There never was the slightest interest in balancing the budget, the only aim was to bust the Democratic party which has deep ties to the unions in Wisconsin.”

Right, they can’t possibly think that busting the public employee unions will help in the long run to balance the budget. Costs don’t have anything to do with budget balancing, which is supposed to be accomplished entirely on the income side of things, at least where government is concerned.

I think you have identified, however, why Democrats are so energized about this issue. Not being able to launder tax money through public employee unions into your party would be a major blow. That’s got to be in the backs of all your minds, and the front for more of you that would care to admit it.

54

Maurice Meilleur 03.12.11 at 12:17 pm

That’s quite a charge about what’s got to be in the backs of all our minds, Brett. Care to prove you’re not trolling by offering an argument and some evidence? Otherwise, speaking for myself, you can f*ck right off back to Kleiman’s site, where you seem to have better control of your commentary.

55

Steve LaBonne 03.12.11 at 12:58 pm

Gee, Brett, in that case they illegally passed a fiscal bill without the required quorum in the Senate. Even glibertarians don’t get to repeal the law of the excluded middle.

56

Maurice Meilleur 03.12.11 at 1:03 pm

Steve, that was a much more civil and constructive response than mine. I think I’ll have another cup of coffee now.

57

Harry 03.12.11 at 1:14 pm

Since I’m not a Democrat, it is not in the front or back of my mind. And Steve is right.

58

joe koss 03.12.11 at 1:33 pm

The past three weeks have been an affront to some of my most deeply held sensibilities on fairness, democracy and equality.

I haven’t been able to rationalize this affront, so instead I’m turning to being inspired that others felt the same, and because they felt something had gone wrong, terribly wrong, the only way they knew how to express this was to gather, and chant, and sing, and occupy, and protest, and, while maybe in vain, but still most importantly, be heard, standing up for what is right, and good.

I guess it is too much to ask that others understand this, but it would be nice if others could respect it.

59

Brett Bellmore 03.12.11 at 1:51 pm

“Fiscal” bill isn’t define as “a bill which effects finances”, any bill which has any effect at all on expenses does that, which is to say pretty much all of them. The bill didn’t raise or allocate money, and that’s good enough.

And I’ve seen enough liberals claiming Republicans were motivated by shutting off the money spigot to the Democratic party, to know that keeping it open is a major concern.

60

Matt McIrvin 03.12.11 at 2:19 pm

Tax money should only be laundered through campaign contributions by Republican government contractors, as the First Amendment intended.

61

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.11 at 2:21 pm

The only thing wrong with the “glibertarian” coinage is that all libertarians are glibertarians. Brett’s ideas are a serious and natural outgrowth of libertarian ideology, not some kind of glib deformation of it.

And Brett is correct that the arguments over whether the bill is fiscal or not are pretty facile. The bill didn’t raise or allocate money, and all the rest is a matter for the lawyers. Everyone knows, or should know, that Walker was lying when he claimed that his concern was fiscal, and that really he just wanted to break the unions. That’s reality, isn’t it?

Brett’s annoying because he attributes motivation; he pretends to know what we are thinking. He completely fails to understand why liberals are culturally interested in defending unions without some kind of cash motive. But all right. Let’s take him at his word. For us to win, people like Brett have to lose. There is no win-win here, no negotiation that can satisfy everyone. Do what you can to help the recall because otherwise all of the greedheads that Brett speaks for will win.

62

John Protevi 03.12.11 at 2:42 pm

@Matt 60: or through TARP-enabled banks. Though some firefighters seem to have other ideas.

63

Harry 03.12.11 at 2:46 pm

Why think that it is a major concern? It is just true that the Republicans are motivated in significant part by that — why not point it out?- It is a reprehensible and partisan motive, and that is enough to impugn those motivated by it even if you, the person pointing it out, has no stake in whether unions fund Democrats. Really Brett, you think they are not motivated by that? Some are, I am sure, stupid enough not to, and some may even believe this is about prosperity rather than about ensuring that the gains of future growth flow even more to the wealthiest than the gains of recent growth have. You think the Koch’s think that? Or Walker?

64

Harry 03.12.11 at 2:49 pm

And yes to Rich — the point is not whether or not the bill is fiscal — we never said it was, in fact we said it wasn’t. Walker was the one who said it was integral to the budget bill, and that all he was interested in was balancing the budget — but that was a lie, and has been admitted as such (I know, I know, Brett, you don’t understand the pragmatics of expression, but anyone who can follow a conversation understands that Walker has admitted a lie).

65

Andrew 03.12.11 at 3:13 pm

Well… Brett is correct about some of the strategic party implications. It’s a bit too far to accuse all supporters of the unions as being motivated by those implications, though.

At the leadership level, of both parties, I have no doubt that such implications formed a part of their motivations. That doesn’t mean the merits of the respective arguments have no role, of course.

I also think people could be a bit more charitable in their interpretations of the motives and values of others.

Harry: I’ve greatly appreciated your postings, but I also agree that this is a natural point at which to give some of the balance of posting to other issues. The organizational efforts in Wisconsin certainly merit a place in future posts, though. Political importance aside, they’ll make a very interesting case study.

66

John Protevi 03.12.11 at 3:18 pm

So good of you, Andrew, to visit the terrestrial plane from your abode far, far above those petty squabbles.

67

Steve LaBonne 03.12.11 at 3:43 pm

The bill didn’t raise or allocate money, and all the rest is a matter for the lawyers.

And the courts, so that is not a matter of purely academic significance.

68

Andrew 03.12.11 at 3:54 pm

John: I apologize if my tone seemed overly detached or condescending. That wasn’t my intention.

69

John Protevi 03.12.11 at 4:26 pm

No need to apologize, Andrew, it’s nothing personal. But I thought I should call the tone of your comment to your attention, albeit in the mode of snark.

70

Christopher Phelps 03.12.11 at 4:58 pm

Joe Koss @58 very eloquently sums up what all of this has meant to me, at least.

Harry, most of the time you are an analytic philosopher who prides himself on being idiosyncratic and untied to any politics, yes, but it is no accident that this sort of intellectual freedom is not at all incompatible with a libertarian-democratic socialist approach a la Rosa Luxemburg, of the sort that might be ripe for revival now that the US is rocketing toward a fully restored Gilded Age capitalism of the most ruthless sort. When this Wisconsin movement hit, first thing I said to myself is, Harry will be blogging about this, and went and took a look at CT. Voila. So no, not a surprise, nor should it have been.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.12.11 at 5:05 pm

“And the courts, so that is not a matter of purely academic significance.”

Since I’ve been right on my first two predictions so far, I’ll make a third: the courts are not going to overturn this on technical grounds.

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tomslee 03.12.11 at 5:23 pm

Andre Jackson gives a useful perspective on the issue of unions and public sector pay, from a Canadian perspective, is here. Two excerpts:

How do you defend decent pay and pension and benefits coverage without re-inforcing the image of a unionized public sector elite?

The answer lies in the research. While now somewhat dated, the best independent Canadian empirical studies show that a modest public sector pay advantage is mainly the product of higher pay for women in lower paid occupations, offset by lower pay for mainly male workers in managerial jobs.

The alleged ‘”public sector union elite” turns out not to be a bunch of overpaid archtypical bureaucrats, but to be modestly paid women such as caregivers who do much better than their private sector equivalents mainly because the latter struggle with low wages, are under-paid compared to equivalent male co workers, and rarely have access to pension and health benefits.

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tomslee 03.12.11 at 5:24 pm

All of paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 should be in quotes, and the author is Andrew Jackson, not Andre.

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Lemuel Pitkin 03.12.11 at 8:24 pm

Just joining the chorus that the Wisconsin posts have been great and should continue, as long as there’s stuff happening to post about. Intense engagement with the great political conflict of the time is not something to apologize for.

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politicalfootball 03.12.11 at 9:10 pm

I’m a little puzzled as to why Brett should expect liberals to be unwilling to fight for institutions that support liberal causes. I’m even more surprised, though, that liberals often find this sort of argument persuasive.

Of course liberals want less concentration of power in the hands of the oligarchs, and of course libertarians-in-the-Brett-mold want the reverse. Walker and his ilk are willing to fight very directly for their paymasters. Americans should fight back.

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politicalfootball 03.12.11 at 9:11 pm

Oh, and I also don’t think the Wisconsin posts have been overdone.

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Netbrian 03.12.11 at 9:27 pm

How do you defend decent pay and pension and benefits coverage without re-inforcing the image of a unionized public sector elite?

It depresses me how much more I’ve been hearing the press complaining about a gilded bureaucratic elite and the resentment that should cause. They seldom say this about, say, businessmen or bankers.

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Harry 03.12.11 at 11:04 pm

I’m just back from what must have been the largest demonstration yet. I went from 10 to 11.45, then again from 3 till now (my constraint is having the 4 year old to cart around — literally I carry him all the time — and having to get 14 year old home so that she could get her running kit on and join the girls cross country runners who were running down there). At 3 the square was densely packed on the west and north sides and then a block down state street and several other streets. And at any given moment hundreds of people leaving while hundreds more arrived.

I have seen Trafalgar Square filled (I’ve helped fill it) but somehow this was better. Why? Because instead of a national one-off-demonstration in a country of 60 million and a city of 6 million it was the culmination of weeks of focused protest in a city of 200k in a state of 5 million. People of all ages, all kinds of walks of life, more women than men, the signs ever more focused on the recall efforts and on the state supreme court race on April 5.

A State Trooper gave my lad some of those weird handwarmer things when she saw how uncomfortable he was, and in general the police were smiling, good natured, as clearly on our side as could be. At some point my whole family was there, the two girls separated out — one ith the runners, the other with another family, and the other three of us walking around in amazement. I didn’t get where I am today by being an optimist, but this was, indeed, a massive show of strength.

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Kristen 03.12.11 at 11:29 pm

Harry, I just got back myself. We were down this morning for the Tractor Rally and went back for the Fab 14 this afternoon. I took my “Little Sister” (from Big Brothers/Big Sisters) with me and it was her first time at any type of protest, ever.

I’m trying to get my thoughts together and hope to post something later, but today was one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. I am left with a sense that this current bill may be awful, and will certainly do some damage to many things I value. But we have started planting the seeds of a movement that will last far beyond this particular biennial budget. Granted, I’m an optimist to start with…but this was simply an amazing day and I’ve never been prouder of my fellow Wisconsinites!

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Harry 03.13.11 at 1:06 am

Kristen’s too coy to provide a link. Here it is:
http://kandthethreeds.blogspot.com/2011/03/on-wisconsin.html

I’ll see if Kris Olds has been harvesting impressions of the day.
Yes, Kristen, I agree, it anything has a chance of really pushing things forward, it’s this. (We saw the tractors too, which won me about 30 minutes of patience from the little horror).

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Harriet Baber 03.13.11 at 1:36 am

Wish I could come there to support. Please keep fighting!

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Blain 03.13.11 at 2:23 am

I wish that I could’ve been there today (and at the earlier rallies as well). Of all the terms to be (far) away from Wisconsin!

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Lee A. Arnold 03.13.11 at 5:25 am

Wish I could be there because Wisconsin makes me proud to be an American.
This may be the time to start setting things in motion.

Via the redoubtable Alternet, firefighters organized a mass withdrawal from a bank that funded Walker, and closed it at 3 pm. This is really smart, and lots of fun.

The comment with the Alternet link (underneath a WaPo story) also recommends a boycott of all products sold by the Koch brothers.

That sounds about right. Get a few of those smart Wisconsin youngsters to make a website that names the toilet paper: “Wipe your butt with something else.”

See:

http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/515607/awesome:_wisconsin_firefighters_shut_down_bank_that_funded_walker/#paragraph3

http://views.washingtonpost.com/leadership/post_leadership/2011/03/walker-won-this-battle-but-is-he-winning-the-war.html?hpid=smartliving

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Lee A. Arnold 03.13.11 at 5:28 am

And here is what we are up against (via Rortybomb). Please be ready this time:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-01-10/david-brock-on-the-right-wing-war-against-obama/full/

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Christopher Phelps 03.13.11 at 8:56 am

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mw 03.13.11 at 1:02 pm

Of course liberals want less concentration of power in the hands of the oligarchs, and of course libertarians-in-the-Brett-mold want the reverse. Walker and his ilk are willing to fight very directly for their paymasters. Americans should fight back.

Libertarians don’t like concentrated power in anybody’s hands. From a libertarian perspective, subsidies, tariffs, and regulatory capture benefit management and labor alike in any given industry. Yes, labor and management may tussle over their respective shares, but they have an even more powerful shared incentive to try to the ‘concentrated power’ of government to shake down everybody else.

But in Wisconsin, there are no oligarchs in management — the other side of the negotiating table are public officials who are supposed to be representing the interests of the public (all of us) but who often have been captured by the unions they’re supposed to be bargaining with.

I’m a bit gobsmacked to hear progressives defending this nakedly — “Yes, public sector unions use their cash to buy politicians who turn around and negotiate sweetheart contracts at public expense, but overall that’s a good thing because it creates a powerful counterbalance to the oligarchs”. Yikes. You all see heros, libertarians see rent-seeking and corruption.

I don’t know if this will make any dent, but here’s a handy rule of thumb. Libertarians really like corporations that succeed by in a free, competitive market and provide value to their customers (think Google), but libertarians truly despise corporations that succeed by means of political influence, subsidies, tariffs, etc (think Archer Daniels Midland). I don’t expect you to agree with libertarians, but you might as well understand them.

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Harry 03.13.11 at 1:30 pm

I agree there’s a good deal of rent-seeking; it is what the political system in the US is designed for, so it would be surprising if it didn’t happen. And a good deal of it is not very conscious; people thinking they are doing the best for everyone while pursuing the best for themselves. Rather like the behaviour of many people who call for lower taxes sincerely believing it will help everybody when in fact it will only help people like them.

The place for judgment is this: what are the overall effects of the behaviour of public sector unions (regardless of motives etc)? Look at how efficiently public services are run, and how corruption-free they are when public sector unions are weak or non-existent? Compared with Wisconsin (which is where I am) with its clean government and nice people and clean unions, I am not optimistic.

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John Protevi 03.13.11 at 1:55 pm

mw, I smell No True Scotsman all over your post. How cares what the pure libertarian thinks when libertarian rhetoric is used by Walker et al to attack only union “rent-seeking” thereby producing as its real world net effect a vast strengthening of corporate “rent-seeking”? As Harry puts it, you’ve got to take real world effects into account, and I really wish you would own up to the real world effects of libertarian rhetoric in strengthening the type of corporation you claim to despise.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.13.11 at 1:57 pm

It seems silly to like Google and dislike ADM; they are both corporations, legal entities designed to generate profit. The difference is only in conditions under which they operate; one is in advertising, the other in agriculture. Also, “labor” and “the public” is pretty much the same thing; the difference (if you include labor’s family members) is negligible.

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mw 03.13.11 at 3:17 pm

John Protevi: mw, I smell No True Scotsman all over your post. How cares what the pure libertarian thinks when libertarian rhetoric is used by Walker et al to attack only union “rent-seeking” thereby producing as its real world net effect a vast strengthening of corporate “rent-seeking”?

I don’t see any way in which working against public-sector union rent-seeking strengthens corporate rent-seeking. And in the private sector, corporations and their unions often join forces in rent-seeking that will benefit their industries. Thinking you can fight one kind of rent-seeking with another kind doesn’t make any kind of sense to me.

Henri Vieuxtemps: It seems silly to like Google and dislike ADM; they are both corporations, legal entities designed to generate profit.

Seriously?

http://www.grist.org/article/ADM1/

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.13.11 at 3:38 pm

Yes, seriously. Both ADM and Google do whatever they have to do to maximize profits. If Google (at this time) is not buying politicians (assuming it’s true), all it means is that buying politicians would not help maximize Google’s profits. If tomorrow buying politicians becomes profitable for Google, then they’ll start doing it, or else they will be bankrupted by a competitor who does it.

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tomslee 03.13.11 at 5:10 pm

Google doesn’t buy politicians? Maybe that’s because the government just hires googlers and vice versa. Like Google’s Public Policy guy Andrew McLaughlin as White House Deputy CTO (getting in trouble emailing his old colleageues here) or Jared Cohen going the other way. Or Sumit Agarwal, Sonal Shah, Katie Stanton, Eric Schmidt, and John Doerr as listed here.

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mw 03.13.11 at 6:39 pm

Google doesn’t buy politicians?

Not on anything remotely like scale ADM has for decades. But the bigger and more powerful the government is, the more there is to be gained for corporations to spend money on lobbying and buying politicians (and the more there is to be lost if their competitors gain advantage that way). So, for example, Google has tried to hobble Microsoft by playing the anti-trust card and Microsoft has returned the favor:

http://www.techpolicy.com/Blog/March-2010/The-Microsoft-Google-Antitrust-Wars.aspx

The bigger the government is, the more spending and regulator power it has, the more corporations will compete by trying to turn government money & power to their advantage (rather than focus on the hard work succeeding in the market by serving customers). For Google, so far, buying government influence seems to be a relatively small part of their strategy, a recent and minor sideline, while for ADM it seems to be their main business strategy.

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Leo Casey 03.13.11 at 7:54 pm

As someone who follows, when I can, CT, I am not surprised that you would take this stand. What is happening in Wisconsin is so clearly designed to eliminate public sector unions and thus eviscerate what is left of the American labor moment, and to install a new political regime, in which corporate power will reign without any serious check or balance, that I would have been surprised if you had not done what you did. This is clearly a significant political moment, and the powerful resistance has created the potential for not just reversing the attacks on public sector unions, but to renew and revitalize the American labor moment.

While I do not generally take note of this when I comment here, since it is not relevant, I probably should note that I am a New York teacher union leader and very much involved in these struggles.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.13.11 at 8:06 pm

…more powerful the government is, the more there is to be gained for corporations…

True, but I guess liberals hope that perhaps this can be mitigated by some mechanism that keeps government accountable. And perhaps the unions are, in fact, a part of this mechanism.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.13.11 at 8:25 pm

mw @90 I don’t see any way in which working against public-sector union rent-seeking strengthens corporate rent-seeking./i>

‘Rent-seeking’ is a pretty dubious concept, especially as commonly used: surplus over minimally motivating reward, which in turn depends on opprtunity cost, which may also have a surplus component; the question of collective bargaining by workers versus stockholders; all these things involve various kinds of counterfactuals as baselines for comparison, and the whole thing gets very convoluted and arguably ungrounded.

Also since when do libertarians oppose rent-seeking? Wilt Chamberlain? Rent basically means surplus reward (there is supposed to be an aspect of scarcity enabling such a surplus to be extracted but so far as that applies it’s trivial), which is basically to say profit.

So stripping out the ‘rent-seeking’ verbiage, are you seriously saying that keeping wages low will not increase corporate profits?

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Harry 03.13.11 at 10:40 pm

I find the fact that my real politics shows through (somewhat) in my standard posting profile slightly reassuring, actually. Thanks Leo. Anyway, I promise to continue roughly as I have been, as we enter the long game.

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Harry 03.13.11 at 10:42 pm

Oh, and for what its worth, a few days ago a colleague emailed me from Paris (to discuss strategy and politics). I realised that it was the first time in my life I have heard from someone in Paris and not only felt no envy, but felt sorry that they are not where they should be. Which is right here.

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chris 03.14.11 at 1:38 pm

I’m a bit gobsmacked to hear progressives defending this nakedly—“Yes, public sector unions use their cash to buy politicians who turn around and negotiate sweetheart contracts at public expense, but overall that’s a good thing because it creates a powerful counterbalance to the oligarchs”.

I don’t know what kind of crazy glasses you’re looking through to see that — progressives usually point out that there is no sweetheart deal, that the public-sector “wage premium” arises from comparing fire marshals to Wal-Mart greeters, and that when comparing similar jobs, the public sector is not better paid at all.

Since union-friendly politicians are not in fact extracting any rent for the unions, the logical conclusion is that they’re not trying to, but rather, trying to promote the public purposes of the agencies that the unions’ members work for (education, law enforcement, fire prevention, etc.)

Libertarians don’t like concentrated power in anybody’s hands.

That’s odd — wealth is definitely a form of power, but I so seldom hear libertarians calling for stronger limits on personal wealth, or higher taxes on wealthier people to limit the power wielded by their wealth. Corporations exist to concentrate wealth, so shouldn’t libertarians support caps on the size of corporations, antitrust efforts that promote competition in the market, etc.? But, in practice, they generally don’t.

It’s almost like the evidence is more consistent with most libertarians being principle-free tools of the rich rather than having any consistent ideology or theory of the role of government whatsoever.

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piglet 03.14.11 at 9:43 pm

“Libertarians really like corporations that succeed by in a free, competitive market and provide value to their customers (think Google), but libertarians truly despise corporations that succeed by means of political influence, subsidies, tariffs, etc (think Archer Daniels Midland).”

Good joke mw. Libertarians are happy to be funded by the Koch brothers.

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musical mountaineer 03.15.11 at 4:42 pm

Thanks, Stuart @42. I’ll think it over.

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backtalk 03.16.11 at 11:10 pm

Don’t apologize. This is an important issue. The problem for the left is that people tend to lose focus and drift away. Our rulers, the bond market, have been pushing wages down for 40 years now. This process did reduce the cost of many things, but the hidden costs (unemployment, social decay, closure of Mom & Pop stores) were very large. The United States, like Iran, is a theocracy, ruled by a minority. The holy trinity of the American minority is tax cuts, privatization and deregulation. Wages are forced down- after the first waves of offshoring, labor was in surplus, and that’s only gotten worse. In california, we’ve had serious corruption in the public pension funds with fat consulting fees and business going to political friends, leaders of small towns like Bell paying themselves over 500K per year (concealing this from their citizens) and directing many contracts to firms in which they held partnerships. It’s not easy to prevent that kind of corruption. Rich libertarians say, you can’t control corruption, let’s go for minimum wage teachers, firemen and police and a schedule of steadily decreasing taxes. Nobody really believes in public education anyway. That issue was settled in the 1828 Presidential election when the Indian Killer Andrew Jackson defeated the overeducated John Quincy Adams. Jackson was strongly opposed to all forms of public education and to rights for non-whites. He’s celebrated on our 20 dollar bill.

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