Beating up on labor…for the moment

Almost overnight, Wisconsin has become a bellwether bar none in what surely will be hideously contentious arena encounters to which we will be treated leading to the elections, presidential and otherwise, of 2012. The upstart governor, Scott Walker, and his Tea Party/Republican cohorts have for the moment prevailed in their determination to enact that dastardly legislation rolling back years of hard-won decency in the worker ranks. But if one were to judge by the scare-tactic methods that seem to be the victors’ preferred strategy for trying to justify this travesty, it may well be that the thousands who rallied in solid opposition are ultimately the real winners.

With the right-side Supreme Court votes having provided cover, as of last year, for stealth funding of this or that political agenda, the anti-union crowd is off and running in its campaign of vilification. We’ll find out how masterful a job they do on the body politic, exploitable as it can be, in the divide-and-conquer maneuvers that are the naked ploy here. Right out of the starting gate there’s been an advertisement demonizing teachers! Now, beyond being downright despicable, how dumb is that? Some brainiacs actually sat down and plotted to have the citizenry turn against folks who teach their kids? Smacks of utter desperation, if you ask me.

Walker’s pronouncement, at the time of signing the offensive measure into law, that “the people” will see the merits of it in short order clearly hinted he was none too happy with how “the people” have reacted so far to his my-way-or-the-highway macho stance. He has plenty of reason to think he may have been on the wrong side of the line in the sand he felt constrained to draw. Almost without exception, national surveys by the leading polling organizations have found that the public overwhelmingly opposes (by majorities in the range of three-fifths to two-thirds) the move to strip public employees of their rights.Despite their best efforts in Wisconsin to depict public workers as some otherworldly species, one poll by Bloomberg News found a 71 percent favorability rating for such workers nationally. One could expect from Walker’s kind a sustained full-court press to attempt to turn that tide.

Both the Wisconsin Senate Democrats, who tried to forestall the bill’s passage, and the victimized unions have indicated plans to mount challenges in court and elsewhere to have the legislation voided. Whether or not any substantive action is taken on that front, the larger mission obviously is in consolidating forces and resources toward torpedoing any designs aimed at seeing labor regress to when workplace indignity was par for the course.

As we’ve said here before, it’s pretty clear that in the down-draft of the economic shellacking the country has taken, new realities for both public and private sector employees will probably include some medicine they’d rather not have. Workers’ representatives who obstinately insist on contract terms that are indisputably impractical do their minions no favors. Indeed, any leader’s mettle is most tested when there’s the challenge of convincing rank and file of sacrifice to be made. But the Wisconsin follies are about a whole other dynamic. They are about a governor evidently predisposed to union bashing and some hell-raising conservative types who’ve been in open revolt since November of ’08, whose scapegoating of any and everything discrediting this administration is the overriding agenda. They’ve now tossed public workers into the collateral-damage pile.

Mark Shields, the PBS Nightly News analyst, commented recently that the imbroglio in Wisconsin saw the Democrats emerge from it with a decided advantage over their counterparts. He is not alone in that view, and polling on the dispute seems amply corroborative. Those poll numbers suggest the governor and the others willing to kick to the curb anyone regarded as standing in the way of their reckless take on the function of government, may have done a bit of costly overreach in Wisconsin.

It goes without saying that the current White House occupant is considered absolutely ill-suited to lead government as the extremists conceive it. But oddly, Wisconsin might turn out to be the extremists’ bridge too far, and a surprise basket of cheer the Democrats, not to mention the president himself, could sorely use. There appeared to be much evidence, not only among Wisconsin’s wronged public workers, but other labor-conscious folk around the country who rose up in protest, that the sucker-punch dealt in Wisconsin was seen as an assault on the working/middle class that was tantamount to a declaration of war. For sure, there are among those prodded into action and/or a new alertness by the Wisconsin happenings, a goodly number who had morphed into Obama ambivalence (or worse) and who didn’t see in the wave that enveloped the electorate last November, the nuclear-option threats it posed.

Let the dirty games begin. About that disingenuous advertisement denigrating teachers, we can rest assured there’s a lot more where that came from. Even in the face of a move as brazen and callous as stripping away basic workers’ rights, the progressive alliance knows there are no limits to the foul dredging, long typical of the other side, in the maniacal call to arms that 2012 represents.

The upstart in Wisconsin may have overplayed his hand. Democrats and independents just may wind up loving this guy to death.

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