Giving everyday workers more power to determine their working conditions and increase their pay is a core goal of the commons movement. Without collective bargaining, which through history has been one of the most effective ways of people working together for their common good, we’ll have little hope of making any progress toward economic equity.
The eyes of the nation have focused on Wisconsin twice this month—once when the Packers, the only community-owned NFL team, won the Super Bowl, and now as thousands of workers occupy the state capitol to resist governor Scott Walker’s direct attack on the American middle class and union rights.
If these events seem worlds apart to you, check out this report from Workday Minnesota which notes that members of the Packers issued a statement supporting state workers fighting to keep their right to collective bargaining.
Team members praised the “dedication of our public workers every day that makes Wisconsin run. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families.
“The right to negotiate wages and benefits,” the statement continues, “is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class. When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards. Wisconsin’s long-standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s.”
The NFL Player’s Association, engaged in a showdown with NFL owners also issued a letter of support, asserting, “The NFL Players Association will always support efforts protecting a worker’s right to join a union and collectively bargain.”
It’s obvious that Governor Walker’s actions are not about reducing Wisconsin’s budget deficit— otherwise he would never have signed bills handing over millions in tax cuts to corporations. Indeed, the state workers’ union understands the financial crisis and has assented to his wage and benefit reductions.
But Walker is holding out for measures that having nothing to do with the budget that would essentially hobble the union. This is because public sector unions are leading contributors to the Democratic party in Wisconsin and nationally in both money and campaign volunteers, So gutting these unions’ power dramatically strengthens Republican prospects in future elections . That’s why he’s exempted police and firefighters unions, who supported his campaign, from these draconian policies even though their pensions pose more of a financial burden to state and local governments than other public unions.
But corporate friendly politicians like Walker won’t stop at public unions. Forbes.com columnist Rick Ungar call this “the first shot in the final battle to end unionism in America.”
In another column, Ungar points to Mother Jones magazine’s expose that details how the Koch brothers, wealthy oilmen and Tea Party mega-funders, were major backers of Walker’s campaign, and that his “plan to kill the unions is right out of the Koch Brothers play book.”
But in the streets of Madison, a small city which played a big role in sparking the progressive movement of the early 20th century and the anti-war protests of the 1960s, people are fighting back on behalf of low-and middle-wage workers.
And they are receiving support from people around the world. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Ian’s Pizza, a restaurant near the state capitol, is feeding the thousands of people rallying for middle class workers thanks to donations from around the world. “On Sunday afternoon, a worker at the restaurant announced over a loudspeaker, ‘6,500 slices donated so far.’”
A number of donations have come from Egypt—where unions helped organize the recent democratic revolutions.
(Thanks to Eric Hanson and Alexa Bradley for alerting to me to key information in this story.)