'This is Not Democracy' — Wisconsin's Anti-Union Bill Passes
"Enough is enough."
That's what Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement about why, with what some observers are saying was less than the legally required notice, Wisconsin Senate Republicans on Wednesday evening carved the anti-union provisions out of the state's now-infamous Budget Repair Bill and quickly passed them, 18-1, without debate and without a single Democrat present. The bill is widely expected to pass the Assembly on Thursday, then be signed into law by Governor Scott Walker.
"Enough is enough" is also a fair representation of the sentiment on the other side of the debate. Following the vote, protesters streamed by the thousands into the capitol building they've been largely excluded from over the past several days, many of them chanting "This is not democracy."
The 14 Senate Democrats, of course, left the state for Illinois in order to prevent the quorum needed to bring the bill to a vote. But since a simple majority is needed for non-fiscal bills, Republicans decided to split the bill and move quickly on the anti-union items.
Opponents of the bill are pointing to a number of irregularities in the way it was passed:
- Governor Walker has maintained for weeks that the anti-union provisions in the bill were not a form of union-busting—that instead they were necessary for addressing the state's fiscal problems. Stripping out the union sections for a specifically non-fiscal vote is a fairly audacious about-face. (Though perhaps no less audacious than making the claim in the first place, as many have noted: business-friendly tax breaks that Walker called a special session to pass in January will nearly double the current deficit). “To pass this the way they did—without 20 senators—is to say that it has no fiscal effect,” Democratic Senator Timothy Cullen told the New York Times. “It’s admitting that this is simply to destroy public unions.”
- The haste with which the Republicans passed the bill through committee and on the Senate floor has also caught attention. Generally, the state's open meetings law requires a minimum of two hours' notice (in emergencies; it requires 24 hours under normal circumstances) before meetings begin. At this point, it's unclear just how much warning was offered before the votes started, but they were certainly characterized by speed rather than deliberation. Talking Points Media reports that the conference committee that passed the bill met for less than five minutes, despite the efforts of Peter Barca, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Assembly, who made motions to delay the vote and to add amendments to the bill but was not recognized by the chair. The vote on the Senate floor took less than a half hour. Chris Larson, a Democratic Senator who says he began racing toward Madison as soon as he heard the vote would be called, told Democracy Now! "They didn’t give us a chance. They didn’t give the public a chance to do anything about it."
So what happens next? Immediately after the bill was passed, thousands of protesters surged into the capitol building. After more than two weeks of round-the-clock protests, they had been heavily restricted from the building itself since last Sunday. On Wednesday night, though, protesters were again unfurling sleeping bags and preparing to hold the capitol.
Meanwhile, rumors were circulating of plans for a general strike, either in Wisconsin or nation-wide. Some of the protesters in the capitol chanted their support for the idea. Momentum is also building around the movement to recall the eight senators who supported the bill and are eligible to be recalled. Protests are also spreading to other states where anti-union laws are being proposed or passed.
And Wisconsin protesters are affirming—in protest signs, on Twitter and Facebook, and in interviews—that the passage of the bill doesn't mean they consider this fight to be over. In fact, many see the way the bill was passed as nearly as antagonizing as its contents: "Nothing says democracy like voting with no notice, preventing the public from observing, and locking the doors of the capitol," Wisconsinite Michael Mirer tweeted.
Though the protests are undoubtedly entering a new phase, they're likely far from over. "The jig is now up," Barca said. "The fraud on the people of Wisconsin is now clear."