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The Independent/UK

We Need the Spirit of Wisconsin

It must be part of the Coalition agreement that every day every member of the Government has to do the speech full of weird facts about how much debt we're in. So they explain they have to implement cuts like this: "Let me give you some idea of the problem we face. Because Labour overspent, Britain now owes £4 for every molecule in the country. We owe more than the value of Venus, indeed if the deficit was a bee it could sting the whole of Spain. If Jesus came back to Earth he would need seven separate miracles to get rid of the debt, and if the deficit was a cabbage it would be no less than nine cabbages."

So we should be proud, because now the Americans are copying us. In Wisconsin the Republican governor, Scott Walker, passed a law that almost bans trade unions from negotiating wages and pensions, because of "the unprecedented level of debt". But they've always wanted to ban trade unions, whether there's debt or not. Soon the Tea Party will justify all their ideas by saying, "This country owes $50 trillion, so we simply can't afford evolution. Every time a species develops an extra claw or changes colour it costs the state $12bn, and that is a sum that can't be accepted in the current climate so from next Tuesday by law all creatures will be the ones made by the LORD."

They'll declare gun control is impossible as throwing out the nation's rifles would cost the taxpayer $5m in litter bins, and waterboarding must be extended to all criminals because they've received a sponsorship offer, with the rags having "Gasp and choke, then sip some Coke" on them, saving $50m a year in torturing costs.

Somehow, the Republicans don't seem bothered by the bonuses paid by Wall Street last year that came to $89.54bn. Instead they're targeting areas such as the state's firefighters. Presumably the fire department in Wisconsin must be costing more than the bankers. They must slide down a solid-gold pole and put out fires with selected fine wines and perfumes, so when a call comes through they say, "Hmm, there's a warehouse ablaze, I think we should hose it down with a Sauvignon '65, a fruity number that makes the fumes leave a delicate tang on the palate, a wholesome blend of orange peel and ash."

Another detail the governor must have missed is that because of tax breaks offered to companies to move to the state, 60 per cent of corporations in Wisconsin making more than $1m a year pay no corporation tax. I'm no economist, but I wonder if letting companies pay no tax results in the state receiving less money than if they did have to pay some tax. Perhaps it's something their accountants could look into.

US Republicans, like Conservatives here, tend to always look for ways of dismantling trade unions, possibly because unions represent the only defence a workforce has. But the people of Wisconsin don't seem to have believed that, so they've protested in vast numbers. This movement has dominated the US news for some weeks, and made such an impact that rebels in Libya have held placards supporting the Wisconsin unions.

And the Tea Party has been at its best, with supporter Glenn Beck declaring "These protests become contagious. Can you deny that radicals, Islamists, communists, socialists, will work together against Israel, against capitalism." So if a nursery worker says they don't see why they should be sacked to pay off the deficit, the correct reply is, "Oh yes I know what you're after, the destruction of Israel, you anti-Semitic bastard."

In Britain the unions have called a protest against the cuts for 26 March. Given the slow pace the British trade union movement goes at, it's possible this is a protest against the 1981 recession and they've only just got round to organising it. But there ought to be a huge turn-out for this, then we can proudly boast we're on the way to being as defiant as mighty Wisconsin.

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Mark Steel

Mark Steel is a regular columnist for the Independent/UK.

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