Wisconsin governor threatens to fire 1,500 public workers

 

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR Scott Walker has threatened to fire 1,500 public sector workers if his “budget repair bill”, which would curtail most collective bargaining rights for government employees, is not passed by Friday.

Mr Walker made the threat on the eighth day of the showdown between Republicans and Democrats in Wisconsin, which has become emblematic of a nationwide struggle over government spending and workers’ rights.

Up to 60,000 protesters have shown up daily at the state Capitol building in Madison, with many camping inside the building. Fourteen Democratic state senators have fled to neighbouring northern Illinois to deprive the Republicans of the quorum they need to pass the Bill.

Mr Walker has become a hero to the American right. “Walker’s comportment in this crisis is reminiscent of President Reagan’s during his 1981 stand against the illegal strike by air traffic controllers and Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1984 showdown with the miners’ union,” the conservative columnist George Will wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post.

The governor’s detractors say the dispute is about union-busting, not deficits. If he wanted to save government money, they ask, why did he and the Republican legislature give $117 million in tax breaks to businesses last month?

The unions have agreed to contribute $300 million to their pensions and healthcare insurance – equivalent to an 8 per cent pay cut – but they refuse to relinquish collective bargaining rights.

The fight is highly symbolic, because, as the state senate’s Democratic minority leader Mark Miller told National Public Radio,

“Wisconsin has the longest tradition of workman’s laws in the country. We’re the state where workman’s compensation began. We were the first state to have unemployment insurance.”

The battle has spread to Indiana and Ohio, which, like Wisconsin, are swing states that could determine whether Barack Obama wins re-election next year.

Labour unions contributed $400 million to the campaign that elected Mr Obama and other Democrats in 2008, and $200 million to mid-term election campaigns last year. The more Republicans weaken the unions, the more they hurt the Democratic party.

Democratic legislators in Indiana are threatening to follow the example of their counterparts in Wisconsin and walk out rather than allow Republicans to pass a so-called “right-to-work” bill that would allow private sector workers to refuse to join unions or pay dues to unions that negotiate on their behalf.

At least 5,000 were expected to demonstrate in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday against a bill that would restrict bargaining rights for 400,000 public employees.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees says efforts are under way in 17 states to restrict union rights and cut salaries for government employees. Union organisers say they are staging “solidarity events” in 27 states this week.