Well, here I go again, oversimplifying, being idealistic, possibly ranting. To all of these I plead guilty. In advance.
President Obama’s made a few statements about the demonstrations in Wisconsin. The most widely disseminated one is this one, reported in TPM:
Well I’d say that I haven’t followed exactly what’s happening with the Wisconsin budget. I’ve got some budget problems here in Washington that I’ve had to focus on. I would say, as a general proposition, that everybody’s gotta make some adjustments to new fiscal realities. And I think if we want to avoid layoffs — which I want to avoid, I don’t want to see layoffs of hard-working federal workers.
We had to impose, for example, a freeze on pay increases for federal workers for the next two years, as part of my overall budget freeze. You know, I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do.
On the other other hand, some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin — where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally — seems like more of an assault on unions.
And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers, and they’re firefighters, and they’re social workers, and they’re police officers. You know, they make a lot of sacrifices, and make a big contribution, and I think it’s important not to vilify them, or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.
So, I think everybody’s gotta make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well being of our states and our cities.
Sounds, feels, smells and looks like a politician. It’s balanced. It’s cautious. It looks over his shoulder to wonder which side might ultimately win the Battle of Madison. It sounds like he’d like to be on the winning side for 2012. What it doesn’t sound like by any means is leadership.
Leadership would be going to Madison and linking arms and standing in solidarity with the demonstrators and union members against the reactionaries and would-be union busters. It would be standing up to the Koch funded “movement.” It would be explaining clearly to all who would listen that these unions are important to sustained high pay in Wisconsin and the nation, and that the antedeluvian effort to kill these unions must be defeated. The Wisconsin football stadium might be a good place to hold the rally.
The President, however, hasn’t shown any signs that he’s ready to lead a fight for labor, his largest supporter. It looks like he might still want to invoke politesse and refer to these union busters as “the right to work” advocates with whom he has a small disagreement.
These people don’t deserve that kind of deference. They have ginned up a plan to destroy public unions and are inflexible about it. They will not modify it or back off from it. They plan to destroy public unions. Period. They have begun by trying drive a wedge between public workers’ unions. The teachers and highway workers and bureaucrats are ok to beat up on and they won’t be able to bargain, but those the cops and firefighters, which are more traditionally Republican, will.
Today’s mock phone call with “David Koch” proved beyond all cavil that Scott Walker is the lead dog running a national union busting movement. He doesn’t care at all about the state’s budget. This is another item entirely. This for Walker is only about destroying public unions. Yes, it’s happening through the state legislatures, but this is a manifestation of an organized, well funded, nationwide movement to emasculate public workers’ unions.
That’s why the unions can’t afford to lose this battle. And it’s why President Obama needs to organize an appearance in Wisconsin. The unions have already conceded on the economic issues in this confrontation by agreeing to pay more for their health insurance and to contribute more to their pensions. Those issues are not what’s keeping 14 Wisconsin legislators under cover in Illinois (or elsewhere). No. They are outside the state solely to protect collective bargaining. It bears repeating. What makes the confrontation persist is only one thing: the governor’s adamant refusal to drop his plan for withdrawal of collective bargaining rights for certain Wiaconsin public workers. Plain and simple: the Governor insists on destroying these unions.
That’s why the national democratic leadership in Washington needs to go to Wisconsin. And they need to go now. This is a confrontation that can and should be won. Obama and the national leadership have to stop playing Bert Lahr. They have to show up in numbers, and they have to roar.
cross-posted from The Dream Antilles