With the anti-union bill tied up in court, Scott Walker just isn’t getting the fiscal benefits he hoped would balance his budget from forcing municipalities to cut public-sector wages. So he’s back to threatening layoffs again.
Gov. Scott Walker says he may have to again consider laying off state employees if his collective bargaining law remains tied up in the courts for much more than the next week or two.
“(But) for now, we’re still ready to implement it once we get the green light from the courts,” Walker told WisPolitics.com as part of an administration effort to mark his first 100 days in office today.
Walker really gives the game away when he casually mentions that he would not retroactively implement the higher health care and pension contributions from state employees, simply taking them if and when the law formally takes effect. Because those contributions are in some ways the least important aspects of the deal, to Walker. He’s far more interested in defunding his political opponents. This is generally the Republican plan. If workers have to be threatened with firings, so be it. Walker isn’t concerned about the budget; he wants those parts in place that will gradually erode public employee unions over time.
Politics in the United States is a game played on multiple levels, and ideology is only the first. Walker was playing on a second, deeper level, where the issues are secondary. Here, the goal is not so much to advance one party’s agenda, but to actively undermine the infrastructure that allows the opposing party to exist at all. And on this level, one of America’s two political parties routinely outplays the other: Defunding the left is a longtime goal of the smartest and savviest Republican strategists, and they’ve pursued it for decades.
The old-school version of this tactic began in the ’70s and ’80s with the right’s campaign to undermine private-sector unions, traditionally one of the Democratic Party’s biggest sources of funding and campaign support. In the early ’70s, a newly aggressive and politicized Chamber of Commerce, joined by newcomers like the Business Roundtable and a new breed of “union avoidance” consultants (PDF), took advantage of divisions on the left and the decline of manufacturing industries to block labor reforms and gut rules against union-busting. All this made it nearly impossible to organize new workplaces in the growing service sector, which led to unions’ long, steady decline: Since 1970, private-sector union membership has dropped from 29 percent of the workforce to less than 7 percent. And with that decline, the Democratic Party has lost a major source of its funding.
There will always be someone around to fund a major political party with some measure of power and influence. But that funding will come from corporate sources, from Wall Street, from interests that need to be paid back in such a way that conservative economic interests win whether conservatives win or lose elections. Public employee unions are in many ways the last frontier to get conservatives to that goal. They donate to Democrats more than anyone and they’re responsible for tangible increases in Democratic voter patterns. Getting rid of them would provide a great benefit to conservatives at the state and federal level, as Scott Fitzgerald pointed out:
Put it all together—the funds public-sector unions provide to Democrats, the votes they bring, and the doorbell-ringing and phone-banking they do—and it becomes obvious why Republicans want to cripple them. The Wisconsin Senate’s Republican majority leader made it crystal clear. “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions,” he said, “certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a…much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”
In a way we’ve already saw that: David Prosser had an incumbency advantage, but interests favorable to him also outspent the ones favorable to JoAnne Kloppenburg 3:2. The unions couldn’t compete dollar for dollar.
Walker is a buffoon – he tries to take credit for job numbers that occurred in January before he passed any legislation – but he’s not all that stupid. He wants to eliminate his political competition. Republicans are playing for keeps.