Archive - Mar 11, 2011

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Hickery Dickery

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Memo to Wisconsin: YOU ARE NOW VERY, VERY IMPORTANT.

Add that to the list of shit I never thought I'd say about Wisconsin. But the last couple of days have made it clear - what's happening in Madison right now is that the hardcore right has just kicked sand in the face of the left. How the left responds to this, and how effectively it responds to this, will determine to a large extent exactly how abusive right-left relations will be in the coming years.

When last we left Wisconsin, the standoff was still in place. Democrats were still in neighboring states, refusing to provide the necessary quorum for fiscal matters in order to prevent Walker and the Republican-led legislature from pushing through draconian restrictions on the collective bargaining rights of state workers. Walker was slipping in the polls - his approval ratings and the approval ratings of his tactics both taking nosedives.

On Wednesday night, Walker's crew decided they'd had enough. They held a meeting, declared the collective bargaining changes non-fiscal, and on Thursday, passed them without any Democrats even present.

In a struggle that has seen dick move after dick move, this move isn't just a dick move. It's a ballsy dick move. In fact, it's a ballsy dick move that may well be... tainted.

Two major legal issues surround the passage of the bill. First, there's the question of whether you can actually just declare a bunch of language "not fiscal", while spending weeks beforehand and a press conference immediately thereafter saying what great fiscal benefits it will bring. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"We followed the law, and yet it allows us to move forward with these reforms -- which are indeed fiscal. They're not in conflict with that requirement for a quorum, but they are indeed fiscal. They give a fiscal benefit to the state, for the remainder of the year it'll allow us to save $30 million..." - Walker: Stranger Danger.

It's also illegal to throw surprise government meetings with only a couple of hours of public notice in Wisconsin, which seems like a technicality, but let's face it - these are precisely the kind of shenanigans open-meeting laws are designed to prevent.

What this adds up to is one simple message. Fuck you, we're doing what we want, you can't stop us.

The reason they think they can get away with it is that, in the past, whenever the right has delivered that message to the left, the left has said, "Well, OK. But when we're in power and we ask you for compromise and concessions, we hope you remember this." And they remember. And we've all seen how that works out.

Labor and Democrats and liberals and progressives and independents and humans need to fight this. Not because collective bargaining by public employees is even a particularly powerful tool for workers - trust me, even with full collective bargaining rights, relentless demonization by the right and the corresponding erosion of wages and benefits in the non-unionized private sector mean that public sector unions' hands are largely tied as it is - but because it's a symbol.

The right fights for its symbols at every opportunity. The right fights minor gun restrictions tooth and nail, because gun rights are a symbol. They fight tax increases at every opportunity, because, well, they get paid big bucks too. But it's also a symbol. The right fights for its symbols because in an age of tribalism and short attention spans, fighting for your symbolism means fighting for your identity. Your brand. And if your brand is strong, your people will rally behind it regardless of any logical inconsistencies that may crop up.

Democrats don't fight for their symbols. They're ashamed of their symbols. They're ashamed of legal abortions. They're ashamed of raising taxes. They're ashamed that union employees have smaller co-pays and better pensions. Many of them are ashamed of gay marriage. They're ashamed of peace. They're ashamed of civil liberties. They give away inch after inch in a desperate attempt to avoid alienating churchies, rich people, and the working poor, when they could be dragging those people toward them over the same distance with the same amount of effort.

That's why Wisconsin has to be a huge fucking deal. It needs to be a knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred bare-knuckle cage match for the symbolic rights of workers. Court challenges. Recall elections. Non-stop pressure. Because we've already answered the question of whether our face makes a good target for foot-launched SiO2. The only question remaining to be answered is whether it'll be answered with tears or fists.

Fists, please.