In Madison and all across Wisconsin, all hands are on deck to save basic labor and human rights of not only public sector workers, but of all workers who wish to earn a middle-class living. Although Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies will lead people to believe that this is just about “repairing the budget,” it is anything but.
How does saving the state money have anything to do with requiring unions to be voted on every year to continue to represent groups of employees? How will money be saved if unions are unable to collect money for organizing and collective bargaining purposes? None of that money goes to state coffers. This is an out-and-out attack on the only group that is able to oppose the corporate interests in the workplace. Whereas individual employees are generally unable to fairly negotiate wages and terms and conditions of employment, unions, through their collective power, are able to make employers take note and listen.
This is not about public unions paying their share; they have and they are willing to pay more to help balance the budget. This is an attack against those who believe workers have dignity and the democratic right to have a say on how their workplaces are run.
If someone asks you why you are supporting the unions and are adamantly opposed to Walker’s power grab, here are five quick reasons:
1. Unions are democratic organizations that provide workers a collective voice in society and in the workplace. They are a countervailing power to employers, employer organizations and governments that promote business interests at the expense of working people and fair social values.
2. European societies function quite well with a much more extensive and robust public (and private) sector union voice. Despite the current problems in the European Union, they still seem to compete well globally while providing comparable if not superior wages, benefits and working conditions.
3. Unions provide protections on the job beyond wages and benefits, most notably procedures for due process protections. These are democratic principles.
4. Unions helped build and sustain the middle class. Walker’s proposals amount to “class warfare” in two ways: by fomenting intra-class warfare and by supporting the growth of income and wealth disparities favoring the elites in society. Note that the firefighters and police officers are excluded from his attack on unions. This is a classic divide-and-conquer management strategy.
5. Civilized societies recognize worker rights (collective bargaining) as a human right.
In short, this is not about the right to have a say on “benefits,” as some misinformed news outlets have put it. No, this is about securing for workers basic human rights that international law recognizes.
Paul M. Secunda is an associate professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. This column represents his personal views.