Wisconsin Protests Getting Crazy

Wisconsin: famous all over the world for its beautiful scenery, delicious cheeses and heated political debates. That last one is a little more recent, and if you haven’t watched the news or seen the headlines or even talked to another human being, let me fill you in, dear reader.

This past year, Republican Gov. Scott Walker assumed office in Wisconsin, and he hasn’t wasted any time in kicking the hornets’ nest. On paper, the bill that Walker proposed recently doesn’t sound like anything to kick up too big of a fuss: he wants to cut some union funding and cut some government job funding. It sucks, but we’re in a recession and he’s pretty much doing what he promised to do. But of course, as with all politicians, there’s more here than meets the eye. What Walker’s bill actually aims to do (which is what is causing all of the fuss) is to cut union rights. Specifically, Walker’s bill shaves most of the power off of a union’s right to collective bargaining with an employer.

Anyone who saw the movie “Norma Rae” knows that collective bargaining and union rights were all mostly established and agreed upon by the end of the 1970s, but Walker couldn’t help himself, and boy, is the backlash something to see.

Let’s examine everything that’s been brought to light with this current scandal. It should be noted that the protestors, from doctors to blue-collar workers, even agreed to take the budget cuts, as long as their union rights were preserved, and Gov. Walker still wouldn’t budge. Compounding complications with the resurrected debate over workers’ rights is the national backlash, and the Wisconsin incident has proven to be a catalyst for a number of criticisms from all sides (although many target President Obama).

That was the initial plan, anyway. Obama had no intentions of weighing in on the protests, mainly because he has enough on his plate already, but also because Obama and unions have an estranged history. More than once in his political career the president has been criticized for his lack of union support. Of course, in politics — and this is especially true if you’re the president of the United States — it’s nearly impossible to avoid commenting on any issue, and it wasn’t long before Obama had to say something.

In an almost candid moment, President Obama called the bill in Wisconsin an “assault” on unions, which, of course, fueled a conservative movement for states’ rights and defiance of federal meddling. Within a few days, Republicans had come to believe that Democrats had been undermining Gov. Walker’s authority from the beginning, and that the federal government had been behind the protests, insinuating a hidden political motive. To be fair, there is a nugget of truth here; as soon as the protests started making headlines, Democratic bigwigs started posting Twitter updates about how they had campaigned for the protests, taking credit to boost their own careers.

Naturally, all of this political back-and-forth has caused significant trouble for the original issue: the protestors getting their rights. A good friend of mine, Erin, who goes to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has been to every one of the protests. When I asked her to describe her experiences, she said the protests were “simply amazing.” There were over 70,000 people out to fight the bill, and not one of them were arrested or displayed less than Ghandi-like activism. The same could not be said for the challengers representing the infamous Tea Party. At least three of them were detained by police for less-than-civil disobedience. And if all of that isn’t enough to inspire your political spirit, Erin met up with a group of over 100 people from Southern California who traveled from LA out to chilly Wisconsin just to fight for workers’ rights.

When we examine our own budget situation, unsure exactly of what Gov. Jerry Brown plans to do to bail us out, it’s not so hard to wonder if California might be the next state to rise up in protest.

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.