Click here to go to the Home Page The Big Political Question of the Day By Jane English, Guest Commentator

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We knew the Wisconsin battle is not about the budget at all. It is a political question; a huge political question. Ohio, Michigan and Indiana among other States are there, too. 

What just happened in Wisconsin is so reflective of the manner in which civil rights setbacks occur time, after time at the State level, especially mimicking the first half of the last century. The second half of the last century was a miserable experience of having to constantly push back against States Rights specifically as pro-civil rights advances were made. It cannot be truer now that labor rights are civil rights.

This is not the first time this country has witnessed such an egregious attack on labor rights and the right to organize.  It surely will not be the last.  A partial difference in this period is that advanced technology is a major part of the objective conditions.  It is somewhat difficult to reconcile that the Right has this major stronghold during a time period in which we aim to believe that we live in an enlightened, civil society. 

It reminds us that at the time that the Patriots and Homeland Security Acts were enacted, both encompassed sweeping repeals of the Constitution that placesd everything else up for grabs.  Many of us did not want to believe that the repeals were real.   As long as we can continue to organize and speak, then, all is well.  Not so.  Anytime States can in somewhat rapid succession roll back laws as magnanimous as collective bargaining rights, then change has come and the change is not in our interest as people who work in this country.  Indeed, we have our work cut out for us.

I was wondering when the far right, Wisconsin Republicans would use a procedural maneuver to sever the collective bargaining portions of the budget bill to accomplish their goal, making it political on its face. 

The bill is unconstitutional under the First Amendment right to association and speech, right to redress and assemble and Fifth Amendment right to counsel (representation) and was passed without the Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees.  Still, the courts are packed with Reagan and Bush appointees. So, this battle will not be decided solely on legal grounds.  For sure, it means that the courts and administrative law agencies are going to be even more overwhelmed with cases. 

I am not entirely sure that the Federal Circuit courts will appreciate the draconian measures that the abolishment of collective bargaining rights represent in terms of the degree to which this potentially disorganizes the functionality of the workplace and doing business in the both, public and private sectors.  Ironically and significantly, considering the relatively small number of workers organized under collective bargaining agreements, today, the agreements serve as a blue print for managing the workplace.  Even with many collective bargaining agreements in varying degrees of deterioration, the agreements serve as the bell-weather for workplace practices across the board.  At least the businesses know that the matters in the CBAs are settled, even when contract provisions are violated; for the most part they can focus on doing business as oppose to wandering down the slippery slope of arbitrary and capricious decision-making as a means of doing business.  How arcane is that?

Unions will be able to organize and gain members now.  Unions do not go away because a ban of ill-advised elected leaders decide, “poof, unions be gone.”  It does not work like that in this country, in any State.  Even workers that are not all that pro-union understand what this means in terms of working on a daily basis.  It seems that there has to be an accelerated messaging and organizing strategy.  Everyone has to sing out of the same song book now, for sure.

So, it is a political question and now the fight is really on.  In an article I read recently, it was pointed out that where there has been organized mass participation and political mobilization in support of civil rights, those rights were gained and the economic picture changed.  I think the same idea is apropos in this instance.

I guess what is particularly striking is how many fronts the far right is forcing us to fight on in terms of issues and jurisdictions.

Without out a cohesive strategy... we lose faster and very badly. Guest Commentator Jane English is an experienced human rights and social justice organizer/activist.  Her work as a community and labor organizer, most notably, with the United Mine Workers of America International Union (UMWA) and the national office of the NAACP includes serving as a relationship manager with labor, housing advocacy and community-based organizations. Click here to contact Ms. English.

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Mar 17, 2011 - Issue 418
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