|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
The good news is that a Wisconsin judge has ruled Gov. Walker’s anti-labor law, Act 10, null and void, restoring collective bargaining rights to Wisconsin’s public sector workers and the right to collect dues through payroll deductions. The bad news is that even if his appeal is rejected Wisconsin’s public sector workers will be back to where they were prior to the enactment of Act 10.
Key sections of Walker’s controversial anti-labor law were ruled unconstitutional by Dane County Judge Juan Colas. According to the Nation, Madison Teachers Inc. director John Matthews, whose union had filed the lawsuit, declared that “We are back to where we were before Scott Walker moved to take away our rights.” That is to say that they have the same low wages, the same mediocre health coverage, the same weak pension benefits, and the same weak unions (also, see here) that would rather send their members home from the nation’s largest workers’ protests in a generation with the promise of electoral victories that never come, than fight their rulers in the streets through a General Strike or even smaller local strikes.
As long as Wisconsin workers occupied the state building and the streets and were not on the job, they were cutting into the profits, ease and sense of security typically enjoyed by the ruling class. This is when they were at their most powerful and this is when they had the greatest chance of demanding and winning better working conditions, wage increases, shorter hours. Granted, the protests had originated as a struggle against Act 10, which which the unions spun as an attack on collective bargaining rights and the automatic dues check off. However, Walker had also demanded a 20% pay cut, which angered the rank and file. And even if the protests had begun with an emphasis on restoring collective bargaining, large sustained workers’ struggles and General Strikes can result in increased worker confidence and empowerment, inspiring them to demand more.
It is also important to remember that collective bargaining is a means to an end. It is an efficient way to win improvements in working conditions and pay, but only when backed with the threat of a strike. Without the force of a job action, the bosses have no incentive to give the workers anything and they generally don’t. Unions need to put the time and resources into organizing their members to strike, educating them as to why strikes are necessary and powerful, and prepare them to do so at the drop of a hat. Otherwise, they cannot accomplish much through the collective bargaining process.
The sad reality is that most unions today are terrified of strikes and avoid them like the plague. They simply do not invest the time and resources necessary to prime their members for the possibility of a strike, choosing instead to spend their resources on political campaigns and lobbying. And they sometimes actively discourage strike actions.
The case in Wisconsin was particularly telling. Not only did the unions discourage a General Strike, but they essentially ignored Walker’s demand for a 20% pay cut, focusing almost entirely on preserving collective bargaining rights and automatic dues check offs. Some were even willing to concede the pay cut in exchange for winning back collective bargaining. Yet, what good is collective bargaining if it isn’t used to win improved working conditions and pay?