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“This is Not Democracy” — Wisconsin’s Anti-Union Bill Passes

In a controversial move, Republicans maneuvered the passage of Wisconsin’s assault on collective bargaining after three weeks of protests. How’d they do it, and what happens next?
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Back in the Capitol, photo by Jessie Reeder

The Wisconsin State Capitol is once again full of demonstrators.

Photo by Jessie Reeder

"Enough is enough."

That's what Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement about why Wisconsin Senate Republicans on Wednesday evening carved the anti-union provisions out of the state's now-infamous Budget Repair Bill and quickly passed them, 18-1. There was no debate and not a single Senate Democrat was present; some observers say less than the legally required notice was given. The bill is widely expected to pass the Assembly on Thursday, then be signed into law by Governor Scott Walker.

"Enough is enough" also describes the sentiment on the other side of the debate. Following the vote, protesters streamed by the thousands into the capitol building they've been largely excluded from over the past several days, many of them chanting "This is not democracy."

The 14 Senate Democrats, of course, were in Illinois, where they've been for the last weeks in an effort to prevent the quorum needed to bring the Budget Repair Bill to a vote. But since a simple majority is needed for non-fiscal bills, Republicans decided to split the bill and move quickly on the anti-union items.

Many see the way the bill was passed as nearly as antagonizing as its contents.

Opponents of the bill are pointing to a number of irregularities in the way it was passed:

  • Governor Walker has maintained for weeks that the anti-union provisions in the bill were not a form of union-busting—that instead they were necessary for addressing the state's fiscal problems. Protesters now say that stripping out the budget sections in order to pass the collective bargaining restrictions makes it obvious that the bill is, indeed, about busting unions. (Also undermining the credibility of Walker's argument: business-friendly tax breaks that Walker called a special session to pass in January will nearly double the current deficit). “To pass this the way they did—without 20 senators—is to say that it has no fiscal effect,” Democratic Senator Timothy Cullen told the The New York Times. “It’s admitting that this is simply to destroy public unions.”
  • The haste with which the Republicans passed the bill through committee and on the Senate floor has also sparked cries of foul play. The state's open meetings law requires a minimum of two hours' notice in emergencies and 24 hours under normal circumstances) before meetings begin. At this point, it's unclear just how much warning was offered before the votes started, but they were certainly characterized by speed rather than deliberation. Talking Points Media reports that the conference committee that passed the bill met for less than five minutes, despite the efforts of Peter Barca, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Assembly, who called the vote illegal under Wisconsin's open meeting law and attempted to add amendments to the bill. The vote on the Senate floor took less than a half hour. Chris Larson, a Democratic Senator who says he began racing toward Madison as soon as he heard the vote would be called, told Democracy Now! "They didn’t give us a chance. They didn’t give the public a chance to do anything about it."

Wisconsin Solidarity in IowaWisconsin: First Stop in an American Uprising?
protests in Wisconsin show that poor and middle class Americans are ready to push back against the policies that hurt them most. Madison may be only the beginning.

So what happens next? Immediately after the bill was passed, thousands of protesters demanded entrance and surged into the capitol building. After more than two weeks of round-the-clock protests, they had been restricted from the building itself since last Sunday. On Wednesday night, though, protesters were again unfurling sleeping bags and preparing to preparing to spend the night.

Meanwhile, rumors were circulating of plans for a general strike, either in Wisconsin or nation-wide. Some of the protesters in the capitol chanted their support for the idea. Michael Moore called for a nationwide walk-out of high school students, to begin at 2 pm local time. Momentum is also building around the movement to recall the eight senators who supported the bill and are eligible to be recalled. Protests are also spreading to other states where anti-union laws are being proposed or passed.

And Wisconsin protesters are affirming—in protest signs, on Twitter and Facebook, and in interviews—that the passage of the bill doesn't mean they consider this fight to be over. In fact, many see the way the bill was passed as nearly as antagonizing as its contents: "Nothing says democracy like voting with no notice, preventing the public from observing, and locking the doors of the capitol," Wisconsinite Michael Mirer tweeted.

Though the protests are undoubtedly entering a new phase, they're likely far from over. "The jig is now up," Barca said. "The fraud on the people of Wisconsin is now clear."


Brooke Jarvis

Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. Brooke is YES! Magazine's web editor.

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