Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on Wisconsin on twitter at @MikeElk.
The key to winning the battle in Wisconsin is how much endurance the protestors will have in remaining vigilant and how much pressure they can force the business community to bring to bear on Governor Walker. It remains unclear whether people are willing to skip work and other important things for the weeks that it might take to win this fight. Every day, the Wisconsin GOP has dismissed the protests saying they won’t last another day, but each day the protests get bigger by estimates of about ten thousand people each day. These protests have been successful in gaining a great deal of public support. A new statewide poll shows that 65 percent of Wisconsin residents think that Walker has gone too far in his attack on public employees.
The protests do appear to be growing and have entered the realm where they are no longer something being planned through rigorous amounts of organizing, but are happening spontaneously as people get inspired by the events. Dozens of smaller protests are popping up at smaller cities throughout Wisconsin and students walk out of numerous schools across Wisconsin. Many union members and activists across the country are beginning to organize car pools to travel to Madison.
A key thing to watch is whether the protests will grow enough to stop Walker from giving his scheduled budget address on Tuesday. Walker is attempting to move the speech to a location outside of the state legislature building, which could potentially be in violation of state law. Walker has also announced he will not present his actual budget till a week later, but will just give a speech.
The second thing to watch is whether or not that massive amount of public support can translate into pressure from the institutional actors like local governments and the business community. Many local governments are upset by the bill which not only affects the ability of public workers to bargain, but also makes drastic cuts in many basic services and municipality funding. The Mayor of Madison led a march with local public employee union members to the Capitol. Likewise, many local administrators who see their budgets being cut have been sympathetic to workers taking time off to attend the protests.
The deciding factor though is how much pressure the business community puts on Governor Walker to settle. Business leaders fear that the protests will embolden union members to fight back harder against concession and lockout threats. As Wisconsin based labor organizer Andy Gussert told me the other day, “Thank you Scott Walker! If we were given a million dollars, there is no way we could have taught so many kids about solidarity, labor organizing, and the power of the people when they unite”.
As a result of the protests, the business community is finding itself on the defensive. Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sheehy would not commit to giving support to strip collective bargaining from public employees in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio. Sheehy said, “so I think it’s fair to discuss the narrowing of collective bargaining. Whether we throw it out or not is not something we’ve taken a position on.”