It began with a reference to a clause in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public-employee union-busting bill. Someone said something about an “automatic no” clause in the annual union certification requirement called for in the bill. It would mean that every non-vote would be a no vote. So I looked it up. I read the legislative analyst’s summary and much of the actual bill. What I realized that there was no way this was an organic concoction by the Governor’s staff lawyers. This bill was based a ready-made prototype of the variety that a number of think tanks on the right dole out.
The bill is an attempt to put a multi-pronged union suppression plan into action. It is specifically targeted to several related purposes designed to reinforce each other in stripping unions of their power and influence:
- Rescind collective bargaining rights for public employee unions
- Decertify them
- Undermine the union election process
- Eliminate the unions' capacity to fund progressive candidates
- Create a pure right-to-work non-union environment in the public employee sphere.
“Follow the money,” I thought. The Koch Brothers, Charles and David, had directly contributed $43,000 to Scott Walker’s campaign. The Republican Governor’s Fund they so generously support spent much more on the race. They opened a lobbying office in Madison, just a block away from the capital, reported the Cap Times just yesterday.
Then I discovered a fascinating blog post, “Discover the network out to crush our public workers,” by David Johnson, a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. He describes a vast, rightwing…network dedicated to the notion that public unions must be eradicated. He drew attention to a group of six men, including the Koch brothers, who had their mitts all over a large number of front organizations that all shared the same purpose—to destroy public employee unions.
Their roster of supported nonprofits includes some very high profile organizations like Americans for Prosperity. I had suspected the existence of highly organized messaging because of the uncanny repetition of the assertion that public employee unions were just a Johnny-come-lately fiat of President John F. Kennedy, who enabled their formation at the federal level in 1962. Whenever you hear the repetition of the nine-second sound bite you know—it’s orchestrated—orchestrated in the fashion that a group of, let’s say, a couple hundred interrelated 501(c)3s and 501(c)4s had sprung up to support, probably due to some CPAC-style breakout session or a series of “executive prayer breakfasts” around the country and a whole lot of right wing money.
A cabal of some very powerful so-called philanthropic foundations cooperate to fund right-wing nonprofits. According to Johnson:
Five foundations stand out from the rest: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations and the Adolph Coors Foundation. Each has helped fund a range of far-right programs, including some of the most politically charged work of the last several years.
- "Buying a Movement," People for the American Way Foundation
Bradley directly, and the Koch brothers indirectly (their father was a co-founder) have ties to the John Birch Society. All the others in the group of five have impeccable hard-right credentials. Together, these five foundations fund some 500 right-wing interest groups, maybe half of which are straight-out 501(c)3 “charities.” These groups are committed to hard-right mission statements that parrot each other so much that they begin to meld into a single statement: obliterate “liberal” ideology.
Given such a broad, shared mission, it is uncanny how a chain of echo chamber pieces on the alleged excesses of public-union workers or contracts began to form a seamless whole in the media, as documented by Johnson, until we were hearing Greta Van Susteren intoning ominously on Fox that Governor Walker has requested extra security to ensure the safety of his colleagues. She did not say “against a threatening mob,” but that’s what she meant.
Johnson maps but a small portion of this communication constellation and manages to deliver a clear sense of the orchestration behind the media bubble. Its strands include the California Public Policy Center and its unionwatch.org site, the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, and 22 “think tanks” for which at least part of their mission is to destroy public pensions and the unions that won them. These include the Calvert Institute, Claremont Institute and the Commonwealth Foundation, to name just a few.
While a new Pew Research Center poll shows a 44 to 38 percent split in favor of public unions against government, Republicans polled side with the government by a rate of 50 to 35 percent. Of course it is the Republicans calling the shots in state houses where the challenges to collective bargaining are most active. And in the media battle, I would argue that the Pension Tsunami sound bite (28,000 Google results) is winning the day. A recent California poll showed that 56 percent of the respondents from a centrist-left constituency believed public salaries and pensions were too rich.
The anti-pension, anti-union network has made deep inroads into eroding public support for public sector workers. You hear it constantly in the coverage emanating from Wisconsin, but the message is coming from everywhere around the country. I fear that the tide has actually turned and Americans hold sufficient animus toward these perceived public privileges that union bashing will succeed. Perhaps the existence of unions has actually blunted left-of-center political organization by presenting itself as the vanguard of the movement for worker’s rights. Those who cherish the right to organize and the right to strike might want to get off their butts right about now.
Joni Mitchell said you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone, and under the present assault, these changes are being imposed at a breathtaking pace. The Wisconsin bill calls for the first of the annual public union certification votes in April. The all-encompassing nature of the assault is found in the Wisconsin bill, too. It prohibits job actions of any kind on the part of all state workers, not just teachers as in the past:
Under current law, the governor may declare a state of emergency if he or she determines that an emergency exists resulting from a disaster or the imminent threat of a disaster. This bill authorizes a state agency to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state of emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit−down, stay−in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the of operations or services of state government, including specifically purported mass resignations or sick calls. Under the bill, engaging in any of these actions constitutes just cause for discharge. [p.5.]
The prohibition is broad and onerous in every respect. It is time wake up and understand that this is much more than what it seems to be. While people scoff at terms like “master plan”—they sound so, I don’t know, Dr. Evil—this really is a well-funded national movement with serious heft behind it. I think the pro-worker side is missing this.
Dr. Dennis Dresang, a professor emeritus of public policy and the University of Wisconsin said yesterday on Minnesota Public radio that he thinks the governor will ultimately win in the legislature. And those who think that Governor Walker has overreached so greatly that he is bound to be defeated (in four long years) and that his legislature will be punished in 2012 may be in for the surprise of their lives. I recommend that they start organizing in earnest now and open their checkbooks wide, because they are up against some of the richest SOBs in America.
Koch Bros.’ new lobby shop a block from the capital in Madison.
Judith Davidoff/The Capital Times
UPDATE: Noon, CST 2/24/11 – CNN.com is reporting that the anti-public union battle has now spread to: Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee. Add to that list Nevada and Oklahoma, which they missed, and you have a total of 11 states with anti-union actions in progress now. Click on the link for details.