On Friday afternoon, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill that will strip Wisconsin’s public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. The bill’s signing comes just two days after the controversial vote by State Senate which took place without the 14 Senate Democrats who had left the state in February to block such a vote.
While the new law is seen by many as a defeat for the labor movement, others argue that Republicans over-reached and have sparked a new, more unified labor movement. Rallies across the country have drawn tens of thousands of protesters and the 14 Senate Democrats will return to Wisconsin today to join the thousands of protesters expected at the Capitol. Financial support has already seen a boost. MoveOn.org has reportedly raised $825,000. The Progressive Change Campaign Coalition and Democracy for America have raised upwards of $750,000.
Protests will undoubtedly continue, in Wisconsin and across the nation, but what’s next for public workers, protesters, labor supporters, and Democratic lawmakers? State Democrats have already begun challenging the legality of the bill’s passage, asking the Dane County district attorney to investigate to determine if Wednesday night’s surprise vote violated the state’s Open Meetings Law which requires a twenty-four hour notice of any governmental meeting; or, in the case of a rushed meeting, two hours’ notice.
We may also see large-scale walk-outs, and possibly even a general strike. The South Central Federation of Labor, a labor umbrella group in Madison, has endorsed the idea of a strike. There is, however, a big risk in this strategy: Governor Walker may be within his rights to fire employees who strike or walkout.
One of the biggest weapons available is the campaign to recall lawmakers who supported Walker’s bill. Democrats have already begun airing ads targeting Republicans.
However, a successful recall will not come easy. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there have only been three times in American history when more than one state legislator has been recalled around the same time. That said, the massive protests taking place in Wisconsin and all over the Midwest show that a huge number of voting Americans support labor in this battle, and if that level of support keeps up, Wisconsin could make history.