UW-Madison labor scholar Joel Rogers believes that opponents of Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union budget bill need to avoid a general strike and turn instead toward recall efforts to anticipate the upcoming redistricting.
"I'm all for going to these demonstrations," says Rogers, lauded by Newsweek as one of "100 Americans most likely to affect U.S. politics and culture in the 21st century." "But you've got to get at least three [Republican senators] out" through recalls. That would shift the balance in the state Senate from a 19-14 Republican edge to a 17-16 Democratic one.
Rogers, the director of the UW-affiliated Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), says the recalls will affect state government's "next big thing": redistricting, based on new census data.
"You can recover from this bad law," Rogers argues. "You can get another governor. But reapportionment is going to be 10 years. That's going to tremendously change the terms and the rules of the game."
With redistricting coming up (see Jack Craver's article, 1/6/11), the state's Republican majority is likely to reapportion state districts with the goal of ensuring long-term Republican supremacy in the Senate and Assembly.
But if recalls force a change in the balance of power, at least in the state Senate, Rogers says, "You're going to slow things down, be able to block legislation. You're not going to be able to block the process of reapportionment, but you can at least take it to the courts."
And that, he adds, is another reason the April 5 election for state Supreme Court is so important to Walker opponents. Rogers believes incumbent Justice David Prosser, if reelected, would join other court conservatives in affirming whatever plan the Republicans propose. But challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, who vows to serve as a check on "overreaching" by other branches of government (see "Supremely Relevant," 3/11/11), might be less inclined to let the GOP have its way.
The Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a national policy center aimed at creating high-end jobs, has played a small but important role in the current budget controversy. In a recent report, it found that public-sector workers in Wisconsin actually earn less than their private-sector counterparts doing similar work.
The center has a $2.9 million budget for the current fiscal year, almost all of which comes from private foundation grants. That seems to have emboldened Rogers to speak out on issues without fear of being targeted for funding cuts of the sort Republicans have sought against other ideologically suspect UW institutions (see story on the UW Havens Center and School for Workers, 2/3/11).
But Rogers' message in defending workers' rights is nonetheless tempered by realism. He cautions that launching a general strike, as some unionists have suggested, could be "a real dangerous and difficult thing."
For instance, the bill signed into law by Walker last week allows the state to fire any employee who strikes for more than three working days. And the longstanding Wagner Act creates a host of legal vulnerabilities that Rogers says the GOP would surely take advantage of.
"These guys know the law," says Rogers. "They'll be very aggressive with the law."
Rogers also cautions against unionists appearing to put their own interests above those of the public.
"These people provide essential services," he says. "Parents may back teachers unions, but they really want to make sure their kids continue with their education."
Rogers is more interested in targeted action against corporations like M&I Bank. (The bank says it takes no position on Walker's agenda, but some of its employees and officers gave money to Walker's campaign.)
"Don't target the population," Rogers urges. "They need the services. Target the people who are creating the problem."
Rogers calls Walker's anti-union agenda "a very big deal" for Wisconsin and the nation: "People see this correctly as a quite organized, nationwide attack on an important part of the organizational base for opposition to Republican national politics."
Rogers adds that the bill signed by Walker last week is a serious rollback of fundamental rights and threatens an indispensable community organization, in terms of democratic participation.
"Unions try to make it clear to people: 'Look, you've got to vote so we can have better public schools and every right we have here and a sense of power."
This group-conscious mentality also promotes a sense of solidarity, Rogers says.
"The idea that you would actually take a risk for somebody else in pursuit of a bigger thing...that's what unions stand for. That's real community."