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Why Wisconsin Matters

Marc Becker
March 25, 2011

Labor protests stretched on for weeks earlier this year at Wisconsin's state capitol building in Madison after the Republican governor Scott Walker and Republican-controlled legislature pushed legislation that would eliminate most collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

This assault on workers' rights is an assault on all of us. We all need to pay attention to what is happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere and fight against it.

Republicans rule on the principle that poor people have way too much money and corporations do not have nearly enough. Their solution to that problem is to give humungous tax breaks to wealthy corporations and then claim a budget crisis to reduce the wages and benefits for public workers. That is exactly what Walker did in Wisconsin.

Downward pressure on the wages of public workers in one state creates downward pressure on workers everywhere. A strong union and collective bargaining rights, on the other hand, increase income for everyone and is what made the middle class possible in the United States.

In Missouri, Truman State University faculty are not unionized and among the worst paid faculty members not only in Missouri but throughout the United States. Across the border in Iowa, faculty members at the University of Northern Iowa, an institution very similar to TSU, have collective bargaining and therefore receive much higher salaries.

Wisconsin governor Walker plays on a politics of fear in which he wants the rest of us to resent public employees who have collective bargaining rights and as a result receive higher compensation packages than those of us who have do not gained those rights. The reality, however, is that the collective bargaining rights of some put upward pressure on everyone's salaries. If it were not for collective bargaining at UNI, TSU faculty would be paid even less. And that is why Republicans are so desperate to break unions.

When Republicans promise to create jobs, they envision creating low-wage jobs to replace ones that are paid much higher salaries with better benefits. Their goal is to increase corporate profits, but even that goal is shortsighted because law-wage laborers have less money to spend that would help pad their bottom line.

The country is not broke. We are only seeing an unprecedented upward redistribution of wealth. The result is skyrocketing income inequality, with worker wages stagnating and even declining as the wealth of the upper one percent of the population rises quickly. The result will be the destruction of the middle class. Republican policies assure that this happens not only in Wisconsin but for everyone across this country.

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