The CWA News | Working Together: Lessons from Wisconsin

Volume 72, Issue #2 | Summer 2012

Larry Cohen, CWA PresidentJune 5 was a dark day as GOP Gov. Scott Walker won his recall election. Wisconsin must be a huge wakeup call for all of us — for the labor movement, and for our progressive allies and partners. Wisconsin sadly demonstrated that the 1 percent can reach into just about every aspect of our lives.

But we should also be so proud of the tremendous work of CWA and other union activists and progressive allies. Their work is a model for our future efforts. Tens of thousands of volunteers knocked on 800,000 doors and made 1.5 million phone calls. There were worksite contacts and get-out-the- vote efforts that lasted long into the night. CWA Legislative Political Action Team (LPAT) leaders are building a movement for years to come.

At the core of this fight were our collective bargaining rights. Corporate and right-wing interests continue to oppose public and private sector bargaining rights because organized workers have an independent voice in our workplaces and our democracy. With the decline of bargaining rights it’s no surprise that workers’ real wages in the United States have been stagnant for 40 years and the productivity gains we have produced have ended up as corporate profits or management payouts.

Without these bargaining rights, we won’t have an economic recovery, since we will continue to have insufficient consumer demand. In contrast, in other democracies, like Germany and even Brazil, bargaining rights for most workers have helped create stronger economies.

But in the US, the 1 percent continues to destroy our bargaining rights. We will never move forward to economic and social justice if we continue to allow big money to control our politics and set our public policy and national agenda.

After Walker’s election victory, some elected leaders, even our allies, questioned “why unions picked this fight.”  In fact, unions did not pick this fight.  More than a year ago, students, workers and their families filled the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, angry that Walker and the Republican legislature had smashed workers’ bargaining rights.

In Wisconsin, just three billionaires contributed more money to the Walker campaign than the democratic candidate raised in total. And Walker outspent his opponent by a 7 to 1 ratio. This is the fallout from the US Supreme Court’s disastrous “Citizens United” decision. We are now the only democracy in the world with this kind of unregulated campaign spending.

After Walker’s election victory, some elected leaders, even our allies, questioned “why unions picked this fight.” In fact, unions did not pick this fight. More than a year ago, students, workers and their families filled the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, angry that Walker and the Republican legislature had smashed workers’ bargaining rights. Working together, they initiated the recall campaign. It was the students who slept in the State House, and the workers who marched in the cold, day after day, who said we don’t want to wait until the next election, our Constitution provides for a recall, and we want our rights back. Of course, CWA and all progressive organizations in Wisconsin supported them.

The lasting message of Wisconsin is that all of us, working together, in workplaces, in the streets, and at the ballot box, can reverse the dark night of the Wisconsin recall, regain our rights, and retake our country from the grip of the one percent. It won’t be quick or easy, but like our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin, we must “Stand Up and Fight Back.”