Current unrest points to state's labor history
Wisconsin to celebrate 100th anniversary of first labor victory
The actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is moving to end certain aspects of public union collective baragining must be viewed in light of the state's history of championing workers' rights. The year 2011 will be the 100th anniversary of when Wisconsin became the first state to pass a law guaranteeing workers' compensation. Wisconsin was a major fighter in the early 19th century for the eight-hour workday and school curriculums include the state's organized labor history.
Workers view Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's bill as a way to quash their rights to negotiate for better work conditions and decent wages.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is moving to end certain aspects of public union collective baragining, must be viewed in light of the state's history of championing workers' rights. The year 2011 will be the 100th anniversary of when Wisconsin became the first state to pass a law guaranteeing workers' compensation. Wisconsin was a major fighter in the early 19th century for the eight-hour workday and school curriculums include the state's organized labor history.
Many public union workers view Walker's bill as limiting their right to negotiate for better work conditions and decent wages. Fourteen Democratic lawmakers left the state in protest. Similar political and union battles are underway in Indiana and Ohio, where bills would end or substantially weaken public unions.
Protests in both Wisconsin and Ohio have drawn people from across the country, turning the debate into a national tug of war. The issue has also drawn out critics of public employee unions who say that organized labor strikes disrupt public services and inflate wages at a rate that strains economies and taxpayers.
"The reason these protests have drawn so much energy from people across the country is that on a gut level, banding together to defend how you work has historically felt like a fundamental right to many Americans," Patricia Greenfield, a professor at the National Labor College says.
"I teach my students that what's happening in Wisconsin is a historical pattern," Greenfield says. Other historians, including Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy agree.
"You can take it all the way back to the 1800s or the early 1980s -- when there's been a perception by the working class that they are being threatened from the right or the left, unions will push back," Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy says. "That doesn't mean things always end well for the workers," he added.
Lichtenstein drew a parallel to President Ronald Reagan's firing in 1981 of more than 11,000 air traffic controllers when they went on an illegal strike. Gov. Walker has threatened massive public worker layoffs if the budget reform bill isn't passed.
Replacing a highly specialized workforce, replacing teachers, police officers and other public workers could be just as tough, historians say.
"Unions know this. They understand their leverage and what employers, generally, want to avoid," Greenfield said. "It wasn't like the beginning where if you even thought about joining a union, you were toast."
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