Yes, labor lost its attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one of the most virulent labor opponents anywhere. But as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared, the heated election campaign was “not the end of the story, but just the beginning.”
The campaign, triggered by Walker all but eliminating the collective bargaining rights of most of Wisconsin’s 380,000 public employees, showed that labor is quite capable of mounting major drives against anti-labor politicians, a lesson that won’t be lost on unions or their opponents.
And Labor’s political enemies, while perhaps emboldened by labor’s failure in Wisconsin, undoubtedly will hesitate, lest they be confronted with similarly heavy union opposition in their attempts to restrict the bargaining rights of public employees.
Think of it: Labor was outspent hugely by outside corporate interests that funneled $50 million into Walker’s campaign, outspending labor seven-to-one. Yet labor managed to capture nationwide attention and support, and though losing the gubernatorial race, managed to wrest control of Wisconsin’s State Senate from Walker’s Republican allies.
Trumka was rightly awed by “the tremendous outpouring of solidarity and energy from Wisconsin’s working families, against overwhelming odds. Whether it was standing in the snow, sleeping in the Capitol, knocking on doors or simply casting a vote, we admire the heart and soul everyone poured into this effort” in response to “a gargantuan challenge” to labor.
The Senate victory was almost as important as recall of Walker would be. It gave Democrats a one-seat majority in the 33-seat Senate, which will make it much harder for Walker and his Republican allies to enact his anti-labor agenda.
Trumka says he believes “the new model that Wisconsin’s working families have built won’t go away after one election – it will only grow.” The election, he adds, was “an important moment, and an important message has been sent: Politicians will be held to account by working people.”
Walker, as Trumka says, was forced “to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people.” Trumka optimistically believes that inspired working people elsewhere, union and non-union alike, will follow the lead of the anti-Walker forces and “forge a new path forward.”
Trumka concludes that the challenge to labor and its allies in Wisconsin and everywhere else is “to create an economy that celebrates hard work over partisan agendas.” He said the recall election moved that goal closer.
Of course Richard Trumka is highly partisan, as he should be. But that doesn’t necessarily lessen his credibility. Facts are facts. Although not victorious, labor waged an extraordinary campaign that laid the groundwork for future campaigns that could result in important labor victories.
That would at the least increase the strength of the nation’s working people and diminish the strength of those who, like Scott Walker, would weaken the vital rights of workers and their unions.