Commentary Magazine


Labor Headed for Wisconsin Catastrophe

The labor movement and its left-wing allies in the Democratic Party thought they were doing something extremely clever when they reacted to their defeats at the hands of Scott Walker in the Wisconsin legislature by starting a recall campaign. The recall enabled the losers of the 2010 election where Walker and the GOP swept to power in the state to, in effect, get a do-over in which they could act as if the previous result didn’t really count. But as the latest polls from Wisconsin show, they are on the eve of a catastrophic loss that will not only leave Walker in power and stronger than ever but also deal the Democrats a crucial loss that may be a harbinger of more setbacks in the fall.

The latest We Ask America poll in Wisconsin shows Walker expanding his lead over the Democratic alternative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker, who was shown in previous polls to have a smaller advantage, now is ahead by a decisive 52-43 margin. With Walker going over the 50 percent mark for the first time in this race, this is a devastating result as it was assumed that once the Democrats picked their candidate the race would get closer. Instead, Barrett’s victory in the Democratic primary over a candidate preferred by the unions seems to have reminded Wisconsin voters that they already had a choice between Walker and Barrett in 2010 and picked the former.

A victory in a recall would not only humiliate Walker and discourage conservatives around the country in advance of the presidential election. It would also legitimize the unions’ thuggish obstructionism in 2011. The unions sought by means of intimidation and extra-legal efforts to stop the legislature from voting to prevent Walker from fulfilling his campaign promises about enacting a fundamental reform of the budget process.

Walker stood his ground last year and passed measures that will prevent municipal and state worker unions from holding the state hostage and bringing it to the edge of bankruptcy. His effort to remove some — though not all — of their collective bargaining rights led to his demonization in the press and a vicious campaign aimed at making it impossible for Walker to govern.

But rather than making an example out of him and showing that any challenge to union domination of state government will be punished, the recall may turn out to have the opposite effect. It may not only elevate Walker to a figure of national stature. It could effectively demonstrate that the power of the union movement is finished.

With three weeks to go before the June 5 recall, the Democrats and unions will pull out all the stops in their quest to defeat Walker. But with the GOP governor already holding a large lead, President Obama — to whom the unions once looked for help in this struggle — would be well advised to stay out of Wisconsin until after the vote. He doesn’t want any of the taint of what may well be a catastrophe for the left to be attached to his re-election campaign.

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