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Scott Walker's Economically (and Politically) Wrongheaded Scheme to Destroy Unions

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Thus, as he seeks to reset his presidential run, Walker is returning to the strategy he used to gain recognition (and the support of corporate special interests and billionaire campaign donors) as a state legislator, as Milwaukee County Executive, and as governor: promising to employ the power of government to attack the ability of workers to assemble and to petition for the redress of grievances.

Walker has never been interested in winning an intellectual or political debate over whether workers have a right to organize and collectively bargain. His strategy has always been to rewrite the rules so that unions face barriers at every turn to their very existence. A long-time supporter of so-called "right to work" laws and an enthusiastic battler against public-sector labor organizations, he embraces the notion that weakening unions will somehow lead to prosperity.

Never mind that his austerity fantasy has been disproven in Wisconsin, where repeated attacks on public- and private-sector unions have failed to yield the boom Walker promised. Never mind that Walker's "divide-and-conquer" tactics and bumbled economic strategies have caused his approval rating in Wisconsin to collapse to 39 percent. Walker is sure that attacking unions is where it's at -- so much so that he persists in claiming that refusing to respond to protests by Wisconsin's nurses, teachers, and librarians has prepared him to see off international threats.

Walker knows what he "knows." Thus, notes Scot Ross, the executive director of the group One Wisconsin Now, "he's now trying to boost his sagging poll numbers by promoting the same kinds of attacks on working people that vaulted him to national prominence while conveniently ignoring how his policies left Wisconsin in shambles."

In fact, Walker is upping the anti-union ante. He's traveling to Las Vegas to unveil a "new" plan to use the power of the federal government to attack the right to organize and the right to collectively bargain -- indeed, to attack the very right of unions to exist.

Walker's plan, according to an Associated Press review, would use fresh federal laws and executive orders to:

  • Erect legal barriers to the formation of unions by federal workers.

  • Eliminate the National Labor Relations Board, under a scheme that would divvy up responsibilities between a weak National Mediation Board and the federal courts.

  • Impose right-to-work laws on every state. States could not protect the right to organize without specifically voting to opt-out of this top-down requirement -- a hurdle made higher by the certainty that out-of-state corporate interests and billionaires like the Kochs would flood states with anti-union advertising.

  • Establish new restrictions to limit labor organizing and dues collection--and, in particular, to limit the ability of unions to engage in political campaigns to protect public services and the public interest.

These are extreme -- and extremely wrongheaded -- proposals. If enacted, they would extend economic inequality and wage stagnation. As such, they embody the austerity agenda that has stalled out economies in other countries, and that has slowed the economy in Walker's Wisconsin.

In Walker's imagination, if he can just be anti-labor enough he will be able to renew his candidacy. The problem for Walker, and for anti-union zealots in general, is that few Americans -- be they Democrats or independents or Republicans -- are so fiercely opposed to the right to organize and collectively bargain that all other issues become secondary.

Gallup polling data shows that approval of unions has spiked in recent years -- especially since Walker and other Republican governors started attacking organized labor.

In 2009, support for unions bottomed out, hitting the lowest level in more than 70 years. Just 48 percent of Americans approved of unions, while 45 percent disapproved. Since 2012, however, support for labor has been steadily improved, so that now 58 percent of Americans approve of unions, while just 36 percent disapprove.

Sixty-one percent of Americans now say they want unions to maintain as much influence as they now have or to develop more influence. Americans have dramatically more negative attitudes toward corporations and banks than they do toward unions.

Notably, a substantial number of Republicans (32 percent) still say they approve of unions. And when Republicans are asked about union priorities -- higher wages, fairer treatment in the workplace, fair trade -- the numbers are even more supportive.

Walker decided to announce his anti-labor agenda in Las Vegas, a union town.

That was a poke in the eye to organized workers (and, undoubtedly, an appeal to notoriously anti-labor Las Vegas casino-owner Sheldon Adelson). This gave Annette Magnus, the executive director of Nevada's Battle Born Progress group, an opportunity to declare, "The record shows, this guy is a bad bet for working people."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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