VOICES: Walker & Koch Inc. pull it off but the fight continues
By Joe, Atkins, Labor South
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker's victory in Tuesday's recall election is being called a crushing blow to organized labor in this nation, and it certainly isn't happy news. Walker is at the forefront of the corporate-financed, GOP-led assault on unions, particularly public unions. His victory will inspire further assaults.
However, let's be clear. He bought this victory, he and his billionaire friends Charles and David Koch, who together are the King Kong of modern-day, post-Citizens United campaign financing. He and his friends spent as much as $50 million so that he could finish out his term in office. The labor ground forces who pushed for and got this recall election, God bless 'em, forced Walker & Koch Inc. to spend $50 million! Think about that!
"Last night was not what we had hoped for, but we're beginning to build the long-term infrastructure that allows us to talk to -- and organize -- both union and non-union households," wrote Michael Podhorzer, executive director of Workers' Voice, in a letter released to supporters Wednesday.
Podhorzer notes that the anti-Walker grassroots campaign had already succeeded in returning Democratic control back to the state Senate in Wisconsin, a huge victory against the Republican tide in that state. For the recall election, groups like Working America had some 11,000 members "on the doors talking to non-union members."
A post-election poll showed 75 percent of union members in Wisconsin voted for Democratic candidate Tom Barrett. Why 25 percent of union members would vote for Walker raises the key question Thomas Frank asked in his book What's The Matter With Kansas? Why do people vote against their own interests?
Meanwhile, the grassroots are still stirring across the land, including in the South.
Here in Mississippi, United Auto Workers officials recently joined hands with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and the state NAACP in a press conference to pledge to work together to organize the giant Nissan plant in Canton, near the state capital of Jackson.
In Memphis, AFSCME Local 1733 released a study showing that the city and Shelby County, Tenn., where Memphis is located, handed major corporations like Fed-Ex, International Paper, and Cargill some $41.6 million in property tax breaks in fiscal 2011. That came at the same time the city cut pay for most municipal workers by 4.6 percent to meet a $47 million budget deficit.
It's the kind of politics we have all across America today, whether it's in cities like Memphis or in our federal government in Washington, D.C.
There's plenty of money in this country. Not everybody is suffering in this "Great Recession." Just ask Scott Walker's bank rollers. To them, the recession is not only over, it never really happened.
For many out there, however, it's a depression, not a recession, and it's far from over. Here's how writer Dale Maharidge puts it in his and photojournalist Michael S. Williamson's wonderful book Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression: "My great recession is your Great Depression if you lose your job and your home. The oxymoronic term 'jobless recovery' is an insult to those who have been laid off."
Walker & Koch Inc. are immune from such realities. They can drown the political process with a flood of cash and muddy up reality for only so long. Even King Kong eventually met his end, and, you know, he wasn't even that bad a guy. In fact, I think I've insulted the big ape by comparing him to Walker's friends.
Joe Atkins is a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and author of "Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press." A veteran journalist, Atkins previously worked as the congressional correspondent with Gannett New Service's Washington bureau and with newspapers in North Carolina and Mississippi.