The Corner

From Red States to Blue States: What’s After Wisconsin

After a three-week standoff, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state senate plunged ahead with a major reform of Wisconsin’s public-sector labor laws. The bill has now also been passed by the state assembly and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.

In response to the Republicans’ move, the opposition — government-workers unions and Democrats — claims the battle has just begun. Some of the unions are threatening a court challenge over irregularities in the way the senate bill was passed. They have also promised to initiate recall proceedings against some Republican state senators and against Governor Walker next year (when he will be eligible). They claim, with some evidence, that public opinion is on their side. Governor Walker has lost political capital — partly because he too often got caught in the thicket of budget details and did not do a great job making his case for reform. And the unions have had the magic words “workers” and “rights” on their side.

However, the heat generated by this episode may soon cool. It probably won’t prove to be the catalyst for reviving the private-sector labor movement. In terms of the recall petitions, public opinion is not evenly distributed and most Republican state senators were elected from safe seats. For Governor Walker, a year in American politics is a long time. If layoffs of government employees are averted, public ire may subside. Furthermore, the consequences of narrowing collective-bargaining rights, reducing union membership, and lessening the amount of money available for union political activity will not have immediate effects visible to most voters.

Scott Walker in Wisconsin is providing model for “Red State” reform of state–union relations. National attention will soon shift to the big blue states — California and New York — where battles between government-workers unions and Democratic governors and legislatures are brewing. These states are unlikely to directly confront the unions’ power, because so many Democratic incumbents’ electoral fortunes hinge on it. More likely, they will pursue a “Blue State” model of reform, which works within current collective-bargaining arrangements to beg the unions for reductions in pension and health benefits. The problem with that model, however, is that it leaves intact the dysfunctional aspects of unionized government.

Daniel DiSalvo is an assistant professor of political science at the City College of New York.

Daniel DiSalvo Daniel DiSalvo is an associate professor of political science in the Colin Powell School at the City College of New York–CUNY and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Most Popular

Film & TV

A Right-Wing Halloween

‘The world is not a dark and evil place,” insists an exasperated woman played by Judy Greer in Halloween. “It’s full of love and understanding!” I put the question to the class: Is she right? In the new film (not a reboot but a sequel that occurs 40 years after the events in the 1978 original and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Blackface Party

I must have missed something: Was there some kind of all-hands white-people meeting at which we voted to kick the Democrats out? Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Dolezal, Beto O’Rourke — what’s up with all the ethnic play-acting? Isn’t cultural appropriation supposed to be a bad thing among progressives? Isn’t ... Read More

The State of the Race for the House

Way back in January, I went through the then-34 seats where a Republican incumbent was retiring and concluded that most were in deeply red districts and not likely to flip to Democrats. Pollsters and media organizations are less inclined to conduct surveys of House races, both because there’s less public ... Read More