If there’s labor unrest in Wisconsin, why don’t they go to bed?

By Matthew M. Robare

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The current situation in Wisconsin, where Republican governor Scott Walker has proposed a bill that will strip almost all government employees of their collective bargaining rights, has profound implications for the future of the Republican Party. After all, the very first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, fought the Civil War to preserve unions.



That’s the kind of attitude the Republicans should have towards unions, that they will fight the bloodiest wars in American history for them and not strip away their rights. Like Madonna said, as Eva Peron in “Evita,” “Why commit political suicide, there’s no risk, there’s no call for any action at all when you have unions on your side.”

So all the conflict coming out of Wisconsin – wait a moment, I’m getting a correction handed to me: it turns out the Civil War was fought to preserve the Union, not unions. My bad.

In that case, let Scott Walker do what he wants to them. They were never his core constituency and benefits for public employees eat up huge portions of government budgets, considering that they never bothered to fund them in the first place, apparently banking on permanent prosperity despite recessions and stock market collapses occurring like clockwork, but crucifying federal economists would only make us feel better, it wouldn’t actually solve any of the problems. Walker is merely trying to correct the responsibilities of his predecessors in the Wisconsin governor’s office by doing what all politicians do: raising a stink about a small group and praying the economy improves in time for re-election.

And why shouldn’t he attack unions? I mean, aside from public schools, weekends, the 40-hour work week, sanitation, overtime, minimum wage, workplace safety, preventing totalitarian communism from taking hold in this country, administration, public transportation, social services, wrongful-termination, abolishing debtors’ prisons, universal male suffrage, Weingarten rights, fair contracts, arbitration, abolishing child labor, eight-hour work days, social security, Medicaid, Medicare, welfare, job security, anti-racial discrimination work laws, anti-gender discrimination laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, medical leave, vacations, mental health services and equal opportunity employment, what have unions ever done for us?

My parents went to college in Milwaukee and one of the great beers made there was Schlitz. Back in the day Schlitz was to people then what Budweiser is to us today – cheap and available everywhere – but Schlitz actually tasted good. Starting in the late 60s the company started reformulating their flagship product and like New Coke in the 80s and other “new” products introduced around that time, such as New Jersey, no one liked it and the company lost a lot of money.

Naturally the unions decided that it was a good time to go on strike and demand higher pay. With sales and revenue already on the decline and then suddenly no product being made at all, Schlitz went bankrupt and died. The railroad industry in Vermont experienced something similar. My hometown of Rutland, Vt. was once home to the Rutland Railway. It employed hundreds of people and connected Vermont to Boston, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Montreal and Albany, N.Y. Like most railroads it was never financially secure and the lack of heavy industry in Vermont meant that it mostly transported agriculture-related items for dirt-poor farmers (the farmers having chased away federal anti-poverty workers in the 1930s at gunpoint) so with an interstate highway coming to Vermont in the 50s and looking like it would take away the remaining rail traffic, another strike was an excuse to shut down the company.

So there are times when Unions aren’t so hot. In these trying times their supporters should draw on the example of the great 19th century labor leader Samuel Gompers, who had one of the greatest-sounding last names in American history. It sounds like an old-timey curse word from the “Leave it to Beaver” era: “Gompers, Wally, what does ‘Restrictive covenant’ mean?”

Unfortunately we don’t know yet what the situation in Wisconsin will bring. The Democrats in the legislature have skipped town and are being rounded up, schools have closed as teachers have headed to Madison to protest and union workers around the country are holding rallies to show their solidarity. But we really haven’t considered the consequences of increased union activity in Wisconsin – they have a lot of cows, who have bad working conditions and as a Vermonter I know that cows are impressionable creatures.

The government of Wisconsin needs to get its act in gear before the cows start getting ideas about organizing.

Matthew M. Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]