Scott Walker victory in Wisconsin recall becomes labor unions’ rallying cry

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Originally published June 6, 2012

Repost June 11, 2012

By Raisa Camargo

Courtesy of voxxi.comWill Scott Walker’s win inspire the will of an overwhelming force of unity?

Labor unions may have suffered a bitter defeat in Tuesday’s historic and unsuccessful recall race in Wisconsin. But some are using it as a rallying cry for engagement in November’s general election.

In what is viewed as a victory for Republicans, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fended off attempts at recall and won the right to stay in office — a massive blow, in particular, to organized labor.

But, some labor leaders — who had campaigned against Walker’s agenda, which includes stripping public workers of their union rights — hope to turn that defeat into fuel that helps drive their agenda in November’s elections.

“We will never be ready to give it up,” said Hector Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. “This makes the labor movement stronger. This creates more unity. This is bringing new people. More workers, more middle class. Even upper class people are understanding the importance of always having a labor movement.”

Advocates say Latinos and the organized labor movement is a “marriage waiting to happen.” As the labor movement declines in numbers and political strength, its viability in the future could come compliments of the energetic rise and incontrovertible growth of younger Latinos.

For some, Wisconsin offered a taste of a larger battle in November in which Latinos could play an important role.

Walker is the third governor in U.S. history to face a recall vote and the first to successfully fend off the challenge. He won by a margin of 56 percent to 43 percent against his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. But it was a much more even split between middle class voters in Wisconsin, according to CNN early exit polling data.

Democrats managed to capture 70 percent of the voters who made up their minds in the past few days.

And while some observers believe this win will strengthen the political influence of Walker, others believe the hard-fought victory should offer a warning. Moderate Republicans could think twice before voting on right-wing issues said Roger Hinkle, treasurer of the Milwaukee chapter for LCLAA.

While a labor victory would have paved the road for more compromise for collective bargaining in Wisconsin — and reverberated nationally with a message of hope for labor unions — Hinkle believes the 16-month recall effort had some success. Despite the defeat, he said, unions did demonstrate their willingness to fight and ability to deliver turnout in November.

“I think any other state that is thinking about taking this battle on is going to think twice after they see the mobilization in Wisconsin against it,” said Hinkle. Not unless “you want to put a year and a half of political turmoil and energize the opposition, and energize the grass forces in fighting back against anti-union legislation.”

The governor’s controversial legislation that cut back on public workers’ collective bargaining rights sparked a nationwide effort to mobilize against his behalf. Millions of volunteers nationally participated in phone banks and initiated on-the-ground logistical support to oust Walker.

But it also mobilized Republicans, who responded in kind with it’s own national phone bank operation and tremendous financial support that led to a 3-to-1 spending advantage. Walker gathered an estimated $30 million for his campaign, while $10.6 million for his opponent’s campaign.

Collective bargaining rights have been under attack for years, unions assert. And the implication this has on working class families, particularly Hispanics who rely on negotiation and organizing efforts, could be crucial if other states decide to follow through with similar challenges, observers said.

Related story: Wisconsin governor survives recall election

Latino union members earnings amounted to $771 million in 2010, compared with $512 million for non-union workers. On average, union workers’ wages are 28 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts, according to the AFL-CIO.

Gonzalo Salvador, bilingual media outreach specialist for the AFL-CIO, said the Wisconsin election is a profound disappointment and a demonstration of voter suppression efforts that many states have adapted — and which have a disproportionate impact on minorities and the elderly.

“By these laws, (Walker) has suppressed the vote of many minority workers who don’t have the ID requirements,” said Salvador.

But many Latinos were not dissuaded, he said.

“Even with all these efforts to push back against working families and against many prospective Latino voters, they have reacted in an incredible way. They have knocked doors and reached out to other Latino families. I think this is unprecedented.”

Latino labor union members said it also spurred a get-out-the-vote effort among Hispanics, particularly in the Southeast region of Wisconsin.

Voces de la Frontera centered their support by organizing the Latino vote in the 12th and 8th congressional districts where a heavily populated Hispanic community resides.

The governor’s actions to disallow in-state tuition for undocumented students, to limit collective bargaining for public sector unions and to pass voter ID legislation incited millions of people to sign petitions, make phone calls and walk door-to-door for support.

Still, labor unions are being called the big “loser” after Tuesday’s election, further eroding its reputation as a once-formidable political force. And some worry about a possible trickle effect across the nation.

Politico reported that Tuesday’s election demonstrated “the vulnerability of a long formidable movement whose ranks are already thinning across the country…and emboldens lawmakers to pick fights with unions in other states.”

“I have never seen anything like this in politics in my time,” said Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers of America. “To experience what is happening in Wisconsin, with this money, is kind of a small window into what it going to be like this year across the country.”


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