Europe Is Dumbfounded by Scott Walker's Victory

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The recall victory of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is sending shockwaves through Europe as right-wing and left-wing newspapers marvel at the Republican's ability to survive an election months after stripping the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions. In European countries, where a much larger percentage of the labor force is unionized, politicians typically face insurmountable opposition from labor groups during wage and work-hour disputes. Today, some of the continent's biggest papers are doing a double-take at headlines from over here.

"Wisconsin is not France," reads the headline of  Pierre-Yves Dugua's article in Le Figaro, France's conservative broadsheet. (All translations are slight modifications of what Google Translate produced.) "Scott Walker's admirers speak of courage worthy of Margaret Thatcher. His critics talk about unprecedented reactionary duplicity. What is certain is that [neither] Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac, or even Le Pen would have dared do what Scott Walker has succeeded."

Meanwhile, French socialist newspaper L'Humanité lamented the symbolism of the Walker victory  as a validation of "Republican Party and Tea Parties in their strategy of 'radicalization' and 'rightward' or even 'extreme rightward'" policies. The liberal newspaper Le Monde said the recall couldn't be dismissed as a local issue. "For France, the election may appear as an epiphenomenon: it concerns a single State and involves local politicians. It is not the case," said the paper, noting the election is a direct read on the "political temperature" in the country.

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In Germany, the progressive newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung expressed disbelief in Walker's agenda saying he denied the unions "virtually every right to negotiate for the public employees collective bargaining agreements," a somewhat exaggerated claim given that the bill mostly focuses on wage negotiations but nevertheless understandable given the breadth of negotiating powers German unions enjoy. 

Italy's long-running socialist newspaper, Corriere della Sera, meanwhile, described the GOP campaign as "illegal" saying that its effect "impoverishes all industrialized countries." The article notes that in the U.S. private sector unions are "already demolished" amounting to only 7 percent of the workforce. Unions are starting to "collapse even in the public sector," bemoans the piece. 

Finally, in one of England's liberal newspapers, The Guardian's Arun Gupta accused walker of turning "back the clock on public healthcare, education and labor organizing." He cites the editor of Madison's Progressive magazine noting that the law "will be psychologically devastating to tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin and materially devastating to people who've already seen a 10% cut in their pay and no longer have collective bargaining in any real sense." He also noted that the victory signals that Republicans can put their "boot on the threat of labor and get away with it." Indeed, the enthusiasm for unionized labor is alive and well... just not in the U.S.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.