Protesters swarm the rotunda of Wisconsin's state capitol on Thursday. credit: AP Photo/Andy Manis
The standoff between public employees in Wisconsin and the state's new Republican governor has drawn President Obama into the fray and marks an important turning point in the century-plus story of organized labor in America.
More than 25,000 protesters turned out in Wisconsin to sound their dismay at Gov. Scott Walker's plans to use emergency legislation to roll back collective-bargaining rights for the state's employees. The measure would limit workers' ability to strike over issues other than pay. Foremost on that list is health insurance, which has become an increasingly important part of the compensation package for public and private union members in recent years as governments and corporations have pushed back against salary increases. Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature are trying to block Walker's measure, and they're getting support from Obama who talked to a Milwaukee television reporter on Tuesday about his concerns.
How I Went From Bush Loyalist to Critic
Palin Picks Fight With First Lady
"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally, seems like more of an assault on unions," Obama told the local reporter. "I think everybody's got to make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens."
It's no wonder that the White House's political arm, Organizing for America, and the Democratic National Committee have been lending support to the Wisconsin protesters.
Of course, fights between management and labor are nothing new, and battles between officeholders and public-employee unions aren't unique. Anyone who has lived through a sanitation workers' or a teachers' strike can testify to that. Indeed, politicians of both parties regularly seek to keep public-employee costs down to relieve pressure on budgets and taxes.