WISCONSIN GENERAL STRIKE ON THE WAY – over assault on unions and services

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IN AMERICA the 45,000-member Southern Central Federation of Labor, the local chapter of the AFL-CIO for the Madison and Southern Central Wisconsin area, has voted to make preparations for a general strike.

The press release reads as follows: Around 10:50pm Wisconsin Time on February 21st the South Central Federation of Labor endorsed the following motions:

Motion 1: The SCFL endorses a general strike, possibly for the day (Governor Scott) Walker signs his ‘budget repair bill’, and requests the Education Committee immediately begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike.

Motion 2: The SCFL goes on record as opposing all provisions contained in Walker’s ‘budget repair bill’, including but not limited to, curtailed bargaining rights and reduced wages, benefits, pensions, funding for public education, changes to medical assistance programs, and politicization of state government agencies.

It’s important to note that this is just a threat and not actually going out on a general strike.

Under the Taft-Hartley Act a general strike in support of other workers is illegal; therefore the key word is the phrase ‘begin educating affiliates and members on the organisation and function of a general strike’.

In addition, only individual unions, not the central labor federation has the ability to call a strike.

Many private sector unions would not go out on a general strike out of fear of being sued by their employers.

However, local labor observers say many public sector unions and some of the construction unions would go out on a strike.

Threatening a general strike creates even more pressure for Scott Walker in the business community.

The business community in Wisconsin already appears to buckling under the intense pressure of the mass labor mobilization as I noted here last week.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) claims he has to eliminate the right of public workers like nurses, teachers and EMTs to bargain for good jobs in order to fix the state’s budget.

He claims it’s fiscally prudent.

How fiscally prudent is it to toss away almost $50 million of Wisconsin taxpayer money that could be used to create jobs?

But that’s exactly what Walker will do if his so-called ‘budget repair’ bill passes.

Wisconsin would forfeit $46.6 million in federal transportation funds because, under federal labor law, states lose that funding if they eliminate collective bargaining rights that were on the books at the time the federal money was authorized.

While that provision of the law may not be well known, as Sam Stein in The Huffington Post points out, Walker knew about the loss of funds well before he launched his attack on public-service workers.

A memo from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau warned Walker of the forfeiture.

It looks like Walker is willing to put a $50 million price tag on his attack on middle-class workers.

l Meanwhile, last Saturday night, when Mother Jones magazine staffers tweeted a report that riot police might soon sweep demonstrators out of the Wisconsin capitol building – something that didn’t end up happening – one Twitter user sent out a chilling public response: ‘Use live ammunition.’

The magazine confronted the user, JCCentCom.

‘He tweeted back that the demonstrators were “political enemies” and “thugs” who were “physically threatening legally elected officials”. In response to such behaviour, he said, “You’re damned right I advocate deadly force.” He later called me a “typical leftist,” adding, “liberals hate police”.

‘Only later did we realize that JCCentCom was a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana.

‘As one of 144 attorneys in that office, Jeff Cox has represented the people of his state for 10 years.

‘And for much of that time, it turns out, he’s vented similar feelings on Twitter and on his blog, Pro Cynic.

‘In his nonpolitical tweets and blog posts, Cox displays a keen litigator’s mind, writing sharply and often wittily on military history and professional basketball.

‘But he evinces contempt for political opponents – from labelling President Obama an “incompetent and treasonous” enemy of the nation to comparing “enviro-Nazis” to Osama bin Laden, likening ex-Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Service Employees International Union members to Nazi “brownshirts” on multiple occasions, and referring to an Indianapolis teen as “a black teenage thug who was (deservedly) beaten up” by local police.

‘A “sensible policy for handling Afghanistan,” he offered, could be summed up as: “KILL! KILL! ANNIHILATE!”

‘Early Sunday, Mother Jones sent an email to Cox’s work address at the Indiana attorney general’s office, asking if the Twitter and blog comments were his, and if he could provide context for some of them.

‘He responded shortly after from a personal email address: “For context? Or to silence me? All my comments on Twitter & my blog are my own and no one else’s. And I can defend them all.

‘ “(Y)ou will probably try to demonize me, but that comes with the territory.”

‘To be sure, in the current political climate, partisan rhetoric has run hot online – and the Constitution guarantees everyone’s right to such rhetoric.

‘Nonetheless, a spokesman for the Indiana attorney general’s office, Bryan Corbin, told Mother Jones that Cox’s statements were “inflammatory,” and he promised “an immediate review” of the matter.

‘ “We do not condone any comments that would threaten or imply violence or intimidation toward anyone,” Corbin added.

‘The incident seems all the more troubling now that the public-sector union fight playing out in Wisconsin is now headed to other states – including Indiana, where GOP senators on Tuesday passed a bill that would abolish collective bargaining for state teachers.

‘(Indiana’s Republican governor walked back his support of the measure on Tuesday after taking stock of the opposition.)

‘Cox’s public writings made it clear that he isn’t a member of a public-service union, and he has no love for those who are.

‘ “Individuals have the First Amendment right to post their own personal views in online forums on their own time,” Corbin wrote to Mother Jones, “but as public servants, state employees also should strive to conduct themselves with professionalism and appropriate decorum in their interactions with the public.”

‘ “Cox had been contacted by the office,” Corbin added: “We have reiterated to the employee the standards of professional conduct expected for all licensed attorneys and for employees of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

‘ “After all the relevant information is obtained, this agency then will determine whether there has been any violation of the personnel handbook.”

‘In the meantime, we hoped to give Cox a chance to explain his thoughts in greater detail.

‘In his initial email to Mother Jones, Cox had written, “Ask what questions you want & I will do my best to answer. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe I’ll learn something.”

‘So we emailed him a list of questions:

‘What did he mean when he tweeted: “Planned Parenthood could help themselves if the only abortions they performed were retroactive”?

‘In referring to President Obama, why did he use a George W. Bush line once directed at the Iraqi people: “Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country”?

‘Were members of the SEIU really like Hitler’s Sturmabteilung, and did he stand by his headline, “Putting the ‘Reich’ in Robert Reich”?

‘We never heard back.’

• Registered nurses at Washington Hospital Center, the largest hospital in the nation’s capital, announced plans for a one-day walkout on Friday, March 4.

The strike announcement follows three days of negotiations that the nurses say failed to resolve their primary concerns regarding serious patient safety problems and nursing standards at the hospital.

Talks are scheduled to continue this week.

The 1,650 nurses, members of National Nurses United (NNU), also object to attempts to cut nurses’ pay and benefits, and charge that the company violated federal labour law in implementing cuts in workplace and economic standards.

The hospital is owned by the MedStar Health chain whose policies the nurses say have eroded patient care conditions and have prompted an exodus of hundreds of experienced RNs from the hospital.

WHC RNs voted overwhelmingly last week to authorise the RN Facility Bargaining Council to call a walkout.

The nurses last week also released the findings of an internal survey of hospital employees conducted by the hospital last year which showed a significant percentage of its employees believe the hospital is lacking in patient safety.

The nurses have been without a contract since last June.