Opinion Columns & Blogs

Wisconsin protests are of historic importance

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the mass protests that have broken out in Madison, Wis., over Gov. Scott Walker's massive assault on public-sector unions.

This is the largest sustained rally for the rights of public-sector workers that this country has seen in decades — perhaps ever.

The crowds at the state Capitol swelled from 10,000 to 65,000 during the first week all the way up to 100,000 on Saturday. Hundreds of people occupied the Capitol building with a sit-in and sleep-in for days on end, and total strangers from around the world ordered pizzas for them.

The Madison school district was closed for three days because the teachers refused to go to work. And many other districts across the state closed at least for a day as teachers stood up for their rights, even at the risk of disciplinary action.

This is huge. And let's be clear: The outpouring of protest is not primarily about budget cuts. It's about union busting.

The governor's bill would prohibit employers from deducting union dues from members' paychecks. And it would require annual recertification votes by members of every single public-sector union.

Neither of these requirements would save the state a single dime. But they would make it enormously difficult for public-sector unions to function.

The public-sector unions in Wisconsin have called Walker's bluff and announced that they would be willing to have their members pay what he's demanding in terms of added contributions to health insurance coverage and pensions. But still he has refused to budge, because at bottom the so-called budget crisis is but a confected weapon to stab unions with.

The middle class in America has been suffering for decades now. It's a wonder people haven't fought back before.

But they're fighting back now, in Madison. As one of the signs said, "This Is Our Tahrir Square."