Though the focus this past week has been on the uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, one does not need to look much farther than a couple states over to see revolution knocking on America’s door. Currently there are protests going on in Madison, Wisconsin, outside the State Capitol against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s bill to cut collective bargaining in unions and alter benefits.
Protests have been going on for over a week, with thousands of teachers and students standing with signs and camping out in front of the State Capitol. Interestingly enough, all 14 Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have “fled” the state. Even Obama has joined the parade.
The main issue on the table is that last week Governor Walker proposed a bill that limited collective bargaining, the process of negotiations that goes on between employers and trade unionists, as well as required most public workers (excluding police, firefighters and state troopers) to pay for half of their pension costs and 12 percent of their health care costs.
Though some (like Walker himself) argue that this measure will save the state 300 million dollars over the next two years and help close the budget gap, others see the bill as a way to stifle organized labor. It is this concern over stifling organized labor that really strikes at whether or not there are rights in question that need to be defended. Because if that is the case, there is much more of interest going on in Madison then a couple of petty fights over wages and costs. Many workers are getting up and doing something about this issue, and are taking a stand in ways that I believe our country has not seen in a long time. And though this issue is not particularly relevant to my everyday life (I am not a trade unionist;, I do not know any trade unionists, etc), it is important to remember that it is the kinds of people that work in places with unions, like teachers and factory workers, are who make this country run so smoothly, and that is why we all here at Colgate should care.
My guess is it’s pretty obvious to most that this uprising has a direct correlation to the uprisings in the Middle East. Though smaller, and pertaining to less dire issues than entire government overhauls (oh, and, so far much more peaceful), this disturbance is significant and I would maybe argue a bit overlooked because of the current events in the Middle East right now. Compounded with the waning economy and the writing of the 2012 federal budget and potential government shutdown, Wisconsin is bringing attention to the problems of the working class that have been laying sleepily in the corner, unnoticed until now.
Hopefully the matter will be resolved soon, and no violence will come of it as the situations in the Middle East have disintegrated into in recent weeks. It is times like these that I am proud to be American (and I unfortunately don’t say that as often as I would like to). Perhaps this is the year we wake the lion from its den, and learn to fight for what matters to us.
We shouldn’t forget that though most reading this are busy studying and being full-time students, there is still always more we can do to change the way things are – whether on Colgate’s campus, regionally or wherever we should to expect more from our governments and our leaders, and instead of standing idly by, doing something about it.