So, earlier I wrote about one of the reasons I thought Governor Walker won and listed out some other factors that helped Governor Walker win (listed below). But there is one other factor that I didn’t consider, what if the public unions were too unprepared or disorganized or poorly run or whatever to defeat Governor Walker? Labor writer Mike Elk examines this possibility in the Nation: On ‘Left Anti-Unionism’ and the Reason We Lost Wisconsin
What if there was a protest and everyone showed up? Would they have something to do? Would any organization have the ability to transform this really amazing surge of activist activity into political victory (electoral or otherwise)?
Here are some key points from Mr. Elk’s article:
In the wake of the Wisconsin defeat, there has been far too little concrete criticism of why organized labor lost.
I admit, I hadn’t really thought too much about it…
At the height of the occupation, when 100,000 protesters were occupying the capitol, polls showed Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett beating Governor Scott Walker 52-45. The key question is how did the movement in Wisconsin lose this people power?
Yeah..what happened here? In the wake of defeat, I think it’s easy to forget how much momentum we had.
Quite simply, union leaders have just not invested their members with that much people power—before or after the Wisconsin recall. In February 2011, two union leaders—Marty Beil, one of AFSCME Wisconsin’s Executive Directors, and Mary Bell of the Wisconsin Education Association Council—agreed to across the board wage cuts averaging $4,400 a year for their members. They did so without even taking a vote from their members. You can argue that agreeing to the concessions was a smart strategic move to win public support for collective bargaining rights, but shouldn’t unions let their own members make that decision? How do unions distinguish themselves from corporate America if they don’t allow their own members to even vote on whether or not to accept a $4,400 wage cut?
When leaders empower their members, they lose a little bit of their own power but make the overall organization much stronger. Sure, in the short-term there might be an appeal for a strictly hierarchical structure, but over the long term it can cause an organization to stagnate and lose vitality.
And then there is this too:
the United Electrical Workers (UE), which caps its leaders salaries at $56,000 and does not typically endorse Democrats, is indeed growing in states where collective bargaining for public employees is outlawed— states with Democratic governors like West Virginia and North Carolina. On the other hand, AFSCME, who reportedly pledged to spend $100 million to re-elect Obama and whose outgoing president Gerry McEntee made a salary of $387,000 (nearly seven times that of UE’s president), has lost union members in those same states, according to UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend.
How will an organization stay hungry, especially one that is diminishing in membership, when leadership is too comfortable to take real risks?
A good way of looking at this is the Twitter conversation that Mike Elk had with an AFSCME organizer:
Mike Elk says:
That’s nice!? That’s all When people say “that’s nice” in that context, what they really mean is “You cited an interesting but irrelevant fact.” How could the AFSCME organizer not at least acknowledge increasing union membership was a good thing?
Furthermore, I hate the idea that any person or group is above criticism. How else will an organization improve unless they seriously consider legitimate criticism and work to correct flaws? No organization is perfect, but the ones that do well are the ones that are honest about their flaws and work to improve them. Mike Elk is a very good labor journalist and whether you agree with him or not, he is being sincere in his criticism. But what does he get from an organizer? Mere dismal. That does not make me feel optimistic.
Other Reasons Why Governor Walker Won
- The huge spending advantage that Governor Walker had.
- Governor Walker had a clear message that enough people liked.
- The anti-Walker messaging was either confused or not good enough or both.
- There was a persistent population of people who thought that Governor Walker deserved to finish his term, even if these people might have otherwise voted for a Democrat (at least these people showed up in exit polls and other polling).
- The Democratic primary was not a feel good event.
Categories: | Media | Recall Walker | Wisconsin