Although threatened with arrest, those protesting Walker's claims of trying to balance a budget by union-busting while ladling out corporate tax cuts continued on Sunday. About 70,000 people turned out in spite of continuing cold and snow, which says a lot about the commitment to this cause.
Walker's union-busting drive appears to have little to do with balancing the budget. He notes that public employees are the "haves" and private workers are the "have nots". See unions Debate What to Give to Save Bargaining, New York Times, Feb. 27, 2011. Of course, the reason private workers have lost in the last four decades is that those at the top have captured all the productivity gains and left workers with stagnant or even declining wages and benefits. That is because they managed to stifle unionization through legislation that makes it difficult and through anti-union actions in the employer's shop. Without unions, private workers find it more difficult to fight for decent wages and decent benefits.
It's not that the wages and benefits that public employees have are unreasonable. It is that the wages and benefits--where they are less--that the private employees have are unreasonably stingy.
The anti-union companies and employers like Gov. Walker are trying to plant a wedge that will separate private employees from public employees, making it easier to keep them all in serfdom. And there are political benefits--at least for the Republican party. See Mark Thoma's post, here (quoting Krugman on the political expediency behind the push to get rid of public employee unions).
The unions have conceded that tough times require them to renegotiate many of the concessions they've won, and they've agreed to pay more outright for their pensions and health care. (As David Cay Johnston notes in the item linked below, they actually pay, indirectly, 100% of the costs, since the pension and health care benefits are provisions that they have negotiated for in exchange for lower wages.) Walker has passed four tax cut bills for corporations, that will have a significant long-term cost. So Walker is giving to businesses while taking from local government, universities, medicaid and public employees.
For coverage of the Wisconsin situation, see the following:
Rallies for Labor, in Wisconsin and Beyond, New York Times, Feb. 26, 2011.
Moveon.org rallies Gay Groups to Sierra Club behind Unions, Bloomberg.com, Feb. 27, 2011.
AFL-CIL (AFLCIO) on Twitter (reporting at about 9:30 pm that the crowd in the Wisconsin capitol was singing "We Shall Overcome" ).
Are These People Overpaid, Huffington Post, Feb. 25, 2011 (providing information about various workers in Wisconsin, including a paramedic who is paid $43,000 for working 24-hour shifts involving often stressful and heavy labor and a schoolteacher who is in debt from her education and makes only $30,000 a year, not enough to allow cable at home).
Wisconsin Pension Cuts are Actually About Reducing Union 'Cash Wages', David Cay Johnston, Huffington Post (noting that "Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers. How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages -- as pensions when they retire -- rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services").
Dean Baker, The Origins and severity of the Public Pension Crisis, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Feb. 2011 (picked up by Paul Krugman for its neat graph showing that the main cause of funding problems in public pension plans is not ridiculous demands for exorbitant pensions by public employees, but rather the 2007 financial crisis and its impact on returns to pension funds)
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Signs Income Tax Cut Into Law: Businesses that Move to Wisconsin Won't Have to Pay Income taxes for Two Years, PostCrescent.com, Feb. 1, 2011 (noting that "The measure joins three others Walker has signed in his first month in office that he said will send a message that Wisconsin is more business friendly. Walker, a Republican, has seen his legislative agenda speed through the Republican-controlled Legislature even though he has yet to explain how he'll pay for everything in light of the state's projected $3 billion budget shortfall").