Leon Fink, editor of Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, wrote an op-ed in this weekend's News and Observer about Wisconsin's history of progressive economic reform in the early 20th Century and its relationship to the current events taking place there:
"It was a formula that soon made Wisconsin the envy of the nation on questions ranging from taxation to industrial relations to land use policy. All told, the Wisconsin Idea suggested that through a close working relationship among major stakeholders, as pioneer labor economist John R. Commons put it, "order, intelligence, care, and thought could be exercised by the state.
Even when Republican 'Stalwarts' took back the state from party 'Progressives' in 1914, they maintained the foundations of the Wisconsin Idea. Public employee bargaining, which did not come about until 1959, thus continued the spirit of accommodating conflicting interest groups through a formal dispute resolution process.
Alas, Gov. Scott Walker and today's Wisconsin Republicans have responded quite differently to the challenges of economic dislocation and fiscal crisis. Identifying the state's problem only as a matter of the budget gap (rather than a larger question of economic development), they refuse to countenance tax increases or reforms that might alleviate the fiscal squeeze. Instead, they have singled out one group of citizens - public sector employees - for sacrifice, not only determined to cut salaries and benefits but to strip them of long-established collective bargaining rights.
Rather than engage the unions in multi-party negotiation or begin with a nonpartisan commission to assess alternative budget remedies - this, at a time when only a month ago, the legislature gave away enough money in tax breaks to nearly make up the state's deficit - they have acted in unilateral haste.
As a result, today's Republicans have surely reaped the whirlwind. Not only union pride but a basic American sense of fairness bristles when one productive and hard-working sector of the population is made to "pay" for the sins of everyone else. Moreover, when a so-called "emergency" is manipulated for partisan and ideological use, state authorities threaten the very legitimacy of their own tenure in office.
Amid today's rancor and stalemate, with many classrooms as well as offices shuttered by civil discord, might it not serve all the state's representatives - beginning with the governor - to take time out for a family history lesson?"