United States: Why the Wisconsin recall failed

Protest in Madison, Wisconson in defence of workers' rights, April 8.

Nearly half a year after workers revolted over Wisconsin Republican Govenor Scott Walker's February announcement that he intended to bust Wisconsin's public-sector unions, voters went to the polls in nine recall elections.

Unions and their supporters hoped the polls would put the state Senate in the hands of Democrats ― whose 14 Senators left the state for a month after Walker announced his anti-union bill in a bid to block it.

Despite an obscene amount of money flowing into the state over the past few months, the union movement fell just one seat short of its goal.

The state Senate remains in the hands of the Republicans for now, while angry Wisconsinites set their sights on their primary target: Walker himself.

What should we make of these results? Why were the Democrats ultimately unsuccessful?

John Nichols, an astute observer of Wisconsin state politics for many year, said in an August 9 blog post at Thenation.com that the gain of two Democratic seats, while disappointing and short of what was needed to take control, is actually a victory.

After all, these districts were deliberately drawn to favour Republican incumbents in 2000.

During the 2008 Obama landslide, all six of these districts elected Republican state senators, and in 2010, all six voted for Scott Walker. Wisconsin labour ought to take heart that two of the districts changed their minds about the Republican agenda.

Nate Silver at the  New York Times'  538 blog crunched the numbers on August 10. He figured that if Walker were up for recall during the Senate votes, he might have lost.

Nichols also notes that Senator Dale Schultz, the lone Republican dissenter on the collective bargaining vote, who represents a moderate to left-leaning district in southwestern Wisconsin, may find common cause with Democrats on other issues.

This may occasionally give Democrats the check on Walker's power that they desired.

Analyzing the recall results on  Democracy Now! on August 10, Nichols ruled out the possibility that Schultz would consider switching parties or declaring independence. But it will certainly be easier for him to buck his party now that his vote is decisive.





But leaving aside these expectations, the Democrats are at least as responsible for the frustrating performance as gerrymandered, Republican-friendly turf and underhanded voter suppression tactics.

The Democrats expected to ride a tidal wave of anger back into power without speaking to the very issue that sparked Wisconsin's political turmoil.

Aileen Paguio pointed out in a July 28 SocialistWorker.org article: "[M]ost Democrats involved in recall elections have completely ignored the issue of reinstating collective bargaining, even though it is the unions who generated the activists going door-to-door to campaign for these candidates."

Mike Tate, chair of the Wisconsin state Democratic Party, said in a July 20 press conference that only the media believe the elections are about collective bargaining.

A similar point was made by Jack Carver on the Isthmus' Daily Page on July 14: "Democrats tacitly play into [Walker's] game.

“Instead of articulating how unions benefit the general population, they speak in the vaguest terms about the importance of preserving the rights of public workers."

Conventional wisdom dictates that it was good politics to de-emphasise collective bargaining. But Democrats avoided any attempt to change the terms of the public debate on organised labour.

Walker and the Republicans spent weeks demonising public workers and the unions that represent them.

Yet instead of hitting back on behalf of the very same people who worked tirelessly to help them seize the Senate, the Democrats decided to accept the Republicans' terms.

Even if Democrats eventually take both houses and the governor's office, can labour really count on them to restore their rights?

Before the election, union-organiser-turned-journalist Josh Eidelson suggested the Democrats were embracing a class-based populist message, and that the recalls would provide a test case for this strategy.

Eidelson said the Democrats often "dabble in populism" without actually embracing it once elected. But he seems to think something is different this time: the Democrats may have had a genuine change of heart when it comes to speaking in stark terms of rich versus poor or worker versus boss.

From my vantage point, it looks like the Democrats are still dabbling.

Their rhetoric is missing the fire and militancy of a genuine workers' party. Such a party ought to speak in terms of protests, occupations and strikes, and articulate an alternative vision of economic justice, rather than emphasising elections and accepting the terms of corporate capitalism as the limit of its vision.

Moreover, the Democrats  channelled the movement's best energies into electoral politics with the aim of increasing their own power.

By abandoning the collective bargaining issue, the Democrats showed their true colors, and proved once again that the Democratic Party exists solely to elect Democrats.

Of course, the Democratic Party can certainly spin the recall elections as a victory and enhance its own political power.

But it was working people, union and non-union alike, who occupied the Capitol building in Wisconsin for weeks and prompted the 14 Democrats to leave the state to tie up Walker's legislation.

Tens of thousands of people in the streets of Madison sent a message to the elite that they could not ignore.

The protest movement, with spontaneous acts of civil disobedience, mass rallies and a militant posture, genuinely empowered workers to take matters into their own hands.

The Democratic Party co-opted that energy to serve its own political ends, and did more to demobilise the protest movement than any Republican could have hoped for.

The Democrats talk a mean streak. But the prospect of a militant mass movement of rank-and-file workers who are prepared to strike to win their rights back frightens them almost as much as it frightens the people who finance their campaigns.

It means they might have to take a stand against their corporate masters and the global push for austerity, or risk losing the loyalty of workers.

Tragically, Wisconsin's union leaders are committed to pursuing the electoral strategy to its bitter conclusion. The effort to replace Walker as governois likely to abandon workers once elected.

But the bureaucrats in charge of the unions see their fate as bound up in the success of the Democratic Party.

If left to their own devices, union leaders will most certainly continue to tell angry members to go vote ― and nothing else. That's why it's up to the rank and file to demand better leadership and organise ourselves for the struggles ahead.

[Reprinted from www.socialistworker.org .]

Comments

The reason the democrats only gained two seats is because in America we have "faith based elections". You know, the kind where you vote, then go home and pray your vote is counted correctly by the Diebold machines. John Nichols is a typical plant. He talks a good game, but then when he's really needed, he rolls over and capitulates, explaining how the Democratic loss is actually a victory. Can you say Cointelpro? If Nichols were honest, he would have talked about the blatant election fraud that occured during the Prosser election. He would have mentioned the fact the Republican owned companies count the vote, and Democrats are supposed to just trust them!? If you've looked at what's happening in the USA, you might wonder how the bad guys are getting away with it all. It's because they have plants, stooges, goons, whatever you want to call them, running the newspapers, tv and radio stations. They have plants in both parties in DC and every state government. They are getting away with it because they've been planning this nazi takeover for 50 years. There was an article in the NY Times a few months ago talking about "Operation Paperclip" and how the CIA imported 10,000 Nazis to America after WWII- with one of the architects of Auschwitz going straight to work at the CIA. It's probably happening to you to Australia, watch out for fake leaders like John Nichols, Michael Moore, Kerry, Obama, & Al Gore, they say all the right things to make you trust them, then throw in the towel when it really counts.
We removed 2 Republicans from office and inserted 2 Democrats. Sure sounds like a Democratic victory to me.
I got a call from the Dem's to come on down to their Madison Office and input data. The round trip was 40 miles. I got there. Not enough computers. And the lists needing input were on paper to verify potential Dem voters All the lists only included land-lines. 26% of Wisconsin residents rely entirely on cell phones. With me standing there, I'm told "Well, we need new signs pointing to the washrooms. You could use glitter," said the lady. On the way to the glitter room, I came by a table. On a table was a pile of cell phones to make calls from the lists.. Depending on the results, the caller would put a check in an appropriate column on paper, which would be put into a box for inputting maybe the next day or whenever. And analysed who knows when after that? This in a day and age of predictive dialing where the computer does the dialing and bounces along until it gets a response. The result being 45 minutes of talking compared to just 15 minutes. And of course, results immediately put into a database, and analysed with state-of-art analytics that can narrow issues down to each house-hold. None of that occurred. I tried calling Dem Chairman Tate on the issue. No response. Some kid telling me I didn't know what I was talking about. A poly-sci major and everything I figured as I left my name and number.. Wrote Jon Nichols. Still awaiting a piece outlining the failed Dem organization. The rah rah 'We've won' stuff is fine, but like rage alone, rah rah doesn't win elections. And it was only a few days before when Nichols was predicting up to five seats turning Dem. The recalls in Wisconsin were for the Dems to lose. And they did just that. Gomer Pyle politics is criminally inept and we've all paid the price for it.
I'm writing here from Madison. That's crazy talk. I get pretty cynical too some days. John may not get every one of his predictions right every time, or you may disagree with his analysis. I've thought him naive at times on particular issues or public figures. Big deal. We know him well around here, and from a long time back. He's no plant. Stop trashing a comrade in the struggle, and an ally in the media.
Citizens wanted a return to sanity. Walker is doing what he was elected to do - not letting corrupt unions dictate to the rest of us what terms they will work for and that teachers have to join the union for about 1,000/year dues that local districts have to automatically deduct from teachers pay checks. Many teachers are thrilled to be able to keep money that they were previously compelled to an organization that didn't represent their interests that was using its power to impose terrible costs on the rest of Wisconsin citizens (of which I am one). That unions could pour so much money into these recall elections and not get a return of control to the Democrats in the Senate is testament of what the citizens of WI really want, and that is a return to control of government to the people and away from unions. Unfortunately, some teachers and administrators have 'retired' in order to collect pensions, and are turning around and taking jobs in other districts - double dipping against their fellow Wisconsinites. I read about one who did retired (to get pension), and got hired back to his old job (name changed only), no other applicants - $120K a year. Those are the sort of 'rights' the unions are fighting for in our state... I vote for getting things back under control and sane, so we can afford to take care of our children's future! Thanks in advance for allowing diverse views!