Wisconsin is a largely agricultural middle-American state more known for dairy products than for political turmoil. This state, however, has become the unlikely first battleground in a fight between the far-right Tea Party and the working and middle classes. The new Republican governor, Scott Walker, is forcing through a budget bill that will scrap unions’ rights to bargain on their members’ behalf.
This plan has brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets of the state capitol, Madison. Walker, however, is refusing to budge, despite the Democrats and the unions signalling their willingness to work with him.
The manner in which Walker is behaving is a frightening harbinger of what Tea Party America would look like. Indeed, a recent prank call to Walker from a blogger posing as a wealthy supporter revealed the extent of his tyrannical ambitions. Walker let slip that he had considered deliberately disrupting the otherwise peaceful protests, and that the anti-union plans have nothing to do with the budget but instead are designed to consolidate his own power.
The implications of this fight also go beyond Wisconsin’s borders. Other Republican governors are ready to implement similar anti-union measures. And on a national level, a Walker-esque future President would radically reshape the nature of the American state, stripping power from the middle classes and channelling it to wealthy businesses through a much stronger executive branch.
This issue also has personal implications for me. My mother is a unionised state employee in Wisconsin, and my father works for local government. Both are set to be affected by Walker’s plans, particularly if redundancy notices start landing in letterboxes. While the restructuring of the relationship between government and citizens is frightening enough on its own, Walker’s plans are also an intensely personal attack on the hard work done by the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin public sector employees like my parents.
Keep an eye on Wisconsin. If the bill goes through, it is likely to be the first domino to fall in a long chain of radical changes to the way the American state functions.
Long live King Walker.