What’s Going On in Wisconsin—And Why It Matters to Freelancers

Here at Freelancers Union we have watched in amazement at the growing protests surrounding budgets and unions in Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio over the past week. My attention, however, has not been on the troubles caused by our nation’s budget issues, immediate and serious though they are. Every year, after all, presents a budgeting challenge.

The core issue at hand today is about the democratic rights of workers. In the 1930s, when America was not only rocked by the Great Depression but also deeply anxious about the spread of communism and fascism in the world, workers won some of their most critical victories. It was believed that giving workers the right to organize and bargain would safeguard our nation’s democracy. I believe that it still does. Today’s attempt to strip the collective bargaining rights of public unions in Wisconsin and Indiana is an egregious attack on one of the cornerstones of our democracy. Unions, businesses, and government must engage in a constant dialogue about their priorities and needs. We’re seeing Governor Cuomo battle with public unions in New York, too, but with a stark difference. Though this is going to be a tough fight and teachers face salary freezes and firings, at least he has not threatened the right of those workers to continue to represent and organize themselves and their needs.

In contrast, Governor Walker’s position is tantamount to saying, “I won’t give you what you want today, and I forbid you to ask for it—ever.” Even after unions have offered concessions on all the Governor’s budgetary demands, he persists in saying the unions’ rights must be curtailed. But how can a budget crisis be resolved by forbidding conversation and negotiation? Walker’s reaction was severe and extreme, and is an attempt to remove basic rights—rights that are rooted in democracy and fairness. At the end of the day, budget constraints are driving this issue and cuts will be made either way. But the process of getting there—negotiation versus outright dismissal—is quite different.

Freelancers Union, by and large, represents a different kind of worker. Our members, by the nature of the way they work, cannot collectively bargain. But we are grounded in and inspired by the history and tenets of traditional unions—the idea that workers can do better when we come together. It has always been my belief that unions protect democracy and the future of the middle class, and must be permitted to continue their critical function, in every U.S. state.

(photo by mrbula, via Flickr.) 

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