"Some men rob you with a six-gun;others rob you with a fountain pen." Woody Guthrie
Not since the patriot farmer Daniel Shays felt the economic squeeze brought on by obsolete laws and the indifference of profit-driven merchants in post-Revolutionary War America have citizens who toil for their nation faced a governor so bent on cutting into their livelihood while sparing people of wealth the same hardship.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to take away most collective bargaining rights from state workers with the intention of cutting their benefits to save money is the latest (very loud) salvo in the ideologically driven debate on how, and how much, to fund government.
“We are confident this is the right thing to do,” Walker told local WTMJ-AM radio host Charlie Sykes this morning.“The bottom line is we’re doing this for the right reasons.”
Walker, a newly elected conservative governor, hopes to tap into the understandable anger among Americans with Tea Party values being choked by their own unforgiving economic conditions, seeking to shift their vitriol on public employees who he argues have “a stranglehold” on the state.
The labor movement hopes to reach Wisconsinites' better angels, appealing to middle class sensibility to recognize that public employees are their friends, neighbors and family and they are victims of union-busting and class warfare.
"Our job, and the role of the legislature, is to expand rights, not deny them," said state Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller.
Walker's critics contend it would be the right thing to do if the public employee' salaries and benefits were responsible for adding to Wisconsin's budget deficit, but that is not the case. The state's own legislative auditors' scorecard show it is Walker's tax cuts and pet projects that are taking the biggest bite out of the budget.
Until they can convince Republican lawmakers to break with Walker over the changes to the collective bargaining rules, Democratic state senators are hiding out to avoid having to take a vote to pass the law.
So the showdown is set, with Walker refusing to budget and thousands of public employees promising to demonstrate in the streets for weeks to come.
Shays, a Colonial Army captain who fought at the battles at Lexington and Bunker Hill, took up arms to rally citizens against a government-sponsored chokehold on the pocketbooks of the agrarian workforce. Even after Shays was convicted and slapped with the death penalty, a wiser state government stayed the sentence of Shays and set in place regulations to protect the farmers.
Wisconsin's public employeees, armed with numbers, organization and passion, say they need only to convince their neighbors, friends and family that it will not improve public services or save them a nickel if Walker is allowed to change the rules for negotiating contracts.