An in-depth narrative of the recent battle over the rights and future of Wisconsin's public-employee unions.
The 2010 elections put Republicans in control of Wisconsin, a state in severe budgetary crisis. The new governor, Scott Walker, proposed a budget-repair bill that would severely reduce the influence of the state's public-employee unions on state and local budgets, in large part by eliminating their collective bargaining rights. The Republicans’ conviction that this assault on union power was necessary to save the state from fiscal ruin, and the Democrats’ equally passionate conviction that they would not permit working people to be stripped of hard-won rights, set the stage for a colossal, no-holds-barred confrontation. The Senate's Democrats decamped for Illinois, and in the full glare of international publicity, Wisconsin descended into months of high-stakes legislative maneuvers, litigation, recall elections, and huge, raucous demonstrations inside and outside the state capitol, in the course of which "the institutions of the state…at times seized up and ceased to work,” demonstrating “how thin a line could separate a vibrant, respected democracy from illegitimacy and chaos." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Stein and Marley deliver an impressively objective account of the struggle, ably describing the objectives and tactics of each side in a confident and engaging style. At times, however, amid the tussle du jour, readers may lose sight of the parties’ larger objectives. This may be the definitive history of exactly what each side did to the other during these momentous months: Portions of the resulting law are still before the courts, and it will be years before a sober evaluation of the effect of the legislation on Wisconsin, its unions and its budgetary processes can be undertaken. The authors wisely do not attempt one.
A steady, authoritative account of an intensely emotional public-policy conflict.