Meister: Walker won in Wisconsin, but so did labor


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,

Yes, labor lost its attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one of the most virulent labor opponents anywhere.  But as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared, the heated election campaign was "not the end of the story, but just the beginning."

The campaign, triggered by Walker all but eliminating the collective bargaining rights of most of Wisconsin's 380,000 public employees, showed that labor is quite capable of mounting major drives against anti-labor politicians, a lesson that won't be lost on unions or their opponents.

And labor's political enemies, while perhaps emboldened by labor's failure in Wisconsin, undoubtedly will hesitate, lest they be confronted with similarly heavy union opposition in their attempts to restrict the bargaining rights of public employees.

Think of it: Labor was outspent hugely by outside corporate interests that funneled $50 million into Walker's campaign, outspending labor seven-to-one. Yet labor managed to capture nationwide attention and support, and though losing the gubernatorial race, managed to wrest control of Wisconsin's State Senate from Walker's Republican allies.

Trumka was rightly awed by "the tremendous outpouring of solidarity and energy from Wisconsin's working families, against overwhelming odds. Whether it was standing in the snow, sleeping in the Capitol, knocking on doors or simply casting a vote, we admire the heart and soul everyone poured into this effort" in response to "a gargantuan challenge" to labor.

The Senate victory was almost as important as recall of Walker would be. It gave Democrats a one-seat majority in the 33-seat Senate, which will make it much harder for Walker and his Republican allies to enact his anti-labor agenda.

Trumka says he believes  "the new model that Wisconsin's working families have built won't go away after one election – it will only grow." The election, he adds, was "an important moment, and an important message has been sent: Politicians will be held to account by working people."

Walker, as Trumka says, was forced "to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people." Trumka optimistically believes that inspired working people elsewhere, union and non-union alike, will follow the lead of the anti-Walker forces and "forge a new path forward."

Trumka concludes that the challenge to labor and its allies in Wisconsin and everywhere else is "to create an economy that celebrates hard work over partisan agendas." He said the recall election moved that goal closer.

Of course Richard Trumka is highly partisan, as he should be. But that doesn't necessarily lessen his credibility. Facts are facts. Although not victorious, labor waged an extraordinary campaign that laid the groundwork for future campaigns that could result in important labor victories.

That would at the least increase the strength of the nation's working people and diminish the strength of those who, like Scott Walker, would weaken the vital rights of workers and their unions.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,


Posted by Guest on Jun. 08, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

Abject defeat you say? The state senate is no longer Walker's. That's everything in terms of what Walker can do in the future assuming the Dems are united. He could only be the whore of the Koch bros because the Repugnants had control of both houses - that's no longer the case.

Things have changed in Wisconsin. Sure it would've been nice to get that rightwing whore out of there but he's now a defanged rightwing whore.

Some ppl go thru life uninformed about the results and consequences of an election. It's the weirdest thing. Get over it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 08, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

props also passed in San Diego and San Jose.

With Obama losing support wit each day, Novermber is starting to look interesting - the people are sick of the public sector gravy train and high taxes

Posted by Guest on Jun. 09, 2012 @ 4:12 am

This article is definitely trying to spin a win from a brutal defeat which cost unions a lot of money to accomplish practically nothing.

I'd expect an out of stater and ill-informed liberal to not understand how state government in Wisconsin works.... The next legislative session begins in January which is after November's election where it is widely believed that Republicans will take seats back from Democrats due to redistricting.

This is not a win for both sides. This was a resounding defeat for unions.

Posted by Jenkins on Jun. 09, 2012 @ 9:31 am

Given that the Wisconsin Senate isn't scheduled to be in session until AFTER the next election, that would seem to be a hollow victory at best. And, given the minimal vote differential i the one contested seat, and the possible reversal via challenge, maybe not even that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 10, 2012 @ 6:48 am

Why is the left so ungracious and petty in defeat given all the practice they get?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 10, 2012 @ 7:57 am

The Senate isn't in session until January. There will be an election in November. With redistricting it is unlikely that the Democrats will hold the majority.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 7:37 am

in the eyes of the public. That's all that matters. San Jose's huge reforms got 70% - wow.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 09, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

You could lose 100 times consecutively and still talk about how you actually won in spirit...

Or whatever tragic, bizarre rant this was.

And here's the reality to all of this. You take comfort in losing - over and over again - because it's what you do. You lose. At it's very best, Progressive SF is obstructionist. At it's worst - and much more common state - it's irrelevant.

You don't want to win. You don't know how to win. You don't know how to lead. That's why you idiots suck Chris Daly's dick for 8 years while he's making your movement look like a group of failed, angry junior college students. Because that's your comfort zone... failing.

Posted by Sambo on Jun. 10, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

you're the one who's bitter.

Posted by marke on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 9:49 am

of knowing that his ideas are founded in reality rather than idelogical excess.

The fact is that the elft are terrible losers, despite all the practice they get. Just think of Gore vs Bush, fanciful allegations of ballot boxes in the bay, whines about elections being bought and manipulated.

It just never occurs to a leftie that they lose because most Amercians, and even most San Franciscans, don't buy this quasi-socialist doggeral. The left loses because we're not France or Greece.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 10:07 am

This is basically victory laps for me.

Listen, my post isn't cheerlading for Scott Walker, or Republicans in general. My post is pointing out how fun it is to watch the mouthpiece of Progressive SF recognize and accept losing.

In short, you can't rebuild or even retool your shitty movement because you refuse to recognize how hard it's failed. Keep doing your thing, Marke... I'm loving it.

Posted by Sambo on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

Liberals never quite grasp that it's their policies that send them down to humiliating defeats such as Wisconsin, and nothing else.

Posted by Chromefields on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 9:08 am

When queried on the policies, Americans support liberal/progressive/left policies.

When presented with the Democrats, unions and nonprofits, Americans go 'meh.'

Over and again, when public policy ignores public opinion, the public whose opinions are ignored return the favor in kind leaving only those who support the default policies favored by both parties to vote.

No matter how we vote, we always get the same policies, so why vote?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 11:42 am

"occupy" the middle ground once they get power, because only then do they understand reality.

We've seen it with Carter, Clinton and Obama, and every level down from there.

That said, I don't think Americans overall support liberal policies at all and, nationally, the Republicans are the natural party of power. But Dem's and liberals are their own worst enemies - that much is true.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 11, 2012 @ 11:59 am