MILWAUKEE – The labor-backed drive to recall six Wisconsin GOP state senators whose votes pushed radical right GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s abolition of collective bargaining through the state legislature apparently fell one senate seat short.

With the GOP holding a 19-14 lead in the state senate, labor-backed Democrats needed to win three of the six races – five of them in leaning-Republican or strongly Republican districts – to wrest control from anti-worker Republicans. They won two.

The recalls were triggered when the 19 Republicans pushed Walker’s legislation through the state senate earlier this year, defying protests that brought up to 100,000 people onto the State Capitol lawn in Madison.

Walker’s law killed collective bargaining for 200,000 state and local government workers. It’s the vanguard of an avalanche of radical right-GOP-big business laws nationwide in both the states and Congress, aimed at destroying unions, cutting wages and pensions, eliminating collective bargaining and trashing the middle class.

Unions made the Wisconsin recalls the first scene of their counterattack, mobilizing more than 12,000 volunteers for months in the nine – six GOP, three Democratic – state senate recall districts. The GOP countered with money: $28 million-$30 million in paid advertising through radio, TV and flyers, much of it misleading.

Unionists contacted more than 1 million voters and knocked on 125,000 doors over this past weekend alone, the AFL-CIO said. Democrats had already won one recall race, where a Democrat, who’s also a Teamster, held his seat, in early August. Two more recall votes, in heavily Democratic districts, are scheduled for Aug. 16.

The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO called the two wins, which narrowed the GOP state senate majority to 17-16, “a huge victory for working people,” but a pro-union commenter to the national AFL-CIO blog, identified as “Melvynny,” countered: “This was a loss – don’t put spin on it.”

“What the Rs did in WI was not so much party-specific as it was mean-spirited scapegoating,” he continued. “That so many Wisconsinites are agreeable to this shows how repulsive the populace has become. Americans weren’t particularly liberal when times were good; expect worse from them now.”

By contrast, Wisconsin state federation President Phil Neuenfeldt said that “flipping at least two traditionally Republican districts is a huge win.”

Democrats Jessica King and Jennifer Shilling unseated GOP incumbents in two outstate districts. The entire outcome could hinge on one race, where GOP State Sen. Alberta Darling apparently narrowly defeated State Rep. Sandy Pasch, D, in a district with a history of recent voting manipulation by the GOP county clerk in Waukesha.

“Thousands of voters sent the message that we are a growing movement to reclaim the middle class,” Neuenfeldt said. Ousting the two Republicans means “Wisconsinites took a great step to restore balance and accountability in the legislature. Let’s be clear, anyway you slice it, this is an unprecedented victory and we hope for honest results from Senate District 8,” the Pasch-Darling race.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, the state fed’s secretary treasurer, admitted labor “may not have achieved majority vote in each district.” But she said the recalls show “the middle class is fighting back and we are starting to win. In Wisconsin, we don’t give up easily. This fight is not over. We will fight Scott Walker’s radical agenda to crush the middle class at every turn.”

The national AFL-CIO said in its blog the Wisconsin recalls “are a wake-up call for every governor who thinks about giving massive new tax giveaways to the rich while cutting the benefits and rights of hardworking middle-class families and every state lawmaker who tries to ram through pro-Wall Street, anti-community legislation.”

After Wisconsin, the next key field of action is Ohio, where a labor-led petition drive forced SB5 – an even more-draconian anti-worker law that right-wing GOP Gov. John Kasich pushed through his GOP legislature – onto the November ballot.

Petitioners needed just over a quarter of a million valid signatures for a November referendum to repeal SB5. They collected more than 1.2 million, and 915,000 were valid.

Labor plans mass rallies at the end of this month and then intensive campaigning through the November vote to get Ohio voters to reject SB5.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.