Wis. labor protests a "tea party for the left"

Wisconsin may be getting the most attention, but it's not the only state where governors are going head-to-head with unions.

Gov. Scott Walker's plan to abolish the right of collective bargaining for public employees has stirred labor activists in a way not seen in recent years. One said this weekend, "I want to say 'thank you' to Governor Walker for mobilizing us. This movement has been a long time coming."

That Wisconsin protester may have company soon. Nine other Republican governors, from Nevada to New Jersey, are also trying to get major concessions from unions in ways that can strip workers of rights as well as benefits.

Americans for Prosperity, a business-allied front group which has campaigned against health care reform, introduced a website, standwithwalker.com, asking for signatures on a petition against collective bargaining and the "extravagant pension and health benefits" that labor receives.

"In fact," the website says, "every state should adopt Governor Scott Walker's common sense reforms."

CBS News political analyst John Dickerson says the changes called for in Walker's "Budget Repair Bill" will drastically affect unions in Wisconsin - and also others far beyond that state.

"If you're in a union, it matters," Dickerson told "Early Show" anchor Chris Wragge. "This isn't just about shrinking benefits. It's about whether unions can survive - to organize and raise money.

"If you're not in a union, what Wisconsin means is that, there are 45 other states with budget deficits. And what this shows is just how bad it can get when the squeeze comes on.

"So if in your state it doesn't hit the unions, it's going to hit somebody."

Dem to Gov. Walker: In a democracy you negotiate

Dickerson said the protests spurred by Walker's anti-union bill can be for progressives and labor what anti-tax and anti-health reform protests were for conservatives and business - a potential Tea Party movement for the left.

"Well, the Tea Party always existed within the Republican Party," Dickerson said. "But they had an energizing moment. And this is the energizing moment on the left. Progressives and unions have always been together. They were very energized in 2006 and in 2008. In 2010 they were a little dispirited - Barack Obama didn't turn out to be the president they had hoped.

"Well, now they're quite energized, and it's not about President Obama anymore. It's about the threat to their benefits."

When asked about the outcome of the current impasse in Madison, Dickerson said, "Well, someone's got to give. The unions have said they'll give a little on these benefits. But there is one thing, and it's not just collective bargaining. They worry about their ability to organize and survive. There are other parts of the governor's plan there that make it difficult for unions to continue along and survive.

"So somebody's got to give and that might start with Democrats - those Democratic Senators actually getting back into the state. But for right now it looks like they're at this impasse."

Dickerson also said the Republican Party also faces the same kind of protests from the left that President Obama received from the right, particularly after the GOP-controlled House passed a bill calling for $60 billion worth of cuts in government services.

"Do the Republicans run a real political risk with such cuts that are going to affect so many millions of people?" asked Wragge.

"Their first risk would be if they didn't pass such cuts," Dickerson replied, "because the Tea Party backers who sent them to Washington want to see them deliver. And so they've been able to do that.

"But in the long term, yes, they do run up against the problem if people start to feel the squeeze and the pain the way union workers are feeling it in Wisconsin, that gets them energized and they'll be energized to not like Republicans."

But, he added, those large cuts are unlikely to pass, "because the Democrats control the Senate, and the president wouldn't sign such cuts into law."

Dickerson also said the president has to walk a fine line, too, after speaking out against Gov. Walker's budget bill last week, calling in an "assault on the unions."

"White House officials say this is the only thing the president said, and we don't expect him to say more here," Dickerson said. "He's trying to say, 'Everybody should sacrifice. But this is extra - they're asking union workers to do a little bit more.'

"But the president, no, doesn't want to get involved in this. He doesn't want to become the national union boss."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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