Bill Black: Scott Walker’s War on Workers and the Wall Street Journal’s Cleaned-Up Coverage

By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has channeled his inner Mitt Romney and written off an immense swath of Americans as people he would not represent if he were elected President. Romney wrote off 47% of Americans and Walker wrote off America’s workers. Romney channeled his inner Ayn Rand and labeled 47% of American’s as worthless “takers.” Walker was more extreme. He labeled American workers, peacefully protesting, as analogous to ISIS terrorists. Romney’s dismissal of the 47% was made as part of a fund raising pitch to billionaire supporters who responded warmly. Walker’ war on workers was warmly received by his ultra-conservative base and his ultra-wealthy potential donors.

Romney’s dismissal of nearly half of America helped doom his campaign, but Walker is running for the nomination of the Republican Party, so demonstrating how much Walker hates a large portion of Americans made him the (early) leading candidate for his party’s nomination. (Consider the hypocrisy of this occurring while Rabid Rudi claims Obama does not love America and Walker responds that he doesn’t know whether Obama loves America. It appears that Republicans see nothing inconsistent between “loving America” and despising nearly half of all Americans. What is America if it is not Americans?)

The Wall Street Journal weighed in on Walker’s war on workers in a piece dated February 28, 2015 entitled “Scott Walker Confronts Doubts About His Grasp of Foreign Policy” by Patrick O’Connor with an opening picture of Walker addressing the “Club for Growth.” The Club is composed of ultra-wealthy and ultra-conservative Republican donors who seek to destroy any effort at effective regulation. This February 28 version of O’Connor’s article contained Walker’s slander of American workers.

“The exchange came two days after Mr. Walker raised eyebrows at the Conservative Political Action Conference when he compared Islamic State fighters to union members in Wisconsin who protested his decision to limit collective-bargaining rights for state workers, telling the crowd, ‘If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.’

In the March 1 (printed?) version of O’Conner’s piece, however, the photo stayed but the slanderous sentence that was so embarrassing and politically harmful to Walker disappeared from the WSJ coverage.

The further irony is that Walker made his slander of labor as the key to his (bizarre) defense of his foreign policy skills. His metaphorical defense of his non-existent foreign policy skills is that President Reagan’s best foreign policy move (according to Walker) was breaking the PATCO (air controller) strike. Because Walker has removed the right of public employees to bargain collectively and ridiculed peaceful protests by 100,000 workers he is just like Reagan. Because he is just like Reagan he too will be effective in foreign policy. Even without the slander of comparing peaceful worker protests by Americans to ISIS terrorists, this metaphor served as an unintended confession of how little Walker knows of foreign policy – or American workers – or logic.

As anti-worker as Reagan was, however, he continued to praise unions and their vital contribution to America. Ronald Reagan would be unable to win a Republican primary in any state in 2015 because he supported the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. That is how extreme his Party has become.



  1. PhilK

    A Tweet from Elizabeth Warren about this:

    If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firefighters as his enemies, maybe it’s time we take a closer look at his friends.

    1. Nat Scientist

      Scott’s friends live behind iron gates and don’t have much use for ordinary folks and their weak rides.

  2. Northeaster

    “right of public employees to bargain collectively”

    This is state dependent, because the laws are different for each, and in states like Massachusetts, completely unequal. Not only do public unions get to campaign for who sits on the other side of the “bargaining” table, they have a nice caveat where they can donate up to $15k to state legislators. Corporations can only donate $1k, and individuals $500, not too bad. Of course, it’s gets better when Business Agents turn themselves into the infamous “one-percent” by taking 1/3 of unions dues to pay themselves, no need to ask the dues paying membership what they think of that arrangement. Then, maybe you Business Agent goes to jail for racketeering or larceny, and I’m not including a Local 25 Business Agent (Teamsters) who is believed to be in the vehicle when a hit on a State Trooper is ignored (dating myself). So much for equality.

    Now, maybe my state is anecdotal, but with three State House Speakers in a row convicted felons, and the current Speaker an “unindicted co-conspirator” because the anti-patronage laws are by design non-existent here. They of course had and continue to have the full support of unions, minus one who is rotting in jail, but this is what The People of my state consent to when they vote (if they vote). The public unions here back anyone with a “D” in a completely warped campaign finance paradigm. Of course, what we end up with is quasi-public government agencies filled with public union hacks that are less than transparent and answerable to no one (I.e. MBTA, Massport, etc.). But they paid well for the privilege, again, maybe it is state dependent, but public unions rule this banana republic of a state with an iron fist.

    Fun with public union cronies can be had when reading their L-2 filings on the DoL website, which until recently, you had to pay per page to access.

    Wake me when the rule of law is equal for all.

    1. Ben Johannson

      What does your hatred of Massachusetts unions have to do with Scott Walker’s freudian slip?

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        Some might say that the pendulum swings between Capital and Labor, and right now it has pegged over to the Capital side. The idea that the people who do the actual work (versus the gluttons who harvest the rewards) would be so thoroughly demonized is tragic.

    2. Jhallc

      Seems to me that Masachusetts has had a number of Republicans in the executive office, I voted for one of them. So I’m not so sure the “Union” money was all that well spent and I don’t see how you can blame the Democrats for what you see as some unfair bargaining access. In addition, union executives can be voted out every year if we aren’t happy with the leadership. So I’m not sure what your beef with the unions is but, I suggest you stick with the comment page on the Boston Herald on that topic. Corruption on all sides of the aisle is another thing altogether….don’t get me going on Billy Bulger ..

  3. mad as hell.

    I once thought that Walker would be recalled. There seemed to be no way that the guy who brought union busting to a new level would survive in a pro union environment of Wisconsin. Wrong again. I began to change my mind that Walker might survive when I began noticing huge “I Stand with Scott Walker” signs in abundance in rural areas of Wisconsin. A ton of them. I knew for sure that he would win when the democrats high-jacked the demonstrations in Madison and decided to run Tom Barrett against Walker. Tom Barrett is probably the least charismatic politician in Wisconsin. He already ran against Walker once before and lost. What’s the definition of insanity again?

    Walker is the polished politician. He knows where is bread is buttered-Koch. He can lie like a green fairway. He loves to mingle in a crowd. Mingling is something all successful politicians must be good at. A case in point.

    When the recall was over but before the last governor’s race had begun. My son along with his family were at a semi private birthday party at a restaurant that was only a couple of blocks away from Walker’s Wauwatosa home. I knew where Walker’s home was because I had the opportunity and the pleasure of marching past it when the first day of the recall petition drive started. I was surprised at the time that there were three different recall tables set up at three different homes right across from the governor’s house. He’s got to be pretty lousy neighbor besides being a lousy governor to generate that much contempt.

    The party was in the back room of an Italian restaurant. When the time came for the waiter to bring the birthday cake to the table a chorus of Happy Birthday had begun. The back room which is not that large had another party in it which included the future presidential candidate Scott Walker. Well the governor with all eyes cast on him glides across the room puts his hands on the birthday boy’s shoulders (who is celebrating a sixty something birthday) and begins singing like he was part of the group! The group which included a university professor, whose career was put on hold due to Walker’s anti education polices were pretty much stunned as well as in awe. When the song was finished pleasantries were exchanged and the governor slimed back to his table. No barbs were given or sarcasms thrown against the anti – University of Wisconsin governor. If I had been there I would have said something.

    My point is that Walker is a politician and a politician LOVES being in the limelight. A politician is the closest a human being can become to being a chameleon. Guys like Walker, Perry, Christie, Clinton, Como they are more concerned about their own well-being than anything else yet they are so adept at disguising it and covering it by saying they are worried for you and want to help you. Do you think that Rick Perry lost any sleep about all the executions he let slip by? Do you believe that Chris Christie loses his appetite over himself being portrayed as a bully? Think Scott Walker cares about being responsible for breaking up educational gains from the last 75 years? These guys don’t give a hoot about how you may perceive them except when it involves money. The thought of the money spigot being turned off is the only thing that will get their attention. Money is the oil, the wheels, the engine that is running this train off its track. Right now all of us are standing to close to see which time frame this train wreck is in and how bad it’s going to get. However when the smoke clears and the wheels stop turning the only thing that is going to be guaranteed is that like all train wrecks it is going to be ugly.

    1. steve dean

      The Governor of Texas has authority to grant clemency only upon written recommendation of a majority of the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (i.e., the Governor cannot unilaterally grant clemency as is the case in some states). However, the Governor is free to reject the recommendation. Fun fact: they do not meet in person, but rather vote via fax.

      This restriction is mainly due to Governor Pa Hogg selling pardons.

      There were 2 state executions that Rick Perry had the ability to stop and did not.

      Notably, George W Bush commuted the sentence of Henry Lee Lucas from death to life after it became evident even to him that the trial/conviction was a complete shame.

      1. trinity river

        Am I not correct, that the governor appoints 6 board members (with senate approval) and designates the chair(man/woman) of the agency? Parole officers are then hired by the chair.

      2. Nat Scientist

        “… after it became evident even to him that the trial/conviction was a complete shame.”
        Shame, sham, still the same.just us get. So why then, after all that profound discovery, he wins the life-in-Texas-prison prize?

  4. tongorad

    Did someone call up central casting looking for a Republican bogey-man? Why, he’s so bad he makes the Democrats look reasonable.

  5. cnchal

    Guys like Walker, Perry, Christie, Clinton, Como they are more concerned about their own well-being than anything else yet they are so adept at disguising it and covering it by saying they are worried for you and want to help you.

    Politics is an attractive occupation for narcissists. A normal person doesn’t want the job, yet for a narcissist it is ideal. They have people either love them or hate them and it doesn’t matter as long as it is either of those emotions.

    What narcissists can’t stand is being ignored, and that is tough to do when they are in your face every day.

  6. albert

    Ayn Rand was not a Moron. It would be in the SELF INTEREST of an employer to pay his workers and see to their WELFARE so they would be good workers.
    (and the “ugly” American was the GOOD GUY)

    1. NoFreeWill

      Taking Social Security when you’ve preached your whole life for a bullshit anti-social extremist individualist anti-government philosophy is the height of hypocrisy. Her books are attractive to narcissistic teenagers but boring and hideous to anyone with a brain. Ayn’s definition of self-interest is sociopathic at best and criminally insane at worst and is exemplified by corporate CEOs, banksters, and politicians like Scott Walker.

  7. mpinco

    Black fails to understand the growing divide between the private and public sectors. Unions have taken refuge in the public sector/government. American private sector labor/workers see the public sector for what it is, public sector unions using the power of government to enrich themselves on the back of taxpayers and middle class.

    Walker correctly understands he works for the private sector, not the public sector unions. The primary reason he withstood several recall elections. The private sector are millions of employed and small businesses. Walker appears to be positioning himselft as the alternative to the DemoRepub party.

    1. Vatch

      Few union members in the public sector “enrich” themselves. They may “un-poor” themselves, but few of them become rich on the backs of taxpayers and the middle class. The people who enrich themselves on the backs of taxpayers and the middle class are the wealthy individuals and large corporations that get government contracts or bailouts. It’s the elite members of the private sector who enrich themselves at the government spigot.

      1. RUKidding

        Unfortunately what grabs the headlines & breathless whining are the very few in Unions who do pretty much make out like bandits due to their Union membership. These are a very very small percentage of Union workers in the public sector who do pull down awfully large pensions (well into the 6 figure range), and then in CA, at least, some of these top dogs game the system and, while pulling down a bigger than normal pension, manage to go back to work at the same agency in some capacity and continue making a giant salary.

        Those practices really need to be addressed, and there has been a bigger clamp-down in CA on what’s called double-dipping. I think that’s fair, and such practices should not occur, at least not routinely.

        But those are the stories that the public hears from articles in the nooz. This is extrapolated to believing that ALL public service employees pull down these giant pensions and munificent benefits for decades after retirement. In fact, not so much. I think the average CA public service worker’s pension is something along the lines $25,000 per year, and benefits are on a type of sliding scale, so not everyone gets all health care costs covered. Plus the vast majority of public servants simply aren’t making the huge salaries that are often presented in the media. Typically – except in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, public servants on average make less than their peers in the private sector. That’s bc a portion of what would be their salary is deposited in a defined benefits plan called their pension. So the public servant gets paid out the back end what they did not get paid in the front end. But most US consumers don’t really “get” this or understand how it works.

        The .001% has the money and the means to skew the stories to make it *seem* like all public servants are giant drains on the system unfairly making “huge” salaries and taking home equally “huge” pensions. In fact, it’s not true, but again, I keep waiting for the Unions to really DO something about educating the public about the reality of what wages are, etc. Still waiting….

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Why is a six figure pension unreasonable for a top person, given the outrageous pay and perks for adminstrators at hospitals, colleges and universities, and not for profits? Federal judges get pensions like that and they are worth every penny. Plus most federal judges work into their 70s and 80s (they LOVE the work), so they actually don’t get that many years of pension. The issue is pensions like that for rank and file, but the media cherry picks cases which almost without exception are isolated.

      2. NOTaREALmerican

        Re: They may “un-poor” themselves,

        This is true, but members of public unions are doing noticeable better than your average working peasants. In the far distant past, the public unions exchanged pay for a nicer retirement package; now they’ve got both (and health-care).

        Plus, throughout history, peasants have always resented the success of other peasants more than they resented the Elysium Class. After-all, the bullshit of “job-creator” was created by the sycophants of the Elysium Class, but it was happily believed and repeated by the peasants.

        1. Vatch

          “peasants have always resented the success of other peasants more than they resented the Elysium Class”

          Reminds me of an old joke and/or fable, which I’ve seen attributed to more than one nationality:

          An old fable tells of two poor peasants – Person A, who had a goat, and Person B, who didn’t. One day, Person B came upon a strange-looking lamp; when he rubbed it, a genie appeared. She told him that she could grant him just one wish, but it could be anything he wanted.

          Person B said, “I want Person A’s goat to die.”

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          This is sheer jealousy.

          Private sector people took jobs with MUCH higher current pay and potential upside. Higher risk, higher reward.

          Public sector employees took safer, lower pay jobs.

          Guess what? Risk is risk, and those bets sometimes don’t work out. In this case, due to the neoliberal restructuring of the economy, they did not work out for most but not all people (one of my brothers, for instance, by sheer dumb luck wound up in the outsourcing business and makes out like a bandit).

          So basically, because many people made bad career bets, they want to reduce the pay of people who wound up making sounder career choices.

          1. cnchal

            So basically, because many people made bad career bets, they want to reduce the pay of people who wound up making sounder career choices.

            The people that made the bad career bets, pay the people that made the good career bets.

            To keep the money flowing to those that made the good career bets, implies that those that made the bad career bet must pay a greater portion of a declining income to those fortunate to have chosen wisely.

            At some point, those that made bad career bets will simply not have enough money left over, to be paid to people that made the good career bet of a government job.

    2. GuyFawkesLives

      I live in a “right to work” state. They can fire you for anything. No questions asked. It is this kind of shit that Walker wants to export to the rest of the country. We will be even more of a feudal system if this takes hold.

      BTW, many of those public employees will have a “come to Jesus” party when they find out their pensions have been robbed by Wall Street…..and there are no pensions forthcoming.

      1. jrs

        Does “right to work” state have all that much to do with being able to be fired for anything? I don’t live in a right to work state. I live in California. I can be fired for anything as can most people.

        I think right to work state has mostly to do with it being easier to join a union. There probably is a connection between unionization itself and not being able to be fired for anything. But “right to work” by itself doesn’t mean the vast majority of non-unionized workers can’t be fired for anything in “right to work” state.

        1. Vatch

          I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that “at will” employment means that an employee can be fired for any reason:

          “Right to work” laws restrict union power — in a right to work state, a person cannot be required to join a union in order to get a particular job:

          This is different from the human rights concept of a person’s right to work:

    3. jrs

      “Walker correctly understand$ he work$ for the private $ector …”

      ye$ he entirely too understand$ it entirely too well, Ka-ching

  8. RUKidding

    Ronald Reagan would be unable to win a Republican primary in any state in 2015 because he supported the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. That is how extreme his Party has become.

    True enough, but the D Party (including voters) isn’t too far behind.

    Anecdotally I know many D-Voters, including some in Unions, who excoriate the Unions on a routine basis. One friend just recently opined that it should be illegal for Unions to strike; this person would consider herself a “liberal.” This is a story about Us v. Them. The Us = 99% v Them = .001%. The .001% has hovered up all the money, and they continuously pour that money into the coffers of their puppet/minions, like Walker & Christy (to name but 2).

    The Unions bear some responsibility in this picture. There’s been a lot of corruption in some Unions over the years, and these issues have never, imo, been adequately addressed. In addition, the Unions aren’t doing a good job at reaching out to non-Union workers to explain exactly why Unions are important for *everyone,* whether unionized or not. Citizens are NEVER going to connect those dots. Citizens have been fed lies and bs about how Unions have gouged either the private sector or taxpayers and pay unfair wages and benefits and all that other nonsense. Union leadership at this stage, imo, is falling down on the job.

    And US consumers have been heavily propagandized over the years to venerate and admire bullies. They think bullies are “strong leaders,” which, in truth, they’re not. But that’s the perception, and the propaganda has, per usual, done it’s magic trick.

    Scott Walker won’t “look bad” because of his nasty statements. Nay verily a whole swath of citizens will admire him. And according to a story, above, from a “local,” it appears that as sleazy & smarmly as weasel Walker is… his schtick is working. Alas.

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: And US consumers have been heavily propagandized over the years to venerate and admire bullies

      This is a really good point. Everything from pop-culture to the purpose of our military might is the worship of bullying. The only consolation is that the biggest empire on the planet is probably always in this situation, so it’s not the fault of America; it’s just how human brains work.

    2. Lambert Strether

      “A CEO, a tea party member, and a union worker are all sitting at a table when a plate with a dozen cookies arrives. Before anyone else can make a move, the CEO reaches out to rake in eleven of the cookies. When the other two look at him in surprise, the CEO locks eyes with the tea party member. “You better watch him,” the executive says with a nod toward the union worker. “He wants a piece of your cookie.” (via)

    3. jrs

      Yes that was my reaction to the article. While it’s easy to see the “47%” comment as being a slam on 47% of the people (although I don’t know about the accuracy of the math and the criteria IS dubious – because it doesn’t including all the other non-income taxes). Whereas an attack on unionized public sector workers can easily be seen as just that, no more.

      1) most people who work for a living don’t identify with public sector unions (unless that’s their employment)
      2) most people who work for a living probably don’t identify with unions PERIOD
      3) most people who work for a living don’t identify as being “workers”. That’s commie talk.

    4. swendr

      “The Unions bear some responsibility in this picture. There’s been a lot of corruption in some Unions over the years, and these issues have never, imo, been adequately addressed.”

      I seriously doubt that there has been more corruption in unions over the years than there has been in politics or the private sector. The only difference is that since the billionaires have only really figured out how to benefit from corruption in politics and the private sector, they have a direct interest in expanding those spheres and reducing the sphere of influence of organized labor. If you ask me, I’d say corruption among our billionaire oligarchs in politics and the private sector is a much bigger problem for society. Shit, I’m just retelling Lambert’s cookie joke in an unfunny way.

      Anyway, no matter who’s corruption is worse, @BDY’s comment above says it all:

      “The effective response to corruption and fraud is prosecution, not union busting.”

      I would add that the same goes for corruption and fraud in government or anywhere for that matter.

  9. Tomchia

    As a Wisconsinite who lives in Milwaukee County, I can personally refute Vatch’s comment about unpooring vs. enriching. The Democrats in charge gave themselves hundreds of thousands each in illegal pension “back drop” payments. It is on this egregious enrichment of public employees that got the Democrat Milwaukee County executive recalled and Scott Walker elected.
    The teacher contracts forced school boards around the State to buy over-priced (way over-priced) health insurance from a union controlled “trust.” Act 10 did not outlaw public sector unions, it just removed certain topics from negotiation and imposed a requirement that the unions be recertified annually by a vote of the employees in the bargaining unit.
    As to Right to Work, all it says is that an employer cannot force an employee to join or pay dues to a union. It also says that an employer can’t refuse an employee employment just because he belongs to a union. What’s wrong with the freedom NOT to join or have your income confiscated?

    1. Vatch

      Read RUKidding’s response to me at 11:32 AM. I strongly suspect that only a small minority of the public employee union members got the huge payouts that you described. If you are certain that I’m wrong, please provide a link. We’ll probably see that only a very small percentage of them got the extra payments that you describe.

    2. Ulysses

      Anyone who believes that paying dues– to a union that negotiates on your behalf for better wages, benefits and working conditions– is equivalent to “confiscation” of their wages is too brainwashed to listen to rational argument.

      Labor has faced an increasingly hostile environment ever since the passage of Taft-Hartley. This article, while somewhat tepid and limited, does a decent job of realistically outlining the challenges faced by labor today:

  10. mpinco

    Bill Black’s article is written from the perspective of academia, who “think” they can relate to workers, fearing Walker.

    Amusing. Conjuring up another “War on Fill-In-The-Blanks” for academia’s political goals.

    1. jrs

      Academia can darn well identify as workers. Well maybe not the tenured people. But what about all the adjuncts? They’re already striking …

  11. NOTaREALmerican

    I vaguely recall from econ 101 (a few centuries ago now) that when you’ve got a monopoly that is “bad”. It would seem that Government is a monopoly. And unions dealing what a Government monopoly are affected by the “badness” of the monopoly situation.

    Of course, in America we love monopolies. That’s why there’s two or three of everything and we hate it when the evil government interferes with companies who have become successful by becoming monopolies. After all, we don’t want to punish success, right (well, unless it’s a union being successful because of a monopoly).

    This is the neo-liberals fault. Why? Because of the word neo.

  12. Left in Wisconsin

    Black calls it Walker’s war on workers (which it is) but Walker is very careful always to call it fighting “special interests” or “union bosses.” A lot of people even here in Wisco think the current right-to-work battle (BTW right-to-work is apparently not euphemistic enough anymore so they call it “forced unionism”) is taking on the “not hard-working and overpaid” public sector again, even though it’s the construction unions (many of which have supported Walker in the past and many of whose members probably continue to, and approved of the earlier attack on the public sector workforce) which are going to get creamed. Manufacturing here is mostly non-union now and the few big manufacturing unions will survive, just a bit poorer.

    Anyway, the point is that this is not analogous to Mitt’s 47% remark. Many working people support Walker and agree with his attacks on unions, even though it is not ultimately in their economic interests to do so.

  13. swendr

    Fuck, how many paid commenters are going to show up on this thread? It’s pretty hard to believe that this many regular NC readers would buy in to the tiniest fraction of the right to work for less scam.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This has happened on EVERY post relating to Scott Walker’s union bashing, from back when we covered it intensively as a hot topic. You guys need to shellack them. This is target practice.

  14. GWJones

    See Martin J. Levitt’s 1993 book “Confessions of a Union Buster” to understand the lengths that companies go to to prevent workforces from organizing and the depths they stoop to to that end.

    I worked in union jobs for over 10 years, and although the lack of leadership and tendency towards collusion between union bosses and management is true in many cases, if a minimum level of democracy can be preserved (which is most often still the case- tho we can be dissatisfied with the results) then more or less the union will represent it’s members interests in the long run.

    In a case of ‘art imitating life’, I would refer readers to the acclaimed TV show The Wire, in which FBI investigators explain to local law enforcement in Baltimore “Our orders from Washington are clear: unless there is an angle we can use to bust the Longshoreman’s Union we aren’t interested.” (I’m paraphrasing).

    “Divide and conquer” is one of the oldest strategies of oligarchies, employed even more today in societies where workers enjoy rights won thru immense sacrifice and struggle over the past 150 years.

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