|The protests in Wisconsin have focused on whether the state of Wisconsin will take away the right of government workers to bargain collectively. However, government does not “give” workers the right to strike, nor the right to bargain collectively. That right is inherent in every human being’s right to decide what he or she will, or will not, do. No power short of death can take away this inherent right. Governor Walker and his Republican Legislature may be able to rescind the rules that govern strikes and collective bargaining, but they cannot take away the right to strike or bargain collectively.
Workers have used strikes, walkouts, boycotts, and even sabotage successfully to exert this inherent power. Our social contract is based on the consent of the governed and it does not take many to deny either an employer or the government that consent.The collective bargaining rules of the last century were developed by the government as a way to control, regulate, and mitigate the power of organized working people.The rules have served us well and Wisconsin has benefited by avoiding crippling public and private strikes.
Governor Walker destroys these collective bargaining rules at his peril, and, unfortunately, at ours. He may destroy decades of hard-earned rules, but he cannot take away the power of each individual to decide whether he or she will show up for work. North Africa has shown us even the most oppressive and brutal regimes can not take away the inherent power of individuals to take collective action that can easily paralyze any society. Social chaos will be result if Governor Walker fails to understand the lessons of the past.
Commentary by David D. Leeper, Madison, WI
Leeper is a Madison attorney actively supporting the protests against Walker’s attack on public employees and collective bargaining. He has served as a district attorney in Wisconsin and has taught human rights, peace and conflict, negotiations, and rule of law courses in Ukraine, Spain, Zimbabwe, and the United States.