Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks John Nichols, Will the Republicans win the Wisconsin war on Labor? 16 Feb '11

Thom Hartmann: And welcome back, Thom Hartmann here with you, six minutes past the hour. Okay we’ve got Republicans in Missouri, you’ve got Jane Cunningham for example. And I believe that Louise is posting her, the phone number of her office if you’d like to share your thoughts with her. She is a state senator. State senator Cunningham, senate resolution 27 passed yesterday. She was appointed yesterday to serve as chair of the General Committees Laws. There’s a rolling scroll of news, you know. One of the things is that Missouri is one of those states where people don’t want to relocate because you can’t be guaranteed that you won’t be forced to have a labor union. Anyhow, her telephone number: 573-751-1186.

And she is suggesting, well here’s the description of her law. “This act modifies the child labor laws, it eliminates the prohibition on employment of children age 14." So that’s going on there. I mean they’re talking about basically going back to Hammer versus Dagenhart. They want to relitigate that, that case, and the case that ultimately overthrew it which was US versus Darby Lumber in 1941. But in 1918, that was how it happened.

And meanwhile, in the state of Wisconsin you’ve got the governor, Scott Walker, another Republican, surprise, surprise, with the Republican state legislature saying we’re going to, we’re going to blow up the right of state employees to collectively bargain and oh by the way if they don’t like it or if they show up to protest, I’ve got my own private police force here. Now I always thought that the national guard was supposed to be there to put out forest fires and deal with you know, broken levies and floods and things. But apparently the governor thinks that they are his private union-busters.

For an update on what’s going on, John Nichols is with us. Our old friend John Nichols. TheNation.com he writes. He’s also the associated editor of the Capital Times if my recollection is correct. And co-author of several books including the, with Robert Machesney, The Death and Life of American Journalism. John Nichols, welcome.

John Nichols: Thom, I hope you can hear me.

Thom Hartmann: I hear you just fine.

John Nichols: And wherever you are, and wherever your listeners are, they should be in Madison Wisconsin. Because this would show them that no matter what bad stuff you’re reporting on from Missouri or anyplace else, there is a popular uprising going on that will blow their minds. I have covered presidential rallies at the capital in Madison where Bill Clinton spoke, where Al Gore spoke, where Barack Obama spoke. The crowds are bigger. There are tens of thousands of people out here. I’m watching right now as two thousand students from West High School in Madison, two thousand students, march in. They marched three miles across town. We just have on the other side about four to five thousand University of Wisconsin students marching in, all in their badge of red. The fire fighters just marched in with bagpipes. This is something, it is literally…

Thom Hartmann: Well the right wingers, John, are going to say well of course the students are marching in, their teachers are unionized, they’re brainwashing their kids, and of course the fire fighters, they’re unionized, they want to keep their benefits. But these are the people who are the leeches on the society of Wisconsin that we’ve got to do away with. I’m, you know, the thing that I’m curious about, John Nichols, is has the tea party shown up? Because I believe that the average tea party person is actually probably with the protesters, they want there to be a strong middle class, they’re being led astray by these billionaires.

John Nichols: Can I tell you something, Thom? There’s two groups of people that are learning a lot this week in Wisconsin. When governor Scott Walker announced on Friday that in six days he would unilaterally cut the pay, cut the benefits, end the pension and, and strip away all collective bargaining rights for all public employees, not just state employees, but county and municipal employees across the state. When he announced that, there were an awfully lot of blue collar county workers, snow plow drivers and other folks who thought that they were part of the tea party movement and suddenly realized that they were part of the working class.

Thom Hartmann: Right. Yeah surprise.

John Nichols: And AFSCME, the union AFSCME, has been airing radio ads with only Republicans. Republican members talking about how they voted for Scott Walker, how they went to tea party rallies, how they believe that they are all about defending freedom and defending the constitution and they are wondering why the governor they elected is threatening to call out the National Guard when they exercised their first amendment right of assembly.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah well I’m wondering the same thing. First of all, does he even have the right to do that?

John Nichols: He, look, governors have abused the National Guard historically for political purposes. We know that to be the case.

Thom Hartmann: Sure.

John Nichols: But what is important is the reality that our National Guard, like National Guard units in most of the country, are disproportionately made up of county employees and teachers. The National Guard is public employees. They, you know doing their little extra bit for society.

Thom Hartmann: So I could just see Scott Walker standing up there on the steps of the capital going okay you National Guard guys aim, and they all turn and point at him.

John Nichols: Well what I can tell you is this, what I can tell you is this…

Thom Hartmann: Not that I would wish him anything ill.

John Nichols: No, no harm to anybody. These are peaceful demonstrations. I think that you know what I want to tell you Thom, is I have seen more comparisons to Egypt. They are even, you know white working class from rural Wisconsin who have gone on line and made posters in Arabic celebrating what happened in Cairo and saying that the same kind of people power thing can happen in Wisconsin.

Thom Hartmann: HA! That’s great.

John Nichols: And so I want to emphasize to you, I really want to emphasize. This, Thom, I’ve been on air with you, I have listened to you, I love the spirit that you’ve brought to these national debates. And I just want to tell you, everything that is in your heart, and your mind, is in play in Wisconsin right now. These crowds are unbelievable. The fire fighters. Walker tried to buy the fire fighters off, he exempted them from all the things he was doing. He said their collective bargaining rights would not be stripped. For two days the fire fighters were silent and then when they started to see these rallies they said we cannot, we cannot stand on the sidelines. Today, more than 500 fire fighters from across the state, from rural towns and outstate counties as well as the big cities, marched into this rally behind units of bagpipers, and there were literally people with tears in their eyes. The labor movement, which was, Walker tried to divide the labor movement, he in fact has united it.

Thom Hartmann: That’s remarkable. So John, in the minute we have left, how is this going to play out?

John Nichols: We are, we’re going to have a hell of a day tomorrow. I want to tell you, the rally today is easily, you know 15, 20 thousand people, there’s no doubt of that. Tonight there will be 10 to 15 thousand people. There is definitely no question they are going to march into the capital. I do believe that tomorrow is going to be a very tense day. There’s a very good chance the republicans will do what they want to do. But I will suggest to you, and I don’t want to overemphasize or overplay the comparison, but you know in Cairo, Mubarak did what he wanted to do for a few days too. I’m not sure these demonstrations are going to stop. This is, there’s an energy that is really quite remarkable.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. So unlike most of our stations, Madison delays our show by three hours. So it’s 1:15 right now eastern time, so it’d be 12:15 central time. But this, this interview will play three hours from now at 3:15 and still the demonstration will be going on and people should come down and show up.

John Nichols: And Thom, people should know that there’s going to be a huge demonstration. Teachers from across Wisconsin will be at the capital at 5:30 tonight.

Thom Hartmann: That’s great, that’s great John. And of course, TheNation.com is covering this, we’re covering it on our website. John Nichols, you’re doing great work. John, keep the story alive, keep it going and check in with us if you’ve got any updates of consequence give us a shout, we’ll put you on the air.

John Nichols: Thank you Thom, you’re terrific and everybody’s excited.

Thom Hartmann: Thank you John.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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