Thousands of protesters flock to the city center to register their dissatisfaction with a government that’s out to destroy their way of life. The ruling regime, made up of conservatives beholden to an entrenched power elite that is chipping away at citizens’ rights, says it will not be swayed. Meanwhile, the protesters complain that hardships they’ve endured for years will be compounded yet again while the wealthy give up next to nothing.
The scene is not from Egypt or Yemen or Bahrain; it’s from Madison, Wisconsin. The newly elected Republican governor is delighting his Tea Party base by threatening members of state workers’ unions with massive job cuts in order to balance the state’s budget. And the workers are taking their protests to the state capital to demonstrate that they don’t like it one bit.
Teachers, prison guards, police and hospital personnel face the prospect of seeing their positions eliminated, privatized or outsourced. Proponents of these cuts say that if they can’t enjoy a comfortable middle-class lifestyle based on a living wage, then no one else should either.
“These jobs don’t have to be unionized,” said Allen Gustav, one of the arch-conservatives supporting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to slash benefits and de-certify unions. “I know an unemployed guy with a hunting rifle who’d be glad to take any one of these jobs at half the pay. He’d probably make the best fit as a prison guard, but I’m sure he could also be a teacher or a nurse.”
“Let the forces of the free market play out,” said another Walker ally. “We can get cheap labor from India to fill these roles. Threaten prisoners that they’ll have to watch ‘Outsourced’ on NBC if they fail to lock themselves down for the night.
Other conservatives pointed to the closing of a nearby Sears as a possible source for replacement workers should the union members be terminated.
“Those ladies who re-fold the clothes, I bet they’d be real good at changing the dressing on a wound,” said Republican county chairman Mike Mathers. “And the appliance salesmen could become excellent educators. The desperation they’ve learned on the job can be taught to the workforce of the future.”
Little progress at reaching a compromise was achieved over the weekend, despite the presence of a crowd outside the state capital that numbered 70,000 people. Democratic lawmakers continued their strategy of boycotting senate sessions to deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass the Walker proposal. Meanwhile, the issue has begun simmering in a number of other states that are also facing a budget shortfall and are looking to the shrinking middle class to shrink just a little more so they won’t face a tax increase.
“I’m pretty scared they’re going to be coming after me,” said Bob Sullivan, identified as the only unionized worker left in the state of South Carolina. “Our Democrats tried that boycott thing about 20 years ago, and we’re still looking for them.”
“What’s a union?” asked another South Carolinian. “Is that those pungent white vegetables they put on salads at fancy restaurants? I hate onions, and I hate all they represent. We’re proud to be a right-to-work state. Chronically poor dental care has already made our state’s breath virtually unbearable. We don’t need to be eating raw onions too.”
In other states, members of local police benevolent associations feared that hard-won protections would be lost in the wave of state budget cutting.
“I already have to buy my own body armor,” said patrolman Harold Isaac of Cleveland, Ohio. “The best handcuffs I can afford I got at a close-out sale when the local sex shop went out of business. I know I can’t afford to buy my own gun. I’d just have to borrow my son’s toy pistols and yell ‘bang-bang’ if I need to protect myself while on duty.”
Back at the Wisconsin capital, six days of occupation by protestors was beginning to take a toll on the historic building. Sleeping bags littered the floor of the rotunda, trash cans overflowed with discarded food containers, and a rancid odor hung low in the air. The sergeant-at-arms responsible for security blamed the smell on a radical group of union members from the northern part of the state.
“They fashion themselves after the Cheeseheads, the fans of the Green Bay Packers,” said Lt. Steven Monroe. “They call themselves the ‘Cheesepants’ because they’ve taken to wearing limburger underwear as a sign of protest. That stuff is pretty rank to begin with, so you can imagine what it smells like if worn as briefs for almost a week. P-U!”