Dispatches (XX): “Divide and Conquer”

From Milwaukee Sentinel Journal:

A filmmaker released a video Thursday that shows Gov. Scott Walker saying he would use “divide and conquer” as a strategy against unions.

In the video shot on Jan. 18, 2011 – shortly before Walker’s controversial budget-repair bill was introduced and spawned mass protests – Hendricks asked the governor whether he could make Wisconsin a “completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work” state. The Republican donor was referring to right-to-work laws, which prohibit private-sector unions from compelling workers to pay union dues if the workers choose not to belong to the union.


Walker replied that his “first step” would be “to divide and conquer” through his budget-adjustment bill, which curtailed most collective bargaining for most public employee unions.


“So for us,” the governor continues, “the base we get for that is the fact that we’ve got – budgetarily we can’t afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there’s no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out. … That opens the door once we do that. That’s your bigger problem right there.”


Walker co-sponsored right-to-work legislation in 1993 as a freshman in the state Assembly, but as governor has consistently downplayed seeking any restrictions on private unions in public statements. [emphasis added -- MDC]

And so we now have further documentation: “[rescinding collective bargaining] doesn’t save any [money]“.

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22 thoughts on “Dispatches (XX): “Divide and Conquer”

  1. tj

    Where do you want your tax dollars to go? – public pension liabilities or teacher/firefighters/police. You make the choice and vote accordingly.

  2. Menzie Chinn

    tj: Call me crazy, I prefer not to give tax cuts to corporations, while cutting K-12 teacher salaries and health care for poor children…

  3. AS

    Professor Chinn,
    Do corporations “pay” taxes or do they pass the cost to consumers?

  4. Menzie Chinn

    AS: I didn’t take public finance when I was in graduate school, so I am loathe to answer extemporaneously. However, Alan Auerbach, who is an expert, has some answers. Some of the costs will be borne by the shareholders.

  5. Jeff

    This qualifies in your mind as evidence that rescinding collective bargaining doesn’t save money? Maybe we should call you Menzie “over-reaching” Chinn.

  6. 2slugbaits

    tj You have a very inconsistent view of the world. We hear nothing but wailing and gnashing of teeth when someone suggests that upper middle class income retirees should take a haircut on their bond coupons through a slight increase in inflation; but you don’t give a damn about blowing off legal obligations to pay for public employee pensions. You don’t have any problem enjoying the services of those public employees who work for a lower wage in exchange for a better pensions, but then you sanctimoniously and conveniently find 101 excuses to not have to pay for those pensions when the bill comes due. Remember, the trade-off of better pensions tomorrow in exchange for lower pay today is a deal that conservative politicians pushed as a way to put off tax hikes into the future. You likely voted for those same conservative politicians, now own up to it.
    Do you really think public sector employees are overpaid? Even including clerical, security and IT folks with relatively low skill sets, over 80% of the folks in my organization have at least one graduate level degree….and most have several. Three or four masters degrees or double Ph.D’s are not uncommon. And we’re talking math, engineering and the hard sciences. Do you really think someone with those qualifications is overpaid at a top salary of $129,517 per year? Really?
    The main point of Menzie’s post was that Gov. Walker got caught lying. Just as many in the Democratic Party claimed, it was never about the budget. The budget stuff was always a red herring that Walker lied about in order to push though Phase I of his union busting plan. First break the public employee unions and then break the unions in the private sector. Same gameplan that Gov. Daniels followed in Indiana.

  7. Menzie Chinn

    Jeff: If you’d bother to read the article, you’d realize that was Governor Walker’s assessment. If the main proponent of the measure doesn’t believe it will save money, who am I to correct him.

  8. Anonymous

    Numerous reports say that the reforms saved teachers jobs. Those localities that did not use the new powers to bargain ended up laying off teachers.

    From the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
    “Even more dramatic is the well-reported $1.5 million surplus the Kaukauna School District is seeing, a turnaround from a $400,000 deficit…
    Contrast that with Milwaukee Public Schools, where the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association did not agree to the pension concessions. After the schools announced 519 layoffs, Superintendent Gregory Thornton estimated that had the MTEA made the concessions, $20 million and around 200 teaching jobs would have been saved.”

    Also the McIver Institute has a number of pieces on how Act 10 has averted teacher layoffs and balanced the budget (without raising taxes).

    Your Walker quote is intriguing, but the news story appears to be how the state did not have to layoff any teachers, except for those districts that were unable to negotiate under the new rules. It appears it did save the state money.

  9. FS

    So much for the idea that workers are the ones who have been demanding “right-to-work” laws.

  10. Jeff

    I read your expert and I read the article and I see no mention of any assessment of budgetary impact. Care to be more specific? Or are you fine with data-less assertions so long as they fit your narrative?

  11. tj

    2slugs,
    Wow, you really get sensitive when someone turns the tables on you and puts the choice in terms of public pensions vs public services instead of tax increases vs pubic services.
    As I see it, public pensions and taxes are relatively fixed in the majority of voters’ minds, so the growth rate in public services will be scaled back.

  12. 2slugbaits

    tj I wouldn’t call your making an uninformed fact-free claim “turning the tables.”
    There is no difference between public pensions and public services. Public pensions are delayted compensation for services already rendered. There is no difference between reneging on a public pension agreement and reneging on a bond payment that comes due. You cry an ocean of crocodile tears for the upper income folks who might take a haircut on their bond coupons with inflation, but couldn’ care less about reneging on pension agreements. For someone who substitutes morality plays for economics, you really ought to think harder about just how “moral” your economic views really are.
    I’m sure you’re right in thinking that many clueless Tea Party voters see the world in the kind of static terms you describe. Static thinking is the hallmark of the conservative mind. They may very well believe “public penisions and taxes are fixed,” but that says more about the myopia and amnesia of Tea Party voters than anything else. The fact is that conservative politicians were the ones who pushed for deferred compensation packages by offering generous pensions in exchange for lower wages & salaries relative to equivalent private sector skills. Conservative politicians wanted to provide government services to voters, but didn’t want to contemporaneously raise taxes. It’s the same thinking that led Bush to cut taxes at the same time he increased spending to fight two wars. Kicking the can down the road. It’s what conservatives do best. And now when the bill comes due you act all surprised and horrified that public sector retirees actually expect taxpayers to make good on their agreements. And blaming the other side for presenting the bill is also what conservatives do best.
    Now perhaps you could argue that in an extreme case of public exigency public pension agreements would have to be abrogated. Private sector companies unilaterally break delayed compensation agreements all the time. The problem is that there was no real public exigency. That’s what the Walker tape shows. It was entirely manufactured in order to break public sector unions as a first step before breaking private sector unions. If you believed it was all about saving the Wisconsin taxpayers dollars, then you were bamboozled. Wisconsin voters got suckered. That’s what the tape shows. Will Wisconsin voters get suckered a second time and elect to retain Walker? Who knows? Half the population has an IQ under 100 and is easily fooled.

  13. CoRev

    2slugs, OMG, that ole Gov. Walker is using the same strategy that Dems have used for decades? And its been successful!
    Wars against: (add the long list of claims here) that the Dems claim has been the strategy of the GOP is clearly designed to divide and conquer the electorate. Hispanics, women, gays are the immediate targets, but the list is very long.
    WI, OTH, is a becoming a success story. As is VA for conservative approaches to state budget policy. Compare that to NY, CA, and the other liberally governed states.

  14. 2slugbaits

    CoRev that the Dems claim has been the strategy of the GOP is clearly designed to divide and conquer the electorate. Hispanics, women, gays are the immediate targets, but the list is very long.
    Hmmm…so the Democrats are fighting wars against Hispanics, women and gays??? You seem confused.
    WI, OTH, is a becoming a success story.
    Sure it is. You can see how well Wisconsin is doing relative to other upper midwestern states. You betcha.
    As is VA for conservative approaches to state budget policy.
    Another curious example. Apparently you haven’t looked at the Virginia unemployment numbers by county. Perhaps this will help you get the facts straight:
    http://www.bls.gov/ro3/valaus.htm
    Yes, the unemployment rate overall has been dropping because the national unemployment rate overall has been declining. But the further away from the DC area a county is, the higher the unemployment rate. The only part of Virginia that’s doing well is upscale northern Virginia, and that’s because of the federal government, not Richmond. If you want to see GOP “success” stories look at rural Virginia. As best I can tell Gov. McDonnell’s solution to the state’s economic problems is to further restrict abortions and prevent Islamic atheist gay married terrorists from taking up residence.
    Yes, unemployment is bad in Illinois, New York and California, but it’s just as bad in Mississippi, Indiana, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Arizona. That’s because this is a cyclical recession sparked by a financial collapse. You fix a cyclical problem with counter-cyclical solutions, not structural panaceas. A lot of GOP governors don’t understand the nature of the economic problem and they keep proposing solutions that are either ineffective or make things worse.

  15. CoRev

    2slugs, you’re having reading comprehensions problems. I said and you repeated: “that the Dems claim has been the strategy of the GOP is clearly designed to divide and conquer the electorate….
    Hmmm…so the Democrats are fighting wars against Hispanics, women and gays???”
    Nope! Dems are claiming republicans are warring against them, so that they can split the electorate. The most impressive is the “war on women”. Its totally trumped up, but a canny political move. But it does prove the brain power of Dem voters who accept the story.

  16. 2slugbaits

    CoRev I believe you were one of those who also said that Democratic charges that Walker was pursuing a “divide and conquer” strategy was just so much liberal nonsense. We now have Walker’s own words proving that was exactly what he’s been doing. Care to admit that you were wrong about Walker’s intentions and that the Democrats were right?
    And the Democrats don’t need to remind women, gays and Hispanics that the GOP is not their friend…the Republicans are doing a very good job of that all on their own. Just listen to Romney’s speech today at Liberty University. A real profile in courage.

  17. CoRev

    Divide and conquer is a proven strategy. I guess its only good if a Dem politician uses it?

  18. Kevinm

    Using divide and conquer: good move.
    Mandatory union membership for individuals who prefer to negotiate their own deal: repugnant. I’ve got first hand experience.
    The questionable fiscal reasoning that chin attributes to walker is less important to me than the evil proposition that I must give money to peters enemy paul if I wish to deal with Peter. Government is supposed to protect me from highway robbers, not the reverse.

  19. Jake formerly of the LP

    Anonymous- You’re still quoting the Kaukauna lie from 10 months ago? Um, guess you missed the memo that Kaukauna reduced staff by 24 teachers and staff for this school year, and that nearly 1,500 teaching jobs were reduced in Wisconsin for 2011-2012. and Even places that used Act 10 bargaining and benefit restrictions had their job cuts DOUBLE for this year.
    And you’re quoting MacIver? The official mouthpiece of the right-wing privatization freaks at the Bradley Foundation? I understand that you’re not from Wisconsin (very few who support Walker are, because we see the damage while you don’t), but you’re not entitled to print oligarch-funded propaganda like that without being called out.
    You righties are not entitled to your own facts on how things are going in Wisconsin. This isn’t AM talk radio.

  20. mclaren

    More bizarre reasoning from the commenters. “Where do you want your tax dollars to go? – public pension liabilities or teacher/firefighters/police.”
    It cannot have escaped your notice that teacher/firefighters/police have…wait for it…publicly funded pensions, and therefore create public pension liabilities.

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