Why Environmentalists Need to Care About Wisconsin

posted by Adrian Ran
Rally in Annapolis, MD to support Wisconsin workers.
Rally in Annapolis, MD to support Wisconsin workers

For one thing, the attack on worker’s rights in Wisconsin matters for environmentalists because it matters for everyone. A war on workers is a war on all of us.

Across the country, many of us are public workers or have family or friends that are. We also depend on public school teachers and every other public worker to maintain the daily business of our cities. A country that can no longer protect, let alone respect, the people who teach our children, repair our roads, maintain our sanitation, and care for our sick threatens the well being of all average people. When governments eagerly go after their own public workers, we have to ask ourselves what else they are willing to compromise.

On another level, if you’re concerned about the environment you should care about what’s happening in Wisconsin because the same people, the same corporate interests that have orchestrated this attack on workers are also lobbying to slash funding for the EPA, working to destroy any notion of climate legislation and securing massive handouts for big polluters.

Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Ag have bought and paid for our democracy, and it is their agenda that our elected representatives are serving. Billionaire polluters like the Koch brothers who funded the crippling of last year’s climate bill and are now going after the EPA, are also funding this attack on our state’s teachers and other public workers. The same big corporations that have a vested interest in minimizing environmental regulations are pushing to cut the power of workers.

Wednesday’s passing of Governor Scott Walker’s shameful bill stripping union workers of their half-century-old right to bargain collectively is not about the state’s budget deficit. As author Naomi Klein told Rachel Maddow this week: “Unions are the final line of defense against privatization of the public sector.”

Instead of using the economic crisis to scapegoat public school teachers who educate our nation’s children on already paltry budgets, why doesn’t Governor Walker and his cronies go after the $4 billion worth of subsidies given to Big Oil?

From our air and water to our teachers and nurses, the corrosive hold of corporate interests on our political system is damaging all of our most precious resources. Undermining the power of unions and the voices of their members is first and foremost about cutting down one of the largest forces standing up against corporate power. Their private sector counterparts have already been all but destroyed by the same corporations and government backers.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is the result of turning our democracy into a dirty poker game. A game where only the very rich and powerful have a hand, the antes are the in the billions and the stakes are our country.

Lastly, what’s happening to workers across the country should matter to environmentalists because our movements need the strength of workers and unions, and their movements need us. For far too long we have been divided into niche issues. It is past time we show up for each other. Not only because it’s right, but also because that demonstration of collective power is the only way to win. Can you imagine the day that all environmentalists, union members and educators, pro-choice activists, immigration and racial justice activists all worked together? That is the day when we win our country back.

Co-authored by Nell Greenberg, Communications Director of Rainforest Action Network.