In The News
Hidden tales behind the viral expose of a coward
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted May 13, 2012
“Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions--”
“Oh, yeah,“ interjects Scott Walker
“And become a right to work?” continued billionaire supporter Diane Hendricks after hugging the new governor in Janesville in early 2011. “What can we do to help?”
“In fact, we’re going to start in a couple of weeks with our budget adjustment bill,” Walker explains to one of his most conservative and wealthiest donors who a year later, as soon as the law allowed, dumped a half million dollars into his recall defense.
After being assured by the guy behind the camera, respected documentarian Brad Lichtenstein, that this impromptu conversation would not be publicized for a year, the new governor goes on to explain to the admiring Hendricks that he will first take away the union rights of public employees and only then complete his “divide and conquer’ strategy – implying that the next step is to turn Wisconsin into a “right to work” state, to rid Wisconsin of all unions private and public. (In campaign pitches, of course, he continued to call private unions his good buddies and “partners.” And once this video came out in May, he’s run around the state insisting that he won’t introduce such legislation.)
This is a devastating and revealing exchange, exposing how Walker planned from Day One to break the backs of all unions and cater to the right wing fantasies of destroying worker power in Wisconsin. Today he says he better understands that state voters don’t agree, but he never says he’s changed his mind – and who in either party can ever trust his word again?
This genuine moment of private reality contradicting public mendacity has made the 38 second YouTube excerpt of Walker “divide and conquer” thinking go viral and made the entire 10 minute documentary demo of “As Goes Janesville” –- Walker’s candor comes about seven minutes in -– gain serious national news attention.
But here’s a surprise to journalists. Labor historians knew about this April 21 when “As Goes Janesville” excerpts were previewed at the Wisconsin Labor History heritage forum as an exploration on the making of a documentary. While the house was packed at the Postal Workers Hall with young scholars and older community activists, the establishment media failed to attend the much publicized event and panels.
So they were weeks late, as was the Barrett campaign, on the revelations of Walker’s hypocrisy that filtered immediately through the labor community and academic circles. The episode confirmed that journalists’ lack of attention to scholars and union activities lead them to miss many stories – and also clarify why so many in organized labor have learned not to trust the establishment media coverage.
Still, even unions that long believed Walker was duplicitous were shocked by how open he was when sucking up to the rich.
Lichtenstein, a balanced film-maker who once lived near UWM, had gotten access to both UAW families and the wealthy community seeking to restore business to Janesville after the devastating departure of the GM plant there, so he not only promised confidentiality for a year, he also kept it.
He had a bombshell in capturing the real intent of Walker – this was a candid bluntness that only Walker’s innermost circle was privy to – but Lichtenstein was actually exploring something deeper in his documentary than the trivial political shenanigans of the Scott Walker that history will soon reduce to a footnote.
“As Goes Janesville” touches a deep American tragedy for a community and working families -- losing middle class status, leaving town and relatives to find work in Texas, exposing children and mothers to loss of health care, firings, no food on the table, patriotic parades turned into deserted storefronts. Lichtenstein kept his word to all, fulfilled his vision and likely will be vilified for his honor.
That Walker moment uncovered how long in the works was this “divide and conquer” strategy, months before all his deceptions turned Wisconsin politics inside out.
The reason why it is now national news is Walker’s fight to stay in office measured against his obvious hypocrisy all along. It is not just the difference between the glib minister’s son who speaks a good game on the stump and the real Walker caught up in the euphoric candor of right-wing victory, spilling beans to only his wealthiest confidantes as he also did early last year when he thought he was talking to billionaire supporter David Koch.
But mainly it exposes a coward.
Walker knew that saying such stuff out-loud and forthright on the campaign would have cost him the governor’s seat. He had to pretend. So he never even informed voters about his Act 10 plan to strip bargaining rights from public workers, and he actually assured supporters he would never try to make Wisconsin “right to work” (what a lousy misleading euphemism).
The head of the Operating Engineers Local 139, the heavy-equipment highway road builders union, Terry McGowan, wound up getting his union to support Walker for governor – and recently supported a mining bill that many other unions opposed – largely because of Walker’s flat promise in 2010 that he would never try to turn Wisconsin into a “right to work” state (what many workers, looking at the facts, term “right to work for less” states).
That was even as Walker was assuring Hendricks “Oh yeah.”
Many union leaders felt McGowan was badly suckered. But he insisted even into May when learning about this video that he would “take the governor at his word,” though many of his past supporters point out that the Operating Engineers were also cost jobs in Walker’s cancellation of the federal train money and that the road expectations haven’t worked out anywhere near hopes. “How many times will you let that con artist take you?” yelled one local member at a recent meeting of the union.
But there was more than the obvious Walker deception that made front page news throughout Wisconsin and indeed the nation. There was also what it now reveals about his lack of character as well as the character of the people who support him.
It is not just that Hendricks is seen curling her lip over the evils of unions on the video. It is that her corporate antics are making news on their own this week thanks to the Who Does Not Pay Taxes? report from the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future about the state’s most notorious corporate tax avoiders.
Hendricks, labeled by Forbes magazine as worth $2.8 billion, heads Beloit-based ABC Supply Company, called “the nation’s largest roofing, window and siding wholesale distributor” with annual sales approaching $5 billion, according to Jack Norman, respected research director of IWF. But the Wisconsin corporate income tax returns she files claim the company makes not a penny in taxable profit. ABC Supply paid zero in state corporate income tax in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the most recent figures available from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Yet in op-ed and particularly in private conversations Hendricks is a rabid supporter of never taxing corporations and supporting what she termed “red state” policies. And truly, around the nation there are believers in that so-called “right to work” who stand up on their hind legs in public and discuss their feelings, even building their platforms around that ideology.
In other states they are not as cowardly as Walker, who knew that in Wisconsin he simply couldn’t win by being honest.
He dodged any debate on such extreme ideology because the cold facts are against him. “Right to work” legislation assures that companies go non-union even if union enterprise and expense already established the contracts or could do better for the workers by organizing them.
Researachers reveal that wages and benefits in these states go down and, surprisingly, profits generally don’t go up, because the one thing union solidarity is good at is insisting on productivity and efficiency in use of owners’ money. That extends from bridges to constructing buildings to nursing shifts at hospitals.
When a company can build a stretch of highway in one day with union workers, that financially more than balances the lackadaisical week of equal construction with lower wages and less worker-to-worker training and supervision in non-union situations, as academic studies reveal. The only rewards are to the already wealthy, because they know the workers in “right to work” states have no legal power to curtail their behavior.
While unions are accused of featherbedding and padding because of their strength in membership, ask any public prosecutor looking at non-union companies, defense contractors, banks, hospitals, fast food chains and rental outfits, etc., what happens when only management has the legal power to set the rules. Featherbedding, corruption and nepotism run rampant, though they are easier to cure when workers have an active say and can set up union shops.
There is another economic reality aside from declining wages. The dues paid by union members to win contracts disappear when a hired hand can get those benefits without joining the union and paying for the effort -- so “right to work” is a deliberate appeal to freeloaders and an attack on organized worthy labor. No wonder it would be a hard frontal political sell in a state like Wisconsin.
That is why this video is so devastating. There were many in Wisconsin who always believed that Walker was two-faced, -- almost everyone who worked with him at the Milwaukee Courthouse will tell you. Many have long thought that once the public gets close to his corruption and venality, he career will be over even among Republicans who cling to the image of control he once represented to their party. His opponents are convinced that Wisconsin voters of all stripes are smart enough to act June 5 on that reality.
Out of ideology or his smooth manner, many in the state long thought his opponents were going overboard or making this stuff up. “As Goes Janesville” should end that farce, though it is always hard on any side to admit you’ve been duped, conned and lied to.