Governor Walker’s “Divide And Conquer” Strategy


Governor Walker has claimed since the beginning of his term that he’s not interested in reducing the power of private unions in Wisconsin; his only concern, he said, was with the budgetary impact that collective bargaining agreements with public unions had. Now there’s a video – raw footage from Brad Lichtenstein’s documentary to be entitled “As Goes Janesville” – that seems to prove that his true intention has always been to just start with public-sector unions as a first step towards weakening private-sector unions as well. As reported by JSOnline, where you can view the video for yourself

In the video, [Beloit billionaire Diane] Hendricks told Walker she wanted to discuss “controversial” subjects away from reporters, asking him:

“Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions -”

“Oh, yeah,” Walker broke in.

“- and become a right-to-work?” Hendricks continued. “What can we do to help you?”

“Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill,” Walker said. “The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

The entire conversation was not released Thursday with a video trailer of the documentary, but Journal Sentinel reporters were allowed to view the raw footage.

“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.

“This is another colossal bait and switch that goes directly to his honesty,” [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Barrett said. “What he claims he is not in favor of publicly, to the person who has made the largest contribution in state history, he says exactly the opposite. You can’t trust him.”

Barrett has been hammering Walker on right-to-work legislation for weeks, frequently using the phrase “divide and conquer.” Barrett said he used that term because he believed that was Walker’s strategy, but did not know until Thursday that Walker himself had used it.

In the 2010 campaign, Walker won the support of Operating Engineers Local 139, a union that represents about 9,000 heavy equipment operators in Wisconsin. The union is not endorsing anyone in this year’s recall election.

Terry McGowan, the union’s business manager, said the union gave its 2010 endorsement only after getting assurances Walker would not pursue right-to-work legislation. The union backed Walker because of his support for road building done by the group’s members, McGowan said.

He said Thursday he was troubled by the footage of Walker with Hendricks, but that he was continuing to take Walker at his word given his public statements and conversations he has had with him. “You don’t hear him say, ‘Yes, I’m going to go after right-to-work legislation,’ ” McGowan said of the video. But he added that divide and conquer is a phrase that is anathema to those in the labor movement. “It means turning worker against worker,” he said.

Because Walker faces a recall, a quirk in state law allowed supporters such as Hendricks for a time to donate unlimited sums to the governor’s campaign for certain expenses. Last month, Hendricks contributed $500,000 to Walker, bringing her total donations to him to $519,100 and the donations by her and [her husband] Ken to all candidates to more than $1 million.

Of course, it’s really no surprise that Walker, like the rest of the GOP, is ultimately after all of organized labor. But it’s nice to catch a politician telling the truth, even if only to a billionaire donor.

By the way, I’m not dogmatic about the benefits of unionization. It’s an empirical question whether workers are economically better off with or without unions, and I’ve seen apparently strong, statistical arguments on both sides. At the very least, it seems that if unions are to be economically relevant in the future, they need to focus on training and re-training, partnering with new technology rather than hedging against it.

Quite apart from the economic question, there is the dignity issue: the right of workers to organize for the purpose of negotiating with their managers seems as important to a free society as the right of citizens to peaceably assemble or petition their government for redress of grievances. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur or a professional. Especially in jobs where workers are easily replaced, it seems that only well-run unions can insure that workers have a meaningful voice in the enterprises to which they devote their lives.

5 thoughts on “Governor Walker’s “Divide And Conquer” Strategy

  1. Here’s a good example of the conservative response to that graph-

    Do I know who to believe about these statistics, or their interpretation? The answer is: I know that I have a strong ideological bent to disbelieve the conservative interpretation. Being aware of that personal bias, until I read something dispositive, I reserve judgment.

  2. The conservative response seems to be using funny numbers in at least one of their graphs. One conservative graph shows worker productivity tracking wages from 1947 to 1997. However, this graph using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the gap between productivity and wages ever since Reagan:

    The conservative graph claims to be using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. So which one is right? I guess you have to check the numbers on and do the research yourself. Personally I don’t believe the conservative graph because I know whom they serve. They serve the corporate establishment. If corporatocracy were really good for workers, then why would the left bother to fight them? They would have no reason.

    If you have the time to do the research, then I would love to hear what you find, Dr. Herzberg.

  3. I tried to post this earlier, but it didn’t show up.

    One of the “Campaign for Liberty” graphs shows worker productivity tracking wages from 1947 to 1997 (not to 2008 like the previous graph I posted). The author claims the data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This graph also claims to come from data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    Without looking into the data at, I would bet that the “conservative” graph is using funny numbers. Perhaps they included dividend checks and wages for the top income earners? I don’t know. However, why would the left, who claim to be on the side of workers, want to fight the corporate establishment if the corporations were really good for workers?

  4. Noah-

    Sorry about the delay on your posts; there was a setting in WordPress I wasn’t aware of, which requires posts with 2 or more links to be approved (as a way of avoiding spam).

    I also tend to distrust the conservative arguments (since they’ve put forth so many obviously bad arguments on other issues), as I mentioned above, but distrust by itself is not a reason, and I try to base my political views on reasons.

    It is at least conceivable that the left could both be pro-worker and mistaken about the positive economic effects of unions. There is no doubt in my mind that historically, particularly during the worst periods of industrialization, unions successfully fought for policies (like the 40 hour work week) that greatly improved workers’ lives. But whether unions continue to have a net positive economic effect on workers lives in radically changing economic conditions (especially globalization) is an ongoing empirical question that I don’t claim to have an answer to, nor the time to try to figure it out.

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