Some friends have asked why I hadn’t yet addressed the situation around Gov. Walker and the union protests here in Wisconsin. OK, I will. But I mentioned one key side issue on Feb. 21 in my blog entry titled ” Unions Have a Big PR Problem.” Unions still do. The sub-text that caught the nation’s attention during the massive demonstrations in Madison was that Gov. Walker seemed to be pulling the rug out of pocket book economics for the little people — teachers in particular — right after he had created new tax benefits for business capitalists in the state. He seemed to be robbing the little guys to help the fat cats. He was declaring his hard right belief in trickle-down economics, and union members were paying the price: giving up their collective bargaining rights as state employees.

The unions did a good job of turning out their members and their supporters, organizing crowds of peaceful demonstrators topping 100,000 supporters in and around Wisconsin’s Capitol building. But as I said before, even those well-behaved crowds of supporters were interpreted by the right and much of the press as a specter of the danger of empowered unions. Unions have represented state workers in Wisconsin for more than 50 years, and have seemed to do so fairly well, looking back. But since Detroit collapsed a few years ago, and unions were portrayed as the bad guys who had negotiated exorbitant compensation and retirement plans for auto workers, unions have had a bad PR reputation in America. Of course, the failure of Detroit capitalists to design and build the cars Americans had wanted for more than a generation, defaulting to the more responsive Japanese, South Koreans and Germans, was played down.

So, even though Gov. Walker had the political clout to kill state employee unions, he clearly hit a nerve when he seemed to trample the little guys, at a time when the economy was already doing that to them, while he supported the capitalists. Any reasonable person might have seen a compromise in which the unions agreed to back off on economic pressure for a year or two, but Walker would have none of that. Yes, the unions have a PR problem. They are not appreciated as being responsible champions of the little guy. If unions are to survive, they’re in need of a lot of good PR, and they had better earn it. Meanwhile, autocrats like Gov. Walker will keep eating their lunch.

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