Republican attempts to disband public workers unions in Wisconsin and other key states are part of a broad strategy to undermine US President Barak Obama and his Democrats at the ballot box, analysts said.
Unions have been the biggest sources of financial and grass-roots, get-out-the-vote organizational support for Democrats and have long been a target of -business-backed Republicans.
However, they’ve seen their power and membership rolls shrink as the manufacturing sector declined and shifted to anti-union southern states, and now represent just 12 percent of US workers.
Public workers account for more than half of union rolls, even though a dozen states prohibit state and local government employees from forming unions.
Republican governors in the key electoral battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa are now looking to curtail or even eliminate collective bargaining rights for state and local government workers.
The move to bust public unions is part of a multi-pronged attempt “to bring us closer to a more permanent Republican majority,” said Marjorie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University.
While they may not succeed in crushing Democrats in the long-term, recent victories in the courts and at the voting booth will help Republicans tip the scales.
Republicans won a major victory last year when the Supreme Court overturned a ban on corporate spending in elections.
The flood of new money — US$190 million by conservative groups compared with US$94 million from liberals — helped Republicans to win back the House of Representatives and make major gains at the state level in November’s mid-term election.
Republicans won total control over the legislature and governor’s mansions in 20 states, while Democrats control just 11.
Those state-level gains will have far-reaching implications as legislators undertake the once-a-decade task of redrawing political maps in accordance with new census figures.
In the winner-take-all, essentially two-party US political -system, creating a district where just 55 percent of voters support one party is usually all it takes to guarantee a win.
“If the unions are now out of the game, it shifts over heavily for the Republican interests for 2012,” said John Brehm, a political science professor at the University of Chicago.
Unions were the only liberal groups to make the top 10 list of groups spending money on last year’s election outside of the more regulated political party system, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Unions are also extremely successful at getting voters to the polls — a key factor in the US, where turnout reached just 41.6 percent of eligible voters in last year’s mid-term election and 62.2 percent in the hotly contested 2008 presidential election.
The mobilization power of unions was vividly apparent this week as tens of thousands of people descended upon Wisconsin’s state capitol to protest a bill aimed at busting public service workers unions.
Newly elected Republican -Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was unbowed by the days of mass protests and insists that the only way to get his state’s finances “on track” is to eliminate collective bargaining rights so public workers can’t fight pay and benefit cuts.
Fighting unions is “almost an article of faith” for Republicans, who see them as “a block in the path of capitalism,” said Ken Janda, emeritus professor of political science at Northwestern University.