Governor Scott Walker held what he called a "fireside chat" with Wisconsinites yesterday, in which he told citizens of the state that he would not budge on his so-called "budget repair" bill and its provision depriving public sector unions of the right to bargain.
In the ten-minute address, the governor used anecdotes about an out-of-work autoworker in Janesville, a substitute teacher sidelined in the walk-out last week, and his own brother, a banquet manager and occasional bartender, who has to pay $800 a month for health insurance.
The point of these anecdotes -- about Wisconsin citizens struggling to scrape by in tough economic times -- was not to offer a plan to help people find desperately needed health insurance, or help fund their retirement or college savings.
Just the opposite.
The point of Walker's anecdotes was to say that public sector employees, who enjoy decent health care and retirement benefits, have it too good. In other words -- everyone should be like struggling, non-union private sector workers who can't get to a doctor or save for college or retirement.
No more promises of good economic times, of "trickle down" wealth spilling over the majority of citizens.
This is the true message of Walker and the whole Koch brothers-funded right-wing assault on unions: sowing resentment among workers who are not unionized in order to make the argument that working families who have made it into the middle class should be dragged down and lose their purchase on a decent life.
The brazenness of the attack on ordinary, working folks is amazing.
The pension and health care contribution hikes Walker is asking for have already been agreed to by Wisconsin's public sector unions. "Reforming" collective bargaining is the real point of his "budget repair" bill. (As well as the provisions that allow him to sell off Wisconsin's public utilities to his cronies in no-bid contracts, and concentrating power over regulation and rule-making in his office, overthrowing democratic governance in the state.)
The irony of stealing the title "fireside chat" to stick it to the citizens of Wisconsin is overwhelming. FDR used his fireside chats to calm a nation riven by economic hard times and war. Walker used his pulpit to bash workers and tell them he fully intends to take away their benefits and their right to bargain -- no matter how divisive the issue becomes with citizens.
As Walker told a crank caller posing as David Koch from the Buffalo Beast "I don't budge."
He outlined his next moves in the same call: forcing Democratic lawmakers to come to the floor of the state senate to pick up their paychecks, and pursuing legal action against them for not showing up to work. He has already threatened massive state worker layoffs.
In only a few weeks, Walker has become a national rightwing star and the most unpopular governor in Wisconsin history. If he wins this round and sticks it to state workers, there is a good chance there will be a general strike.
Now is the time for progressives around the country to come together, as the right wing has done so effectively to break unions.
A first step is to form a steadfastness fund to support a general strike in Wisconsin that would bring the whole state to a halt.
That would fan the flames of the prairie fire that started in Madison, and could reignite the labor movement across the nation.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Tuesday Rally Big as Ever In Wisconsin Capitol."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.