There are messages in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recall victory. They aren't the messages that Democrats are spinning, and they have special resonance in Ohio.
Mr. Walker did more than survive a recall attempt by re-energized union supporters in a traditionally liberal state. He became the first governor ever to win a recall vote, and he did it convincingly. Mr. Walker beat Democratic challenger Tom Barrrett by about 7 percentage points -- a bigger margin than when he defeated the Milwaukee mayor in the race for governor two years ago.
Democrats and union officials who led the effort to dump Mr. Walker tried to turn defeat into victory by suggesting that Mr. Walker and his backers bought the victory, raising more than $30 million to Mr. Barrett's $4 million. They also claim victory because one of four recalled Republican state senators may have lost -- the results are not final -- giving Democrats a narrow and unconfirmed majority.
But there is no way to avoid the fact that voters in the state that Robert La Follette called home have dealt a crushing blow to the "House of Labor." Liberal Wisconsin, which has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984, is in play for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Governor Walker challenged organized labor and has emerged victorious. It could have been that way in Ohio too.
The Walker-backed measure to limit collective bargaining by public unions in Wisconsin arguably went farther than Senate Bill 5, Gov. John Kasich's effort to do the same thing here. It may be that Ohio's governor failed where Wisconsin's governor succeeded because Mr. Kasich was afraid to stand up to the historic might of organized labor.
But the Wisconsin vote demonstrates conclusively that the days when organized labor called the tune are over for now. Mr. Kasich and public unions need to pay attention.
In many parts of America, labor no longer speaks for the majority of workers. Wisconsin, with its progressive history, was considered a bastion. Now, labor's voice seems almost daily to grow more faint. According to the Wall Street Journal, about half of the state's American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees members have dropped their union membership, opting not to pay union dues when they no longer are required to do so.
Spit-in-your-eye defiance and never-give-back arrogance -- the memory of which is all too fresh in Toledo -- no longer work. To remain relevant, union leaders will have to be willing to give back some of the gains they made in the past. They will have to cooperate rather than engage in contract grievance "gotchas," arbitrations, and the saber-rattling that fosters a never-ending complainer culture.
There was once a different American labor movement. John L. Lewis, in a 1936 radio speech about labor's might and right, said: "He is a madman or fool who believes that this river of human sentiment, flowing as it does from the hearts of these 30 million, who with their dependents constitute two-thirds of the population of the United States of America, can be dammed or impounded by the erection of arbitrary barriers or restraint."
That's not the case today. Labor unions -- and Democrats who count on them -- need to understand that union members and supporters no longer are the majority. Indeed, only about 7 percent of private workers and 12 percent of the overall work force in America are union members.
Have Democrats and unions gotten the message? Do they wish to reverse their fortunes?
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