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All atwitter about Wisconsin protests: Do tweets indicate a trend?

Actual reportage will return to this space tomorrow, but today we’ll have to content ourselves with one last remote post from a blogger stranded away from home pending the resumption of modern air transportation: day 3½ (not kidding), the Twitter edition.

Just as assembly-line workers once told tales of Walter Reuther battling Ford’s goons, Twitter is ablaze with 140-character odes to pizza-delivery warriors and other zealous support troops engaged in keeping the pro-labor protesters encamped at Wisconsin’s Capitol fed. I imagine it a little like Cairo, except with soy cheese.

@kc1959 vows: “Gov Walker you might stop collective bargaining but you will never stop collective action! We do this for the heart and soul of the nation.” @GovMarkDayton himself tweets: “#WI forcing 'extreme, drastic measures' on working people; won't become law in MN 'because I'm here' #goalie.” And @MotherJones presents “On the Lam in Wisconsin: The #wiunion odyssey in cartoon form! #p2 http://tumblr.com/xlv1l21rt8 about.”

Why do I think these tweets worthy of a post? Travel with me back to the infancy of the current legislative session, when the most hidebound, most intransigent, most easily vilified political hobgoblin on the political scene was the teachers union. Back then, you may recall, there was broad, bipartisan agreement that The Unionized Teacher was running roughshod all over America’s most disadvantaged schoolchildren and desperately needed taming.

Reforms were on fast track
Indeed in Minnesota, where a stalemate between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the state’s largest teachers union resulted in no K-12 omnibus bill whatsoever last year, even the labor-loving DFL went into this year’s legislative session vowing to fast-track such education reforms as alternative paths to teacher licensure, modifications to teacher tenure and tying teacher compensation to student performance.

This was, of course, before Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker singlehandedly and nearly overnight resuscitated organized labor as a valued American institution. He didn’t mean to, of course. He seems to have meant to create the ultimate right-to-work state.

But where Walker’s GOP brethren in statehouses here and elsewhere were content to chip away at public-sector unions’ strength by seeking to limit members’ ability to strike, barring pay increases and gnawing away at what remains of the traditional pension, Walker seems to have pulled off a spectacular overreach.

He has tens of thousands marching on the Madison statehouse, passions inflamed that anyone would challenge our right to collective bargaining. He is, I suggest, a Wobbly for the digital age.

A national party playbook
I wouldn’t be surprised if folks in St. Paul weren’t all a-Twitter about this. A month ago, the Republicans in charge of both houses of Minnesota’s Legislature seemed to be working their way systematically through a national party playbook full of moves designed to turn a bipartisan push for education reform into a stealth attack on public-sector unions.

(Why? Why to defund the political opposition by eviscerating Democrats’ ability to raise funds and win elections.)

Having firmly committed itself to many of the same reforms, at least as rendered in broad strokes, the DFL found itself again playing defense — this time, to limit the new policies to measures intended to help close the academic achievement gap, not strip the grownups trying to make it happen of their contractual rights.

With the drubbing teachers unions have taken in the popular discourse over the last year, between “Waiting for Superman,” President Obama’s Race to the Top stimulus competition and Michelle Rhee’s elevation to household name, a month ago I wondered whether teachers stood any chance at all of making it through the current session with any incentive to stay in the profession, much less encourage others to join them.

And yet here we are, with a governor — aka #goalie — who enjoys Education Minnesota’s support even as he moves forward with a number of overdue reforms despite having precious little to give in the way of money, and with the noble laborer front and center in the popular imagination.

Perhaps I overreach, but before I give up this last iPhone-reported post, let me leave you with an idea how things are “trending,” as the tweeps would put it: Pro-labor protests are being reported in Ohio and other places, and GOP governors in several states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, have announced their intention to sit down with public-sector unions.

#workersoftheworldunite? Maybe. Or maybe just a real-life political-science lesson.

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Comments (1)

From your lips to God's ears. Let this be the beginning of a revival of the citizenry. We've been "consumers" long enough.