You can’t stop the signal in Madison

YOU CAN’T STOP THE SIGNAL IN MADISON…. At a few minutes past 4 p.m. local time, an announcement came over the sound system in Wisconsin’s capitol building in Madison: “The Capitol is now closed.” There are competing rationales for why this move was made, but the goal was to move the thousands of pro-worker protesters out of the building after two weeks of around-the-clock demonstrations.

And to be sure, after that announcement was made, thousands of activists did make their way outside. Hundreds chose to stay, however, and risk arrest. As it turns out, that didn’t happen.

In a victory — at least a symbolic one — for Wisconsin’s public employee unions, the Capitol authorities announced on Sunday that demonstrators could continue their all-night sleepovers in the building and would not be forcibly ejected or arrested.

Just one day earlier, the state agency that oversees the Capitol police had said that the overnight protests, which have occurred continuously for almost two weeks and have been the heart and soul of the demonstrations in Madison, would cease on Sunday. The agency is led by an appointee of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, whose plan to strip public employee unions of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights has led to huge rallies in opposition, with as many as 70,000 demonstrators marching around the Madison Statehouse.

Union officials, who had denounced the plan to close the Capitol overnight as an effort to silence critics, called the reversal a capitulation by Mr. Walker’s administration.

By all accounts, law enforcement officials weren’t inclined to forcibly remove peaceful, law-abiding protestor, and as the deadline came and went, the ejections proved unnecessary.

Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs told reporters yesterday afternoon that the decision to let protesters stay was made after he saw something interesting: the activists were more than willing to move aside while cleaning crews went about doing their work, including mopping and polishing the Capitol’s floors. If the rationale for clearing the building was to allow it to be cleaned, the protestors’ willingness to be cooperative made it easier for them to stay.

As for the underlying dispute, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appeared on “Meet the Press” yesterday and refused to even consider a compromise, even with state employees offering to accept less compensation and fewer benefits. The governor added that he will feel “forced” to start laying off workers unless his union-busting bill is approved by the state legislature.

In case anyone’s forgotten, eliminating collective-bargaining rights won’t save Wisconsin any money, and the state’s budget troubles are largely the result of Walker pushing through tax breaks he couldn’t pay for. The union-busting crusade is punitive and partisan, and the layoffs would be more of the same.