Some explosive rhetoric followed the political grenade that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker lobbed Feb. 11, 2011, when he proposed rolling back collective-bargaining rights for public employees as part of a budget-repair bill.
Much of it, we have found, missed the mark.
Wisconsin doesn’t have a budget deficit, it’s on track for a surplus: False.
Walker’s proposal would leave collective bargaining for public employees "fully intact": Pants on Fire.
Madison protests against the plan have led to riots: Pants on Fire.
Now comes a statement comparing the Republican governor to one of history’s most evil despots.
"The history of Hitler," Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor told a reporter on Feb. 15, 2011, "in 1933, he abolished unions, and that’s what our governor’s doing today."
The Wisconsin Republican Party said it videotaped the Milwaukee Democrat’s statement and a similar one she made the same day at one of the many Madison rallies called to protest Walker’s plan.
Signs at some of those demonstrations compared Walker to Hitler, but Taylor’s claims stand out.
The eight-year state lawmaker, who lost a bid to unseat Walker as Milwaukee County executive in 2008, also wrote Feb. 17, 2011, on the Twitter social networking website: "LIKE HITLER in 1933, WALKER is busting unions."
So, is Walker trying to abolish unions in the manner Hitler did?
We asked Taylor for evidence. In an e-mail, she cited several points that she said show Walker has a "legislative goal of union busting in the coming years, if not in this (legislative) session."
Taylor pointed out that Walker’s budget-repair bill -- which contains the collective bargaining changes -- limits public employee unions to negotiating wages, not fringe benefits and other matters, and requires them to be re-certified each year through employee votes.
Taylor also pointed out that as a state lawmaker, Walker supported right-to-work legislation, which prohibits unions from negotiating contracts with employers that require employees to pay union dues or fees.
To be sure, the bill curtails collective-bargaining rights, and many opponents say it would effectively cripple unions that represent state, local government and public school employees. It does not, however, "abolish" unions as Taylor claims. Indeed, some public employee unions -- those covering public safety -- are exempt. And it does not affect private-sector unions, which are created under federal law.
In defending her statement about Walker, the only reference Taylor made to Hitler’s actions was that he abolished German unions on May 2, 1933.
Let’s look more closely at what Hitler did that year.
Reviewing a transcript of the opening statement of the chief U.S. counsel in the Nuremberg Trials, we found the Nazis:
- Seized all funds of labor unions and arrested union leaders, sending them to concentration camps.
- Ordered that no workers organizations, except ones created by Hitler, would exist.
- Replaced collective bargaining with Hitler-appointed "trustees" to regulate the conditions of all labor contracts.
So, Hitler abolished all unions and collective bargaining by decree, not with legislation. And he used force to liquidate the unions that did exist.
The sheer scope of all of Hitler’s actions, not just those affecting unions, led the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation to condemn "the hyperbolic use of Nazi and Holocaust references" by protesters in the budget repair bill debate.
While some protesters outside the Wisconsin Capitol have used images of the German dictator, the more pervasive cry has been chants of: "This is what democracy looks like."
Indeed, the changes in Madison are the direct result of Wisconsin voters making a historic change in who controls state government -- turning over the governor’s office, as well as control of the Senate and Assembly, to Republicans.
In response to Walker’s targeting of collective bargaining, groups are considering recalling some of the GOP senators, while other groups are eyeing a recall of Democratic senators. That, too, is part of the democratic process.
And Taylor and the other Democrats who went to Illinois to prevent a Senate vote on the bill have not been brought back to Madison by force. They argue they are simply using a tool available to them in the democracy.
Let’s return to the statement.
Taylor said Hitler abolished unions "and that’s what our governor’s doing today." Walker has not proposed abolishing any unions. His budget-repair bill would prohibit some government workers from joining unions and it would curtail the collective bargaining rights of most public employees.
But Walker cannot order any of the changes; they would have to be approved by the Legislature, put in place by voters in November 2010. Hitler, by fiat, not only ended all collective bargaining, he abolished all unions, seized their funds and sent their leaders to concentration camps.
Taylor’s comparison is ridiculously extreme.
It deserves our most extreme rating: Pants on Fire.