POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 24, 2011
A bit of whimsy ties Wisconsin and Egypt and it has to do with pizza.
News accounts give differing origins for the odd episode in which people from the north African nation called a pizza joint in the state's capital to donate pies to Wisconsinites protesting their governor's plan to pretty near eliminate collective bargaining for public employees.
Word spread via the Web and soon the pizza shop was fielding donation orders from a host of countries, including Finland, England, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey -- as well as from almost all of the 50 states.
The gesture of solidarity by Egyptians, who through their own protests brought down a repressive government, and others around the world comes as public employees in America are being inordinately blamed for budget problems many states are experiencing.
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is inflating that blame to cover unions, insisting that collective bargaining for most government workers be limited to wages alone.
Even though employee unions have agreed to pay health benefits and other financial concessions, Walker and his GOP cohorts in the Senate want them busted.
Union-busting fever has now spread to Ohio, where a similar measure to end collective bargaining has been introduced. In Indiana, Democrats in the state House avoided legislative sessions to wait out a deadline for another bill to weaken bargaining rights.
But Wisconsin remains ground zero. Images of thousands of workers bundled up against the cold with law enforcement officers surrounding them flash across the Internet, drawing adversaries and sympathizers worldwide.
The issue isn't so much about money and budgets as it is about political dominance. The power of organized labor unions cannot be ignored. Though considerably diminished in recent years, their support can still make or break political campaigns. That said, the leverage of business and industry groups as well as the wealthy who run them is far greater in elections and in influencing policy.
In Wisconsin, with lines drawn so deeply in the sand, reasonable resolution may not be possible.
Which is why Gov. Neil Abercrombie's budget message this week should be heeded. The governor emphasized the need to get past individual ambition in working out a financial package most can live with, saying, "We do not want to end up mimicking what's going on on the mainland right now with dramatic confrontations of one kind or another."
Such conflicts beget animosity. Before Hawaii gets to that point, compromises need to be reached.
Public employees and their unions must acknowledge the need to cut expenses. Businesses that enjoy tax breaks and subsidies need to take less from the treasury. Taxpayers should recognize that public workers do provide necessary services and refrain from disparaging them as a whole. If not, Hawaii could become a spectacle like Wisconsin, or worse, a place that fails to live up to its motto.
Not even free pizza is worth that.
Cynthia Oi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.