Only a few hours before Gov. Scott Walker‘s (R-Wis.) planned talk at Cornell on Nov. 4, a few student groups plan to host a discussion on the former governor’s contentious union legacy.
The discussion, co-hosted by the Cornell Democrats, Cornell Students for Bernie and The People’s Organizing Collective, and joined by Prof Lee Adler, labor relations, aims to publicly establish the pro-union side of dialogue before people attend Walker’s presentation, which is titled “Courage and Conservative Governance.”
Walker’s talk is jointly sponsored by Young America’s Foundation and the Cornell Republicans.
The student-led discussion will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. so that people will also be able to attend Walker’s presentation, which begins at 5:30 p.m. The discussion will be held in Plant Sciences Building Room 143, right across the Ag Quad from Warren Hall, where Walker’s talk will be taking place.
According to Geneva Saupe ‘21, the vice president of Cornell Democrats and a Wisconsin native, the organizing groups support Walker’s right to speak on campus and that the goal of the discussion is to create a balanced dialogue.
“I was there when he took away collective bargaining rights,” Saupe said. “It was the beginning of my political development.”
In a written statement, the Cornell Democrats said that their members should be willing to go to Walker’s talk and ask “tough questions about his policy legacy.”
Walker’s presentation will focus on fiscal responsibility, public sector unions and his tenure in office. He will also answer questions from the audience. However, the students involved in hosting the discussion are skeptical that the governor will articulate what they see as the full picture.
“We looked at the Walker event and thought, ‘There’s no way Walker is going to talk about public-sector unions,’” said Daniel Bromberg ’20, a member and the co-founder of The People’s Organizing Collective. POC is Cornell’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, the country’s largest youth-led labor organizing group, according to their website.
As governor of Wisconsin, Walker gained national attention for establishing “Right to Work” laws, which prohibits mandatory union membership, and for curbing collective bargaining rights of state employees.
Serving for two, often controversial terms, Walker is one of only three sitting governors in U.S. history to face a recall election, and the only one of those three to win that election, according to the Rutgers University Center on the American Governor.
But Bromberg said he hopes the discussion moves beyond specific actions taken by Walker, and instead focuses on the broader impact Walker’s tenure has had on the state of unions, whose membership in recent years have been on the decline.
“We were afraid that any presentation done by Governor Scott Walker would offer a platform for a disregard of public-sector unions,” Bromberg said. “It’s important to understand the entire situation. I think people from both sides of the political spectrum can benefit.”