A New American Workers Movement Has Begun

by Dan La Botz

Thousands of workers demonstrated at the state capital in Madison, Wisconsin on Feb. 15 and 16 to protest plans by that state’s Republican Governor Scott Walker to take away the state workers’ union rights.  Walker cleverly attempted to divide the public workers by excluding police and firefighters from his anti-union law, and the media have worked to divide public employees against private sector workers.  Yet, both firefighters and private sector workers showed up at the statehouse to join public workers of all sorts in what has been one of the largest workers demonstrations in the United States in decades.  Only California has seen demonstrations as large as these in recent years.

Many demonstrators in Madison, taking a clue from the rebellions against authoritarian and anti-worker governments that are sweeping the Middle East, carried signs saying, “Let’s negotiate like they do in Egypt.”  While the situation in Wisconsin is hardly comparable to the revolution in the Arab world, what we are witnessing is the beginning of a new American workers movement.  Because this movement is so different than what many expected, it may take us by surprise.

Not What We Expected

Many of us, myself included, had for years expected a rank-and-file workers’ movement to arise out of shop-floor struggles in industrial workplaces, out of the fight for union democracy, and out of the process of working-class struggle against the employers.  While that perspective still has much validity, something different is happening.  The new labor movement that is arising does not start in the industrial working class (though it will get there soon enough), it does not focus on shop floor issues (though they will no doubt be taken up shortly), it is not primarily motivated by a desire for union democracy (though it will have to fight for union democracy to push forward the leaders it needs).  And it does not, as so many American labor movements of the past did, remain confined to the economic class struggle (though that too will accelerate).  It is from the beginning an inherently political labor movement.

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