Wisconsin Republicans Have Done Progressives a Huge Favor

By Don Taylor

Photo by Mark Riechers

I stood outside the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin Wednesday night. Late in the afternoon, I had been alerted via Facebook that senate Republicans were readying a sudden legislative maneuver to ram through the evisceration of workers’ rights that had previously been attached to a “budget repair bill.”

As thousands converged on the capitol, the vast majority were barred from entering the public building. The crowd swelled, chanting “Shame!” and “Our House!” as fire trucks arrived, sirens blaring to respond to the burning of democracy.

The Republicans separated the anti-labor provisions from the budget bill, creating a “non-fiscal” bill with lower quorum requirements. They then passed that “non-fiscal” bill, 18-1, with no Democrats present. The next day, the state Assembly passed the bill 53-42.

In doing so, they have done the Wisconsin democracy movement a huge favor.
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Thank You Governor Walker?

By Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

With 20 years in the labor movement under my belt, I looked at the actions taken last night by Wisconsin’s Republican legislature and Governor Scott Walker and had an unusual response.  It wasn’t despair or anger. Though once the shock wears off from seeing tens of thousands of workers stripped of their rights, I am sure those feelings will overwhelm me. No. Weirdly, among my first reactions was hope and gratitude.

I wanted to thank the governor. So I wrote him a note.

Since I am simply one of many fighting for working Americans, and not a billionaire financier, he is unlikely to take the time to read a personal note from me. So I decided to share it with all of you in the hope that someone could pass it on.

Dear Governor Walker,

Thank you for making a world where once there were only a few thousand people who would stand up to prevent the oppression of middle class workers and now there will be hundreds of thousands. You have breathed new life into the worker’s rights movement and given us a national stage for our struggle.

Thank you for showing the whole world just how far you and other conservatives are willing to go to serve your ideology instead of your constituents. This stark example of your rhetoric being contradicted by your actions was a wakeup call that we all needed to keep motivated and focused on our goal of creating a fair economy in our country.

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The Wisconsin Uprising Is a Bottom-Up Movement — Should We Hope DC Leaders Don’t Get in the Way?

by Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Since the financial crisis and President Obama’s election in the fall of 2008, there have been two major actions taken by working people that commanded the attention of America’s financial elite — the 2008 occupation of Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago and the current Wisconsin State Capitol occupation. Both events won enormous public support.

However, these types of events not only threatened economic elites that run our economy, but posed a challenge to established progressive leaders in Washington; how to incorporate them. The mass, spontaneous civil disobedience and direct action allowed workers to take matters into their own hands and upset the normal function of the insider relationships the progressive elite tend to rely upon.

As the president came into office in December 2008, United Electrical Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago shook the world when they occupied their factory after its closure was announced. For eight days and nights, the factory occupation held the attention of state, national and international media as unions around the world issued statements of solidarity. Even President-elect Obama — then in downtown Chicago, just miles away from the factory — announced his support for the workers. The workers were ultimately successful in winning their legally owed severance from Bank of America. As a result of the attention drawn to the struggle, the workers were able to find an owner to reopen and run the factory.

Despite the success in Chicago, there was no follow-up in terms of factory occupations by unions, plants employing thousands continued to close under Obama with little resistance. The progressive movement has so far not responded to the economic crisis in the way that the activists during the Great Depression did. They did not engage in the mass campaign of factory occupations and strikes that led to the New Deal nor did they engage in the campaigns of nonviolent civil disobedience that won civil rights for African Americans in the 1960s. And little effort was made to incorporate the success of Republic Windows and Doors.

“There were these big expensive conferences where people talked about how to build a progressive movement, but never was I or anybody from our union invited to talk about how we could replicate the tension with the banks that led to victory at Republic Windows and Doors,” said veteran UE political action director Chris Townsend. “Instead, the progressive movement just went back to relying on the same overpaid media consultants, playbook and insider relationships that had resulted in their betrayal during the Clinton administration and the Carter administration before that.”

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Kill Public Employee Unions; Erase the Middle Class

By Dmitri Iglitzin and Carson Glickman-Flora

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming.

At the very start of this year, January 2, the New York Times warned us of the coming battle with a front-page story, “Public Workers Facing Outrage in Budget Crisis.” The Economist, in its January 8 issue, gave us “The battle ahead: confronting the public-sector unions.” And the January Time Magazine? “Public Employees Become Public Enemy No. 1.”

So nobody should have been surprised when public employees became enemy number one in Wisconsin, whose governor and Republican-dominated Legislature are pressing a bill that would eviscerate most of the unions representing that state’s employees.

Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Ohio are likewise all considering legislation to ban various types of collective bargaining, and in Indiana, almost every Democratic member of the state’s House of Representative recently boycotted a legislative session to stop a bill that would weaken collective bargaining.

What has not been clearly noted, however, despite the thousands of barrels of ink that have been spilled about this topic, is the underlying motive behind these attacks. Why, exactly, has the governor of the Badger State made destroying public-sector unions his number one goal? Why are similar efforts being made in numerous other states? Why target public sector workers and their unions? What put this on the top of the hard Right’s agenda? Especially because, as the New York Times noted, “A raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers” with a similar education.”

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On Wisconsin and America

By Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

We are now having a major dispute about what kind of society America should be.

Right now, the flashpoint in this controversy is Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people are demonstrating every day in an effort to block Governor Scott Walker’s plan to all but end collective bargaining rights for public employees.

But the debate is a national one. The Wisconsin showdown is only the first in a whole series of pending state conflicts. And, over the next few weeks, a corporate-friendly Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives may decide to shut down the federal government.

The clashes in Wisconsin and other states, and in Washington, D.C., are dressed up in the language of budget debates. But these debates have nothing to do with “fiscal responsibility.” They are about what kind of society we want.

Do we want government to provide vital services, or exacerbate inequality? Should we have strong protections for health, safety, the environment and economic stability, or should giant corporations be free to impose their rules on the rest of us? Will we protect the right of workers to join together in unions, or will we permit private and public employers to drive down wages in the interest of generating more profits or lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy?
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2,000 Attend Chicago Rally to Support Wisconsin workers

by Bob Roman

Twenty minutes before the Saturday Noon beginning of the rally in solidarity with Wisconsin workers, a few hundred people had already gathered in the plaza in front of the Thompson Center within the Loop in downtown Chicago. I had just arrived in a clot of a dozen or so off a CTA Blue Line train. For some of them, downtown Chicago was unfamiliar territory, slightly intimidating, and they navigated uncertainly. We emerged from the subway station to find a rally already in progress. To fill the time before the official start, the organizers opened the microphone to everyone wishing to speak.

By the time the rally began, the plaza was nearly full, and organizers announced about 2,000 people were present.

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Labor Leaders Say Wisconsin Signals ‘New Era of Labor Militancy’

By Mike Elk

Mike Elk

MADISON, WIS.—In the past, labor leaders have been hesitant to call militant actions in part because they’re afraid they won’t have the support and energy of union members. But after the massive outpouring of rank and file support in Wisconsin during the last eight days—triggered by proposed GOP legislation that would gut organizing rights for public-sector workers—today’s leaders are starting to see things differently.

“I think that we have entered a new era of labor militancy,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told me the other day after speaking at a rally in front of 10,000 people. “I think Wisconsin proves that the rank and file is willing to take bold steps.”

Many organized labor leaders have been shocked by how a (more typical) one-day protest became a weeklong occupation of the Capitol. Furthermore, they have been pleasantly surprised by the massive community support they have received in this fight from people not traditionally affiliated with organized labor. The protests initially tightly organized by organized labor are no essentially community-driven affairs. “It’s like if we build it, they will come,” said one local labor leader.

But it will take more than just Wisconsin’s uprising to inaugurate a “new era” of militancy.

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New Yorkers stand with embattled Wisconsin public employees in defense of labor rights

by Michael Hirsch

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Milwaukee union leader Mark Maierle, from Operating Engineers Local 317. Photo by Miller Photography

“Something stinks in Wisconsin, and it ain’t the cheese,” one sign read as some 200 union members joined New York City Central Labor Council leaders and elected officials for a City Hall steps rally on Feb. 23 in opposition to union busting.

The rally was a show of support for embattled Wisconsin public employees whose state governor, the newly elected Republican and Tea Party-endorsed Scott Walker, wants to strip state workers of their union rights as well as extract deep concessions on pension and health care benefits. Walker is using the threat of a projected multibillion-dollar state deficit to end the state’s century-long collective-bargaining tradition.

“It’s not about a budget fix; it’s about breaking unions,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the animated crowd. “It’s about elected officials saying ‘you have no right to organize.’”

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Wisconsin Shows Need to Move Beyond Scapegoats

Amy B. Dean

By Amy Dean

The actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other elected leaders who are following his lead speak to a striking failure of leadership: We live in an economy that has undergone massive transformations over the past several decades. Yet, instead of reckoning with the impact of these changes and understanding state-level budget troubles in light of a larger economic crisis, many of our elected officials want us to believe that states are facing difficulties for a simple reason—because of greedy public employees.

This notion is absolutely ridiculous. If we are going to come to terms with what is happening in Wisconsin and other states where governors are launching attacks on working people disguised as efforts to deal with budget issues, we must look at a wider picture. While the particulars of each individual battle are important, in the end this is not about one state. It is about confronting the disturbing tendency among our lawmakers to seek scapegoats rather than real solutions to our nation’s most central problems.

Any analysis of our common economic situation that blames middle class public employees for states’ woes—and that sees eliminating their rights as a viable solution—overlooks a straightforward and challenging reality. We have an economy that, in the last thirty years, has gone through some of the most fundamental macroeconomic change we have seen since the transition from the agrarian economy into an industrial economy. We are now in a post-industrial economy, where the rules of competition have changed. Our goods and services are no longer insulated by national boundaries or protected by restrictive trade rules.

Yet while the working world has been turned on its head as a result of this massive macroeconomic shift, our social institutions—our government, our labor laws, our educational systems—have not changed to catch up. Perhaps most significantly for the states, our tax and fiscal policy have not been updated for decades.

Nobody disputes that we have massive rising deficits and budget challenges that need to be addressed. But blaming the people who provide health care, education, and vital public services is not the way out of these problems. Instead, we must hold our leaders to a higher standard and demand from them a substantive response to a changed economic reality.

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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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