Turning up the heat on Paul Ryan

by Andrew Cole

Paul Ryan's constituents wait in his Kenosha, Wis., office to meet with the congressman (Photo by Heather Kleinberg)

Shanon Molina wants answers. “I’m tired of struggling to support my family,” she says. “I’m tired of not having a decent job that provides benefits, and I’m tired of being ignored by my congressman.”

Shanon requested a meeting with her congressman, Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents a district in Southeastern Wisconsin, to voice her concerns alongside several other unemployed and underemployed constituents. Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee and the chief architect of the new Republican majority’s right-wing proposals on economic policy.

After repeatedly being denied a face-to-face meeting with her representative, Shanon and six others–now known as the Ryan Seven–sat down in his office to wait. And they won’t leave until they speak with Ryan personally.

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What’s the Real Lesson of Wisconsin for Progressives?

by Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

The fact that there were recall elections at all meant that voter anger overcame the typical inertia of off-cycle, special elections. Contrary to conventional assumptions, turnout in some areas was nearly 60 percent. Democrats were victorious in recalling two Republican senators and they were competitive in every single recall district, which is even more significant given the fact that when Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008, Democrats did not win any of these seats. In fact, the GOP carried those districts with 55 percent.

Democrats may have won just two more seats, but they should not see that as the end. It should just be the beginning. Beyond the message sent at the polls, I believe we need to concern ourselves with another question: What lessons will labor and its community allies take away from these recall races? This question is vital. We miss a key opportunity if we measure our success based only on Election Day results and not also on our ability to build permanent progressive infrastructure at the state and local levels.
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The Verizon Strike as the Next Wisconsin

by Mark Engler

Mark Engler

The picket lines are up. This past weekend 45,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast, represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), went on strike. The cause of the strike was the company’s attempts to win massive concessions from the unions. Verizon argued that the employees should give up gains they had won over many years of struggle and negotiation in previous contract fights.

As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Verizon Communications Inc. is seeking some of the biggest concessions in years from its unions.” Demands include the weakening of health-care benefits, cuts in pensions, reduced job security, and elimination of paid holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This despite the fact that the company reported billions in profit last year, and that, in the words of New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse, “Verizon’s top five executives received a total of $258 million in compensation, including stock options, over the last four years.” The unions argue that Verizon has made some $20 billion in profit in the same time period, and Citizens for Tax Justice has pointed out that the company has done so while paying little to nothing in corporate income taxes.

Without a doubt, this is a conflict of national significance. Continue reading

Wisconsin Washout

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

The failure of Democrats to win control of the Wisconsin Senate in yesterday’s recall election of six Republican senators is sobering news, coming at a time when “sobering” is about as good as news gets. Democrats unseated two GOP solons yesterday, one of whom was doubtless hurt by news of a messy divorce, but were unable to triumph over a third, which enabled Republicans to cling to a one-seat majority in the state’s upper house.

By all accounts, turnout was exceptionally high for a special election, but then, turnout should have been exceptionally high. The elections have been the focus of national attention for months, as labor poured in resources in hopes that a victory would signal that Wisconsin—birthplace of turn-of-the-century progressivism, home to Milwaukee burghers’ social democracy and Madison students’ radicalism, and the first state in the nation to legalize collective bargaining for public employees—rejected Republican Governor Scott Walker’s new law stripping bargaining rights from those public employees. Wisconsin, though, is just as much a home to reaction as it has been to progressivism, the stomping grounds of Joe McCarthy and, today, Paul Ryan. The funds and the volunteers that labor and the left mobilized for this campaign were matched by a torrent of money from the right. And on Tuesday, reactionary Wisconsin beat progressive Wisconsin by a nose.The contest and its outcome calls to mind Ohio during the 2004 presidential race. Of all the states that campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry contested, Ohio saw the greatest investment from both sides. With funding from unions and such individual donors as George Soros, the Democrats waged a massive voter identification and mobilization effort that was, however, ultimately outmatched by the Bush campaign’s extraordinary mobilization of conservative Christians. Each side pulled their base; the GOP just had a little more base to draw from. As it did yesterday in Wisconsin.

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Post Mortem in Wisconsin: How Labor Missed Another Opportunity

by Joseph Riedel

 Let me be the first to say this: Labor could have won last night.  Adding to its ever-growing string of missed opportunities, Big Labor fired yet another round into its already bullet-riddled feet.

Yes, winning two races in GOP territory is a big accomplishment, and should be lauded.  However, the avoidable strategic missteps that kept Democrats from winning a crucial 3rd race cannot be ignored.  Allow me to present a few observations I made on the ground in Wisconsin:

1.  Labor once again let the Democratic Party run the show.  Imagine if Labor would have run its own candidates as independents.  This would have neutralized heavy party-line voting in the GOP strongholds.
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The meaning of Wisconsin

Labor-backed Democrats won two of the three  races needed to take control of the Wisconsin Senate. Disappointing at first glance, but maybe not. Here’s what some experts say.

Gary Sargent, Political Animal

But I still consider the events of the last several months in Wisconsin rather remarkable. Just a half-year after Republicans scored major wins in a key swing state, up and down the ballot, labor and its Democratic allies managed to organize historic protests in Madison, rally the grassroots to collect thousands of petition signatures, force an unheard of six GOP incumbents into recall elections, and win a third of the races despite a considerable influx of outside conservative money.

Also note the specifics of the electoral battleground: these six Wisconsin districts elected Republican state senators in 2008 — a great year for Democrats. In other words, yesterday’s recall elections were held in districts that can safely be described as GOP strongholds, making the left’s efforts that much more difficult.

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Labor led insurgency in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Recalls Under Way: Turnout’s Key
by Mike Hall, Aug 9, 2011. AFL-CIO


Turnout will be the determining factor today in the six Wisconsin state Senate districts where working family voters have the chance to recall the Walker 6—Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) closest state Senate allies who spearheaded his move to take away the collective bargaining rights of public employees and ram through a budget devastating to working families.

In a massive mobilization effort, more than 12,000 volunteers have made more than a million voter contacts in the six districts and, just this past weekend, We Are Wisconsin volunteers knocked on more than 125,000 doors.

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt says voters “can’t afford to sit this one out.” Continue reading

45,000 workers on strike at Verizon

Communications Workers of America

Image via Wikipedia

Washington, D.C. — More than 45,000 workers are on strike today at Verizon Communications. Bargaining continues. Since bargaining began on June 22, Verizon has refused to move from a long list of concession demands. As the contract expired, nearly 100 concessionary company proposals remained on the table.

As a result, CWA and IBEW have decided to take the unprecedented step of striking until Verizon stops its Wisconsin-style tactics and starts bargaining seriously.

Even at the 11th hour, as contracts were set to expire, Verizon continued to seek to strip away 50 years of collective bargaining gains for middle class workers and their families.

CWA and IBEW members are prepared to return to work when management demonstrates the willingness to begin bargaining seriously for a fair agreement. If not, CWA and IBEW members and allies will continue the fight. Continue reading

Scott Walker’s Favorite Bank Runs But Cannot Hide

by Paul Garver

Workers from Wisconsin will be joined by New York firefighters, construction workers, public employees, and other union and community supporters in a demonstration in front of the Marshall and Ilsley (M&I) Shareholders’ Meeting on
Tuesday May 17th at 12 noon (at the NY Marriott Marquis, Times Square Manhattan).

M&I Bank moved its shareholders’ meeting from Milwaukee to New York City to try to avoid protests by Wisconsin citizens. M&I executives donated at least $46,361 to Scott Walker during the 2010 election and have donated $347,148 since 2000 to the
Wisconsin GOP politicians who helped Walker push his anti-worker

The M & I Bank received a $1.75 billion bailout from the Troubled Asset Relief Program of which $1.3 billion still has not been returned to taxpayers.  By agreeing to have the M & I Bank acquired by the Bank of Montreal (BMO), M & I executives will receive $71 million compensation payments when M&I is acquired by BMO later this year.   Thus the same executives who are financing the right-wing attack on unions are brazenly circumventing the law that prohibits bonuses to bank executives until the TARP funds are repaid.

An earlier article in Talking Union reports on the action of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO closing its account at the M&I Bank in protest.

For more information on the demonstration at noon Tuesday 17 May contact Paul Pimentel, Sheet Metal Workers’ International
Association, AFL-CIO, Mobile: 202 812-8159.

Egypt: Independent Unions Protest Anti-Strike Law

by Paul Garver

The Egyptian cabinet has issued a draft law that would criminalize strikes, protests and sit-ins by imposing prison sentences and fines on anyone who calls for such actions.

Ths draft law has already been approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces oppose strikes because they operate many profit-making businesses, including food processing industries, often acquired by misappropriating billions of dollars in U.S.military aid.

The newly organized Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), describing the decree as “a grave and worrisome development” intended to stifle the democratic revolution and block the creation of a genuine civil society in Egypt, is organizing protest demonstrations.  The discredited official Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) affiliated to the ruling government party supports the legislation.  Sharon Burrow, General Secretary of  the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), states:

“Working people do not need discredited and unrepresentative remnants of the old regime to talk on their behalf. Like workers everywhere, they are perfectly capable of organising their own trade unions, but they can only do this effectively if the authorities refrain from the anti-democratic habits of the past.”

The independent Egyptian labor unions sent messages of support and even pizzas to the demonstrators in Wisconsin.  We should reciprocate by supporting worker rights in Egypt in any way we can.  It is vitally important that the democratic revolution progress in Egypt, and defending the right to strike and protest is an absolute prerequisite for further advance.