We Stand with Wisconsin Workers” was the message from 15,000 workers and community allies at the March 26 “Our Communities, Our Good Jobs” march through downtown Los Angeles and rally at Pershing Square. Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association President Mahlon Mitchell was on the lead banner and spoke to the rally. He called on workers to “stay in the streets” to win. A mini-rally at a Ralphs grocery store on the march route put the full support of regional unions on the side of the Food and Commercial Workers in their current contract negotiations. Bosses forced a 20-week strike in 2003-2004.
Across the state of Wisconsin the sweeping people’s rebellion continues every day. From all areas of the state poor and working people are in motion to defeat the union-busting bill Gov. Scott Walker signed March 11. The fightback now encompasses broader demands, as people are directly challenging the billions of dollars in budget cuts politicians like Walker have proposed at the behest of banks, corporations and the Pentagon.
The people’s mass resistance on numerous fronts won a temporary victory on March 18. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi ordered a temporary injunction against the bill that was illegally rammed through the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate on March 9 and 10, respectively, and then signed by Walker.
Sumi evaluated a complaint filed by the Dane County District Attorney’s office arguing that Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature violated state open meetings requirements when they approved the law. The next court hearing on the complaint is scheduled for March 29. On March 21 the Wisconsin Attorney General appealed Sumi’s ruling to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, asking it to strike down the temporary injunction by March 25, the day the bill is to be published.
People are planning on packing the courts on all dates. Labor unions and other organizations are moving on both legal fronts and through direct action to overturn the illegal bill and to fight Walker’s 2011-13 budget, which cut billions of dollars from programs that service millions of poor and working people.
‘A class war’
Ed Childs, chief steward of UNITE HERE Local 26 in Boston and a member of the Bail Out the People Movement, was in Wisconsin March 15-20. He spoke in Milwaukee and Madison at labor, community and student meetings and often visited the student occupation at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was usually accompanied by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 82 President Gilbert Johnson, members of Students for a Democratic Society, and members of BOPM from Detroit and North Carolina, who also came to Wisconsin to support the struggle.
“I spent three days in Milwaukee and a couple of days in Madison,” said Childs. “It’s amazing. The first thing that gets you is the mass atmosphere — similar to when you’re on strike — the statewide progressive consciousness. I’ve also seen such a mass-consciousness struggle in Belfast — a class war — and it’s spelled out very specifically here. It’s in the speeches at rallies but also in daily conversations.”
Added Childs: “Workers and students have to keep moving because it is a war, and we have an opponent that has trillions of dollars, and [that opponent is] going to do everything [it] possibly can to defeat us. Workers and students are learning every day what needs to be done and what can be done, and we are doing it. Workers and students want to move; they want to move drastically. They want to win.
“It’s great that the consciousness has risen, that the people are open to doing things. Now we have to get into more of the nitty-gritty tactics like the occupation of the Capitol and the art school at UW-Milwaukee. It’s the understanding within the labor movement, the community groups, students and workers in general that we have to learn strategies on how to win. Wisconsin is the ground zero for this struggle in the United States right now.”
On March 19, the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, joint labor and anti-war actions took place in both Milwaukee and Madison, and individuals and organizations opposed the new U.S. war on Libya as well. In Milwaukee, Tom Burke of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression also spoke out against the government harassment of anti-war, solidarity and union activists.
Later that day in Madison, students of color marched to the Capitol, then spoke out against the government’s war on people of color. That war includes attacks on immigrants and ethnic studies. The students also proudly demonstrated their artwork and spirited cultural performances.
On March 21 a group of seniors marched on the Capitol to demand no cuts to SeniorCare and other programs they need. Continue reading
Gov. Scott Walker, who spearheaded the recent bill dismantling collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, is not the first Wisconsin governor to push through anti-poor, anti-worker legislation. In 1997, just one year after the Clinton administration dismantled the federally funded Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson instituted state anti-welfare legislation called “Wisconsin Works” or “W2.”
Wisconsin Works had nothing to do with providing single mothers with decent-paying jobs and childcare. Instead, it had everything to do with driving thousands of single mothers into deeper poverty with either low-wage jobs or a pittance of cash assistance. It had a devastating impact across the state, but especially in Milwaukee, where 68 percent of Wisconsin’s African-American population lives. This cruel, reactionary legislation was funded by the right-wing Heritage and Bradley foundations.
Fourteen years later, the effects from W2 are still being felt in the 26th most populous city in the U.S. In 2010, 40 percent of all evictions in Milwaukee were of African-American women, especially single mothers. Milwaukee has an overall unemployment rate of close to 27 percent — almost triple the official national rate. This figure is second in the U.S. only to Detroit. Milwaukee is suffering from a 53 percent unemployment rate among African-American men. Other genocidal conditions in Milwaukee include growing poverty, homelessness, incarcerations, public school closings and police brutality.
Black workers, especially women, have depended heavily on public sector jobs to help them get out of poverty, own a home, send their children to college, and retire with a livable pension like all workers should. Losing their jobs to anti-union bills and devastating budget cuts is creating a deeper crisis within the Black community in disproportionate numbers.
The ongoing struggle in Wisconsin is an important lesson that shows the need for building grassroots labor/student and community alliances. Class solidarity with the oppressed city of Milwaukee has to be the number-one priority in the mass fight against union busting, budget cuts and racism — all divide-and-conquer tools of the capitalist bosses and their bought-and-paid-for politicians like Walker.
When unions in Washington, D.C., found out that the BRG Group, a Republican lobbying firm, was hosting a $1,000-to-$5,000-a-head fundraiser on March 16 for Wisconsin legislators, they put union solidarity into action.
They knew the legislators were coming to collect their rich reward from wealthy anti-union benefactors for passing the bill that would strip public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Just as unionists and students took over the Capitol in Madison, Wis., several thousand D.C. union members and their supporters broke through security lines and took over several floors of the atrium in the building housing BRG’s fundraiser.
Unionists hoisted a banner demanding “Respect workers’ rights” on the second-floor railing, held a sea of signs like “Stop the war on the workers,” chanted slogans like “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” and held an hour-long rally there.
AFL-CIO Metro President Jos Williams congratulated the protesters for “liberating this building from the forces of greed and tyranny.” Joran from Madison said: “This reminds me of being home. It’s beautiful to see so much support. [Legislators] think they can … [tell] us that public workers are the enemy, but we know that we are all together. An injury to one is an injury to all!” Afterwards, the protesters swelled the equally big demonstration outside and marched to the White House with their message of solidarity. (Metro Washington, D.C., AFL-CIO Council’s online newsletter, Union City!, March 17)
The passage of right-wing Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting bill should not be the end of the story in Wisconsin. It should be the beginning of a new phase of escalated struggle by the unions, the community and students to overturn this illegal denial of workers’ rights.
Walker and the right-wing Republican state legislative group are outright tools of the banks, the bondholders and corporations that are rolling in money and still putting their profits before union rights and people’s needs.
There are many grounds on which to base a mass fightback to overturn this bill: It is illegal under international law; it was passed illegally; it denies fundamental rights of unions and all workers, and it attacks communities and students.
There are many ways to fight back and time to prepare. But the most important and decisive ways to fight back involve the collective united action of the unions in alliance with communities and students and youth. It will take direct action to stop “business as usual” until the law is repealed —whether by some kind of general strike, mass direct action or another form of struggle. The politicians and their corporate backers must be made to pay a high enough price that they will withdraw this reactionary, anti-worker, anti-people law.
Collective bargaining is a civil right and a workers’ right. Without collective bargaining rights, a union is defenseless and will soon perish. The states in the South, where collective bargaining rights are denied, have the lowest union density in the country and are also the poorest.
Collective bargaining rights ultimately boil down to the right to food, housing, medical care, education and a decent retirement — that is, the right to live a decent life. No right-wing legislator, acting on behalf of millionaires and billionaires, has the right to deny union rights.
The great outpouring of unions and workers all over the state and coming from other states, as well as strong student support for over four weeks, has electrified union members, communities and students all over the country. This has created very favorable conditions in which to launch a further struggle to overturn the law.
Walker has said he wants his “PATCO moment.” When Ronald Reagan crushed the 18,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association in 1981 by firing all of them and barring them from federal employment for life, that union and its cause were little known to the public. Breaking the union at that time evoked no mass support or resistance.
The opposite is true today. The Wisconsin public employee unions have ignited a firestorm of union support that has spread to every city and town in the state and across the country, from coast to coast. The unions can count on widespread support and solidarity if they decide on a general strike or some other form of fightback.
There are many forms of a general strike. In 1934, in classic, full-scale municipal general strikes, the longshore workers won the right to organize in San Francisco, the Teamsters won the right to organize in Minneapolis, and the Auto-Lite workers won the right to organize in Toledo, Ohio.
The Wisconsin’s South Central Federation of Labor has given out information about a state-wide rolling general strike in Ontario from 1995 to 1998. It provides a recent model that lays out in detail the necessary preparations for and execution of this type of strike. During that period there were 11 “Days of Action,” which ultimately pushed back the Ontario government’s proposed anti-labor, austerity program.
Whatever actions are decided on going forward, the most important aspect is that the workers and the broader masses supporting them stay mobilized in one way or another. A general strike, even a one-day strike or a series of short strikes, takes the greatest preparation. But as long as the unions, the communities and the students stay engaged and work toward the closest unity and organization, taking the necessary time to plan their campaigns, they can win.
In the meantime, demonstrations around the state and the country can lay the groundwork for a much bigger struggle.
Right now all public service workers are under attack. They have suffered a setback in Ohio, where anti-union legislation has passed the state Senate, but this can be reversed through struggle. There are battles coming up in Indiana and Michigan. Dozens of state governments are waiting to see the outcome in Wisconsin. The bankers are rooting for Walker. Right-wing politicians are sharpening their legislative knives, hoping to cut the throats of the public worker unions.
Wisconsin is where unions and their supporters have made the strongest challenge. Union rights have been under attack in the U.S. for 30 years. But because Walker has made such a vicious attack, Wisconsin is both the flashpoint of the struggle andthe place where the workers are the strongest.
When Walker tried to mobilize popular support for his program, only a few hundred Tea Party types showed up for a day or two. They soon disappeared under the pressure of the tens of thousands of pro-union demonstrators who showed up day after day, week after week.
Walker has a right-wing legislative majority, but he and his cause are overwhelmingly in the minority among the active masses of the population. And in a real struggle, this is what counts.
Legality and class struggle
As a moment of decision on struggle approaches, there are many who will point out the great legal difficulties that public employees face regarding strikes and mass action. It is important to note, though, that it was once illegal for public employees to form a union at all. Only strikes and struggles overturned the laws barring public employees from organizing in the first place.
The legal right to form a union was once denied to all workers. But the struggle, mass action, sit-down strikes, general strikes and industrial strikes won those rights on the ground. The laws then changed based on what the workers were able to wrest from the bosses or the government. Continue reading
The struggle of the poor and working people in Wisconsin against union-busting and anti-people attacks has ushered in a new period of fightback and resistance in the United States from coast to coast.
On March 12, in possibly the biggest progressive demonstration in Wisconsin’s history, tens of thousands of people from across the Badger state, the country and worldwide joined to protest the illegal passing and signing of a union-busting and anti-people bill at the state Capitol in Madison.
“In the biggest rally in Madison since the protests started [Feb. 14], hundreds of thousands of working families, small business owners, farmers, students, religious groups, women’s rights groups, environmentalists, private sector workers and public sector workers gathered to say that worker rights are human rights and they must be protected,” says the Wisconsin AFL-CIO on its blog (wisaflcio.typepad.com). The AFL-CIO estimated the crowd at 185,000.
The protest included a “Tractorcade” of thousands of farmers who drove their tractors to Madison and joined a mobile picket line around the Capitol for hours. The farmers carried signs such as “Don’t farm out our jobs,” “Wisconsin farmers support public employees,” and “Plowing forward for democracy.”
Students were also out in force as they have been all along. Students for a Democratic Society marched with a lead banner reading, “No cuts to education: No fees, no layoffs; education is a right!” SDS, with campus unions and community organizations, has organized numerous walkouts and other protests at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee over the past month.
TheUptake.org reports that on March 11 students across the country walked out of classes in response to a call from Madison students for a national strike.
Unionized teaching assistants at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, along with students from K-12 and higher education from all across the state and beyond participated on March 12.
Members of labor, student and community organizations from larger cities like Milwaukee to small, rural towns came to fight against union-busting and other political, economic and social attacks against poor and working people included in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012-13 budget proposal.
Speakers at the main rally also included Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub, star of ‘Monk;’ the Rev. Jerry Folk; Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin AFL-CIO president; Tom Buffenburgar, IAMAW president; Marty Biel, executive director AFSCME Council 24; Guy Costello, teacher in the South Milwaukee School District; Heather Terrill-Stotts, principal, Arena Elementary School; Christine Neumann Ortiz, Voces de la Frontera, executive director; Anna Zachow, SEIU Healthcare home worker; Mahlon Mitchell, firefighter president; Jeff Myers, AFT; Sheila Cochran, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; and Mary Bell, president of WEAC.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Both within the U.S. and internationally, solidarity with the poor and working people of Wisconsin and across the country is on the rise.
On March 12, members of the German telecommunications union, ver.di, rallied to support bargaining rights for workers in the U.S., and the ver.di chairperson wrote a protest letter to Walker.
Wisconsin state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Stephanie Bloomingdale, spoke in Toronto on March 14 and shared her experiences with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO receives letters, donations and more on a daily basis from unions across the U.S. and beyond. Solidarity demonstrations have taken and are taking place across the U.S. and internationally. Egyptian workers, a beacon of hope and inspiration to the poor and working people of Wisconsin, have sent donations for food and other assistance.
Every day protest actions large and small are taking place throughout Wisconsin.
Union federations and locals worldwide are passing support resolutions such as the one entitled, “Support the Initiative for a General Strike in Wisconsin — and Prepare for Nationally-Coordinated Solidarity Job Actions,” adopted unanimously March 2 by the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 214. This resolution adds to one passed by the 46,000 member South Central Federation of Labor in Madison Feb. 21 (http://scfl.org/).
Stephen King, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others have spoken, marched, and/or raised funds for the workers in Wisconsin and other states under siege by the banks, the corporations and the Pentagon. Michael Moore, who spoke in Madison on March 5, gave a talk entitled, “America is Not Broke” demanding the rich pay up and calling for massive direct action resistance from poor and working people nationwide.
The National Nurses United, who have led marches in Madison and are participating in the fightback against the union-busting bills in Madison and nationwide, are circulating a leaflet which declares: “Just Say NO — no more concessions nor more cuts: Need Revenue? Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share.” (nationalnursesunited.org)
Walker proposed his “budget repair bill” on Feb. 11, which called for virtually eliminating collective bargaining rights for up to 200,000 public sector workers in Wisconsin. Walker wanted the bill rammed through the Wisconsin Legislature in five days — but an 18-day mass occupation of the Capitol and massive demonstrations, and walkouts, sickouts and other student-worker rebellions statewide stalled the bill for weeks. Fourteen Democratic senators left the state to deny Walker a quorum in the Senate and delay the vote.
On March 9 Republicans claimed that only the budget measures required a quorum. They said they had separated out the anti-union measures from the rest of the bill and could now hold the vote. Using this maneuver, the state Senate rushed to ram it through. Hearing of this, “several thousand people arrived to protest outside the locked-down Capitol building, eventually forcing their way inside. One Democratic senator called the vote illegal, referencing an open meeting law that requires that the Senate provide 24-hour notice of such action, which the Republicans did not do.” (fightbacknews.org)
Later, tens of thousands descended upon the Capitol, reoccupying it and erupting into shouts of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “General strike!”
On March 10 the Assembly was unable to convene until afternoon as hundreds of mostly students occupied the lobby leading to the Assembly chambers; some also occupied the Assembly chambers. After a host of police physically dragged out the protesters, the Assembly convened and passed the bill.
Tens of thousands of protesters on the outside of the Capitol were illegally barred from entering the the Capitol by hundreds of police on March 10 — despite a court injunction won against Scott Walker’s administration the previous week stating that the public must have access to the inside of the Capitol from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
On March 11, Walker signed the union-busting bill into law. Because of the illegal and criminal way the bill was passed through the Assembly and the Senate, some unions have called for injunctions and for other means to overturn it. Other protest actions include recall campaigns and ongoing demonstrations. Calls for and discussion of a general strike are also growing daily. Some educational information for local unions is posted at the South Central Labor Federation’s website: (www.scfl.org/?page=generalstrike)
After the Assembly illegally passed the illegal bill on March 10, Joe Conway, president of the Madison firefighters’ union, said that the political situation has grown so dire in Wisconsin, he’d support a general strike.
“We should start walking out tomorrow, the next day … See how long they can last,” he told reporters with The Uptake. “This is a nationwide movement to attack all working men and women in Wisconsin and the United States.”
From the beginning of the people’s struggle against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill,” at the behest of the banks, corporations and the Pentagon, thousands of peace and anti-war forces have traveled to Madison and other parts of the state to confront the politicians’ and their rich backers’ lie that there’s no money for people’s needs.
The United National Anti-War Committee sent a solidarity delegation to Madison for the tens-of-thousands-strong Feb. 26 protest at the state Capitol. UNAC members from Minnesota, Illinois, Vermont and Virginia carried a 25-foot banner that read, “Stop the war on unions, Muslims, immigrants and communities of color!” They passed out thousands of fliers linking defense of unions with opposing wars abroad.
The UNAC statement concludes by demanding, “Money For Jobs, Not War!” and calling on poor and working people to support, build for and attend the anti-war rally and marches in New York City on April 9 and April 10 in San Francisco. Go to UNACPeace.org to read their entire statement of solidarity with Wisconsin workers.
According to Costofwar, since 2001 taxpayers in Wisconsin — the overwhelming majority of whom are poor and working people — have been robbed of more than $18 billion to fund just the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As in the countries where the U.S. is waging war, domestically the effects of the U.S. wars affect children, women and people of color the worst. (costofwar.com/en)
U.S. Labor Against the War states, “Solidarity with Public Workers in Wisconsin Is a Stand for Public Workers and Labor Rights Everywhere.” (uslaboragainstwar.org/).
Iraq Veterans Against the War issued a statement to members of the Wisconsin National Guard during the weekend of Feb. 18 that reads in part: “In the midst of the growing protests in Madison, and across the Midwest, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently stated that he was preparing the National Guard to respond to any problems following the introduction of union-busting legislation in Wisconsin. We know that National Guard troops have been used in the past against striking workers, protesting students, and to quell urban rebellions in the U.S., at times with horrifying results (think Jackson and Kent State, 1970). But recent events in Egypt remind us that service members have the power to side with the people.” (www.ivaw.org)
Other organizations also sending solidarity delegations to Madison are Veterans For Peace, the Wisconsin Network For Peace and Justice, Peace Action Wisconsin, Courage to Resist, the Answer Coalition, the International Action Center, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Stop FBI Repression and Women Against Military Madness.
The movement to stop Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” continues to draw mass support nationally and internationally. The resistance has blossomed into a statewide people’s rebellion with rallies, demonstrations, candlelight vigils and other protest actions all focused on “kill the bill.”
A mass rally at the state Capitol in Madison March 5 drew 50,000 people, according to the state AFL-CIO. Even the police estimated 30,000 to 40,000 participated. On March 6 thousands also protested at the Capitol.
Again, it was the solid opposition to the bill’s language stripping public workers of virtually all collective bargaining rights that brought out tens of thousands of union members. They came from all over Wisconsin as well as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Ohio, the Dakotas and other states.
All the public sector unions turned out. Together they represent hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s teachers, health care providers, firefighters, janitors, office workers, transit workers and more. Students, who sparked the people’s rebellion by occupying the state Capitol Feb. 15, were again out in force from K-12 and higher education on March 5 and 6.
The Amalgamated Transit Union chose March 5 to mobilize with buses and carpools coming from around the Midwest. Private sector workers were there in solidarity, with large contingents from the Teamsters, Laborers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Members of the Pipefitters, Plumbers, Sheet Metal Workers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Steamfitters, Boilermakers, Electricians, Steelworkers and United Auto Workers unions also participated. All were united in an understanding of the classic union slogan — which appeared on many homemade signs — “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
There were many indicators of overwhelming working-class and popular support for the fight against both union busting and the draconian cuts in social services Walker has proposed. Doctors, sporting lab coats and stethoscopes, marched to defend their low-income patients who stand to lose health care coverage if Walker cuts state-funded “Badgercare.” The Sierra Club carried signs against the bill, which will weaken recycling programs.
Arriving in the morning and marching for hours before the rally officially began, a multinational group of middle and high school students from Racine, Wis., roused everyone with the popular chant: “This is what democracy looks like.”
Homemade signs blasted Walker for his servile relationship — exposed by the now-famous prank phone call — with the wealthy Koch brothers, who are major financial backers of the Tea Party. The governor was lampooned as a “Koch [pronounced “coke”] addict.”
On March 6 the National Association of Letter Carriers, sponsors of that day’s rally, turned out hundreds of members to “deliver” a message of solidarity. NALC Branch 214 in San Francisco had passed unanimously on March 2 a resolution titled “Support the Initiative for a General Strike in Wisconsin — and Prepare for Nationally Coordinated Solidarity Job Actions.” The resolution was in solidarity with one passed in February by the South Central Federation of Labor based in Madison.
The Associated Press reported March 6 that 700 Walker supporters, rallying at the Alliant Energy building in Madison, were met by “hundreds” of protesters. At the state Capitol rally — which drew many thousands despite the anti-right-wing protest — it was announced that 1,000 protesters were outside the Alliant building while fewer than 100 Walker supporters were counted inside in a room with a 400-person maximum capacity.
Earlier, on March 3, National Nurses United led a march of thousands in Madison demanding that the bill be killed entirely and that there be no more cuts for workers. Continue reading
The great struggle of the Wisconsin public workers has galvanized union solidarity on a national level not seen since 1981. That was when the AFL-CIO organized the Solidarity Day demonstration of half a million workers in Washington, D.C., after President Ronald Reagan had fired 18,000 air traffic controllers, members of the PATCO union, and banned them from federal employment for life.
But Solidarity Day in 1981 was a one-shot, symbolic action that came and went because the issue was quickly abandoned by the top leadership after the demonstration was over. This time it’s different.
The determined and sustained stand by the Wisconsin unions, students and community supporters against the union-busting, right-wing Gov. Scott Walker and his corporate backers has aroused workers all over the country. It has raised hope that the unending nightmare of attacks on the working class, and the unions in particular, can be stopped. The direct action of occupying the Capitol building in Madison for two weeks has inspired unionists and their sympathizers from all 50 states — and even from other countries — who have rallied to the cause with donations and other expressions of solidarity.
Wisconsin has shown the potential power, not only of a united labor struggle, but of a budding alliance among unions, the community, and students and youth. Such a prospect can turn the nightmare that labor has been facing into a nightmare for the bosses and bankers.
A majority now favor union rights
Indeed, big business is extremely worried about what effect this eruption of union solidarity will have on the general population and has sent its pollsters to find out. All the polling outfits, including the Wall Street Journal/NBC, the right-wing Rasmussen Reports and several others, got the same results. Sympathy for unions is back on the map in the United States, with 60 percent and more favoring the defense of collective bargaining rights and a similar majority in favor of unions.
The Wisconsin struggle has overcome a decades-long campaign of slander against unions and has successfully countered the effects of all the big business propaganda against so-called “overpaid public workers.”
The defense of collective bargaining as a fundamental right in Wisconsin has strong implications for future campaigns against anti-union, “right-to-work” laws in the South and Southwest.
Despite the great progress that has been made and the great potential that this struggle holds, however, strong measures are going to be needed for victory.
Wisconsin’s public employees are facing a hard-right governor who has a hard-right majority in both houses of the Legislature. This is a struggle against the capitalist state, which has capitalist legal authority, judges, financial power and the instruments of force at its disposal to be used against the workers. This is far greater immediate power than any private corporation has at its disposal.
Up against bondholders and bankers
Equally important, the unions are not up against just Gov. Walker, the billionaire Koch brothers, who help to finance the anti-union slander campaign, and the Tea Party.
They are up against the rich bondholders, the bankers who stand behind them and the entire ruling class. These forces are hoping Walker can kill off collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. Of course, they want it to be done without provoking a great class struggle — they are fearful of such a development. But they are silently behind Walker.
Consider the following item that appeared in the Philadelphia Enquirer online on Feb. 22:
“Of all the Republican proposals for not paying retired teachers and state troopers the pensions promised in more prosperous times, investors prefer Wisconsin-style union-busting over the state-bankruptcy gamble proposed by ex-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
“State bankruptcy could let governments break their union contracts and cancel benefits, but it ‘is less desirable to the bondholder, because it creates a higher level of uncertainty that would increase borrowing costs for states and local municipalities,’ says Michael Crow, who manages $3 billion in clients’ bond investments in state and local governments for Glenmede, the Philadelphia trust bank.
“Barring unions from negotiating benefits, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to do, is more likely to improve states’ credit.”
Behind the bondholders stand the banks. Banks have guaranteed $53 billion in state and municipal bonds that come due in 2011 alone. Another $24 billion more come due in 2012, and so on.
While the Koch brothers may be cheering Walker on, their view coincides with the view of a large section of finance capital. These are the same financiers who were bailed out to the tune of $10 trillion, who are making record profits, and who are paying politicians like Walker to declare that there is no money, so the unions and the poor have to be sacrificed. Continue reading
Editor’s note: The writer is a municipal worker, longtime union activist and past president of United Auto Workers Local 2334 in Detroit. He was in Madison, Wis., Feb. 19-21, with a solidarity delegation from Detroit and Chicago.
The struggle now unfolding in Wisconsin will go down in history as the beginning of the long delayed fightback of the U.S. working class. Union and progressive activists have been scanning the horizon for decades, really since the “Reagan revolution,” for signs of a labor resurgence against concessions, unemployment and union busting. Not a few have given in to demoralization, convinced that the working class of this country would not be able to rise to its feet. It has taken only a few days for the workers and students of Wisconsin to prove them wrong.
History has repeatedly shown that repression breeds resistance and that many important fights arose from the working class defending itself. In Wisconsin the cocky Gov. Scott Walker, egged on by his Tea Party cronies, went way beyond demands for concessions from public workers to propose ending any real collective bargaining rights for these 175,000 workers.
It may be that Walker overreached himself in his right-wing enthusiasm. It is more likely that the Wall Street corporate bosses and bankers, to whom Wisconsin and other states and municipalities are beholden to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars in loans, gave orders for this new phase of the attack on workers and their organizations. It is certainly no coincidence that bills with almost identical language are being introduced and discussed in other states at the same time.
Now tens of thousands of workers are in motion. They are meeting, discussing, marching, rallying and striking in unprecedented numbers to defend their collective bargaining rights. Special notice must be taken of the students, both in colleges and high schools, who took the advanced position of seizing, occupying and holding the state Capitol building in Madison. Their energy and enthusiasm are impressive. Their commitment to the struggle for union rights and against cuts to education has fired up the student movement across the U.S.
It can be said, with no exaggeration, that the United States has not seen anything like this mobilization since the 1930s or 1940s. Certainly there have been strikes, large and often bitter. There have been mass marches, like Solidarity Day that labor called in 1981 against PATCO union busting. But they are nothing in scope and depth like the developments in Wisconsin.
One can find many things missing in the Wisconsin struggle. The students lack organization and experience. The union leaders also have little experience to lean on to counter this plan to destroy the unions wholesale. This is inevitable after such a long hiatus in open class warfare. It is only in the struggle that this experience will be gained. New organizations and greater consciousness will emerge as the struggle continues.
‘Necessary cutbacks’ or general strike?
More attention must be paid to exposing the lie that “cutbacks are necessary.” It needs to be pointed out that there is plenty of money to cover the big deficits in municipal, state and the federal budgets. The profits of the corporations and banks are at a record high — tax them. Interest to the banks is draining the public treasuries — put a freeze on debt service payments. The Pentagon budget and imperialist wars abroad add up to over a trillion dollars a year — slash it. Not a penny has to come from the workers or from critical social service programs.
The Feb. 21 resolution by the Wisconsin South Central Federation of Labor — representing about 45,000 workers in six counties — for a general strike represents a new stage in the struggle. Even during the vicious union-busting attack on the Detroit newspaper strikers in 1995, the Metro-Detroit AFL-CIO central labor council rejected a motion from the floor to have all local unions “vote to authorize a general strike if the council decides it necessary.” The reason given at the time was that “it has never happened in U.S. history.” The fact is that U.S. labor history records many general strikes, like those in Seattle in 1919 and San Francisco in 1934. But union leaders in an era of relative labor peace often shrink from the thought of all-out class warfare.
A general strike would require education and preparation. It would be foolish to think that a mass across-the-board walkout would happen or succeed by just issuing the call. The Wisconsin resolution specified that education begin in all locals on the function of and preparation for a general strike. Serious and careful work in every local union must now begin.
The public, especially the students, must be informed and organized, too. The unions must have a plan — and let the public know — for emergency services. And union leaders and members must be ready for the inevitable attack from the government. Some of the media are already giving dire warnings against a general strike, citing the hated Taft-Hartley Act. It will be incumbent upon national union leaders to gather support and prepare action to show solidarity with the Wisconsin workers in the face of certain government retaliation.
Whatever the outcome of the battle of Wisconsin, the labor movement will never be the same. The growing resentment against all the many attacks on workers, the cutbacks in social services, the racism and oppression permeating society are making a massive fightback necessary and inevitable throughout the United States. Wisconsin workers and students have shown the way.