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.