Wisconsin struggle continues in courts & streets

Photo: Wisconsin AFL-CIO

The ongoing people’s struggle in Wisconsin won a victory in the April 5 elections when independent Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg won a seat in the Wisconsin Supreme Court over Justice David Prosser, a Republican conservative. It was announced on April 5 that Kloppenburg had won the election by a few hundred votes.

However, another battle in the class war in Wisconsin erupted when Kathy Nickolaus, county clerk in predominantly conservative Waukesha, Wis., declared at a press conference April 6 that she had “found” more votes for Prosser. Nickolaus said that she had made a “human error” in recording vote totals, and that the real total is 7,500 more for Prosser than reported on election night. These numbers put Prosser in front, conveniently out of range of a state-financed recount.

The election for justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court historically has a lower turnout than many other statewide elections. But an illegal union busting bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker on March 11 is to be taken up by the court in the near future. The bill would essentially eliminate collective bargaining rights for up to 200,000 public sector workers and cut health care insurance for the poor, amid other draconian cuts. There is currently an injunction stopping the bill from being published, since publishing it would make it enforceable.

This election, therefore, took on deep significance and became, in many ways, a referendum against union busting and in support of collective bargaining.

Nickolaus formerly worked for Prosser when he was a Republican assemblyperson in Madison, Wis., and in 2002 was granted immunity from testifying during Republican caucus investigations concerning campaign finance violations by Republican legislators and their staff. Since taking her position as county clerk she has demanded that election data stay on her personal computer, under her personal control.

Prosser has hired Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer who worked on the Florida recount for George W. Bush in 2000. (www.progressive.org)

The Kloppenburg forces are fighting for a recount and for other redress. Kloppenburg joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. and others at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee on April 8 to protest and strategize the fightback. A protest at the Waukesha county clerk’s office took place that same day.

But, as with the labor-community-student struggle that has broken out in Wisconsin since Feb. 11 — when Walker issued his “budget repair bill” — the people of Wisconsin aren’t relying exclusively on the courts and the Legislature. They are engaging in numerous direct actions and other protest actions statewide. The people’s uprising in Wisconsin is in full swing, as seen in the numerous April 4 “We Are One” actions.

Rallies took place in Milwaukee on April 4 and in Madison on April 9, while other protest actions took place statewide throughout the week. The progressive coalition Wisconsin Wave sponsored a People’s Assembly on April 9 and 10 in Madison that focused on ways to fight the Walker administration’s union busting tactics; strategizing on how to build a people’s movement; and researching where the money is — the banks, corporations and the Pentagon — and how to get it, among other issues. The progressive coalition Wisconsin Resists has been mobilizing on various fronts in Madison as well.

Poor and working people across the state, either as part of an organization or individually, are engaged in recall campaigns, building protest events and more. Facebook, blogs and other communications are helping to build the people’s movement.

On April 11 in New Berlin, Wis., a city of 38,000 people between Milwaukee and Waukesha, the largest pro-worker-rights rally in the history of the city took place.

Sandy Jacobs, an occupational therapist at Milwaukee Mental Health Complex and member of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, joined the New Berlin protest. She has worked for 25 years as a health professional — both with and without a union.

“I am here because having a union — having a voice on the job — is crucial to patient care. Attacking workers’ rights is not what I value as a Wisconsinite. We need our representatives to listen to the people,” said Jacobs. “I am here to hold my elected officials accountable.” (wisaflcio.typepad.com)

Mobilizing is also going on statewide to pack public hearings in regard to Walker’s 2011-2013 budget, which, according to the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, “calls for the most extreme cuts to public education and public services ever proposed in Wisconsin history.” (wisaflcio.typepad.com/) These draconian cuts, if rammed through, will affect all poor and working people in the state, but will affect people of color, women and children the worst.

‘We will not give in’

Beginning April 4, more than 1,000 “We Are One” protests, rallies, candlelight vigils and other actions took place in every state in the United States.

According to the AFL-CIO, its affiliates, Change To Win federation affiliates and numerous other unions, community and student organizations took to the streets to say no to union busting and the vicious assaults by Wall Street on poor and working people.

One of the largest actions took place in Chicago on April 9. A major rally to protest union busting, anti-people attacks and to support the people’s resistance in Wisconsin took place at Daley Plaza and brought together thousands of labor-community-student forces in a rally sponsored by the Chicago Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Numerous speakers denounced the attempt by the banks and corporations to bust unions and cut funding for direly needed services.

Bill Lucy, retired secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the highest ranking African-American union official in the U.S., was the featured speaker. Lucy, who was with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis when he was killed on April 4, 1968, said King would have been on the front lines in Madison if he were still alive.

“Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what ship you may have come over on, but we are in the same boat now,” Lucy said of the looming threat that other states might follow Wisconsin’s lead. “We will not give up. We will not give out. We will not give in.” (Chicago Sun Times, April 10)

To help and for more information, visit http://www.wisaflcio.org; wisaflcio.typepad.com; http://www.vdlf.org; http://www.defendwisconsin.org; and http://www.bailoutpeople.org.

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