ACT 10 A DECADE LATER: SOLIDARITY FOREVER: An Interview With Susan Ruggles, Retiree, AFT Local 212


Ten years ago this month, in February 2011, Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature proposed Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public sector employees (with the exception of police and fire unions), and significantly weakened union power. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the massive protests against Act 10 and explore the anti-worker effects of the law, we interviewed Susan Ruggles, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 212 in Milwaukee and a photojournalist who took part in the demonstrations against the bill as an activist and photographer. Ruggles shared her experience of the protests and her thoughts on the legacy of Act 10, labor issues facing teachers and unions today, the late activist and singer Anne Feeney, and much more.

…. How do you respond to those who protested Act 10 but call the uprising inconsequential for not succeeding in stopping the bill?

The protests against Act 10 may have failed in their immediate aim to kill the bill, but they launched a powerful movement. Tens of thousands of people learned the value of organization and solidarity, and stayed active in their communities. Unions developed new tactics and overcome huge obstacles to reorganize themselves. Since 2018, we’ve seen a wave of strikes as public school educators fight for funding and smaller class sizes. The #RedforEd movement really took off, and it paved the way for walkouts and protests during the pandemic. All this organizing has paid off, since Gov. Evers is now proposing rollbacks in Act 10. This sets up a fight with the legislature, with the outcome uncertain. But community support for teachers and healthcare workers has never been higher — especially during a pandemic. The tide may finally be turning in our favor….

As a member of the American Federation of Teachers at the time, what is your sense of the labor issues facing teachers and unions today? Where do they go from here?

Unions are in an organizing and rebuilding stage, and their efforts are especially critical now, as we battle a pandemic. Community support for teachers, health care workers, and unions is increasing, because people see what an essential role they play. Teachers unions are demanding a seat at the table to decide when schools can reopen safely for in-person instruction. Public schools need the resources, safety protocols, and vaccines to protect teachers, staff, and students. Increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to healthcare, paid sick leave, affordable child care, addressing the student debt crisis, fixing our infrastructure, and protecting the rights of students — these are all union issues. By taking on these fights, we can strengthen our communities, build resiliency, and improve the lives of all working people….

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