Wisconsin youth, workers turn Capitol into tent city

The spirit of resistance is alive across the state of Wisconsin. From the first eruption of struggle here in February, when Gov. Scott Walker introduced a union-busting bill, and as attacks on working and oppressed people have broadened and sharpened, youth and students have played a decisive role, helping to advance and build the fightback.

Young people were the backbone of the historic three-week occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison in February and March. They’ve led mass walkouts at high schools and universities in solidarity with their teachers and other workers under attack. And they held down a 67-day occupation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — the longest such occupation in U.S. history. At each stage of the struggle, young people have led these actions in principled solidarity with workers and oppressed peoples. This solidarity has helped the struggle here mature to the current level.

In the last week alone, young people have helped to lead bold and militant initiatives, including building a “Walkerville” tent city occupation in Madison. This has opened up phase two in the expanding fightback against union busting, austerity and the myriad attacks being directed at workers and oppressed people.

On June 6 the Fire Fighters union, National Nurses United, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and farmers, students and community organizations held a demonstration in Madison of several thousand people against the budget, the union-busting bill and austerity. With the firefighters in the lead, the march stepped off from Fire Station 1, several blocks from the Capitol. After marching through streets around the Capitol, the demonstration stopped in front of M&I Bank.

With chants of “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” several dozen demonstrators, mostly young people, entered the bank lobby. After a 15-minute standoff with the police, they were ejected, but the bank had been successfully shut down and the blame for the crisis was placed squarely where it belongs — on the banks.

Tuition for undocumented students under attack

On June 2 the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin legislature was scheduled to discuss deep cuts to education, including a repeal of in-state tuition for undocumented students. Just two years ago in-state tuition for undocumented students was won in the state, after years of struggle led by Voces de la Frontera, a major immigrant rights group in Wisconsin.

More than 50 high school students from the Milwaukee and Racine areas who are with the youth arm of Voces, YES! (Youth Empowered in the Struggle), packed the meeting shortly before it was scheduled to begin. They were dressed in graduation gowns with signs around their necks that read “What’s Next?” More than 50 other students and community members turned out for the meeting.

While the meeting was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., the committee didn’t begin the session until six hours later, around 7 p.m. It was clear this tactic was meant to wait out the immigrant rights activists and supporters, in hopes they would become frustrated and leave. The tactic failed.

Once the meeting started, Voces Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz, former UW Regent and immigrant rights activist Jesus Salas, Milwaukee Public School Board Director Larry Miller, and Racine Education Association union member and high school teacher Al Levie stood up and began reading a statement condemning the committee for attempting to eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students and impose deep cuts on public education. They were all carried out of the meeting by state police and other cops.

For the next hour, various people, young and older, stood up and began reading from the statement, effectively shutting the meeting down. Young people in the crowd also led chants that rocked the room.

More than 30 people were hauled out of the meeting, including Lee Abbott, past co-president of the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association-American Federation of Teachers at UW-Milwaukee. The following day, when the committee met again, Voces packed the meeting and organized another disruption. Similar numbers of people were removed from that meeting. Continue reading

More anti-worker laws stoke anger in Wisconsin

Photo: Sue Ruggles, AFT Local 212

On May 20, the Wisconsin Senate passed one of the most restrictive “Voter ID” laws in the United States. This followed the vote by the Wisconsin Assembly. Gov. Scott Walker said he would sign it quickly.

The new law requires a photo ID to vote and increases the state’s residency rule from 10 days to 28 days. This will potentially disenfranchise thousands of seniors, students, immigrants, and poor and disabled people, according to the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Members of Latino/a and African-American communities would be severely affected by this law, including youth.

The progressive coalition Wisconsin Resists is planning protests opposing the bill and its signing to be held at the state Capitol on May 25.

Protests also continue across the state to oppose the right-wing frenzy of draconian legislation being proposed, passed and/or signed by Walker. These new laws and proposed laws include attacks against the Earned Income Tax Credit by attempting to raise taxes on beneficiaries, more tax increases on poor people, initiatives aimed at expanding charter schools state-wide, as well as the ongoing efforts at union-busting. Additionally, progressive forces are opposing other attacks on the poor and working people of Wisconsin, including billions in cutbacks to vital social programs in Walker’s 2011-13 state budget proposals.

“Gov. Walker talks tough about being a politician who refuses to raise taxes,” said

Photo: Sue Ruggles, AFT Local 212

Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. “He thought we wouldn’t notice his tax increase trick to raise taxes on the poor while cutting taxes for corporations. By reducing programs that low-income families rely on such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Homestead Act, Gov. Walker is redistributing the tax burden onto the backs of working Wisconsinites.” (http://wisaflcio.typepad.com/)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments on June 6 on the union-busting bill signed by Walker on March 11, which would virtually eliminate collective bargaining rights for up to 200,000 public-sector workers. There are efforts underway to pack the court and protest on that day as well.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO and other labor-community-student groups continue to engage in recall campaigns against politicians who voted for the union-busting bill in March.

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

Labor defends longshore union from employer attacks

Several hundred defenders and members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in Oakland took over the plaza at Pacific Maritime Association headquarters here on April 25 to demand that the employers’ group drop its lawsuit against the union. The suit was in retaliation for the dockworkers’ solidarity action on April 4 in defense of Wisconsin public workers.

The militant lunchtime rally praised the voluntary rank-and-file action by Local 10 members on April 4. The action resulted in no ships being loaded or unloaded for 24 hours in the San Francisco and Oakland ports.

“This was Wisconsin on the docks,” said ILWU member Clarence Thomas. He pointed out that the rank and file were answering the AFL-CIO’s call for “No Business as Usual” during the April 4 nationwide day of action to defend besieged public workers in Wisconsin and 15 other states — who are threatened with losing their pensions, union work rules, collective bargaining rights and social services.

“This was a courageous act of conscience on the part of these dock workers — whose work, by the way, is critical to the functioning of the global economy. Remember that Oakland is the fourth-busiest container port in the country,” said Thomas.

The mass protest at PMA was seen as a “shot across the bow” launching a national defense campaign, supported by the San Francisco Labor Council, to defend and assert the right of ILWU members and all workers to take job actions or withhold their labor in solidarity with the struggles of other workers.

Jack Heyman, another Local 10 dock worker, said the 1934 West Coast Maritime Strike led by Harry Bridges and the San Francisco General Strike that followed it “are what made San Francisco a union town. Now we’re in another crisis of capitalism. This time the government workers are in the forefront of the struggle.

“It’s a class struggle, and we’re facing bipartisan attacks,” continued Heyman. “The difference between the two parties is that the Republicans want to take away collective bargaining and the Democrats want to keep collective bargaining as long as we accept unacceptable concessions. In addition to Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Walker, we’ve got Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown in California. They both want to sock it to us.”

Trent Willis, Local 10 dockworker and former president, said the April 4 actions took place on the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. He told how Dr. King was made an honorary member of Local 10 and addressed the membership in September 1967 while in San Francisco organizing for a Poor People’s March on Washington to demand economic and social rights for unemployed workers and the poor.

“We need to recreate what Brother Martin was trying to do in those years,” said Willis. “Today the employer class is coming after everybody. That means we need another Million Worker March, another Poor People’s campaign. We need a general strike.” Continue reading

Wisconsin continues to be cauldron of struggle

Protest activities continue across Wisconsin to fight the union-busting bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker on March 11. They are also directed at the many anti-people measures contained in the budget proposal for the next two fiscal years, 2011-2013, which would cut at least $3.6 billion from services that help poor and working people.

Because of the massive people’s resistance, an injunction is still in place that prevents the bill signed by Walker on March 11 from being implemented and becoming law. The bill is also before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The people’s struggle against union busting and other anti-people attacks is also giving mobilizing strength to the now annual May Day march and rally in Milwaukee, sponsored by the immigrant rights organization Voces de la Frontera. Thus far the Wisconsin AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers Local 212; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Wisconsin; the Painters and Allied Trades Local 781; Service Employees Local 1; and other unions are supporting and mobilizing for this event.

The demands for the mobilization include full legalization for immigrants, no to union busting, keep in-state tuition for immigrant students, oppose budget cuts and oppose any and all racist copycat Arizona-type legislation that targets immigrants in Wisconsin. (www.vdlf.org)

The final tally in the April 5 election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court — which was widely considered a referendum on Walker’s anti-union measures — was released on April 15. It showed the conservative David Prosser winning by 7,316 votes over independent JoAnne Kloppenberg. But on April 20 Joanne Kloppenberg decided to request a statewide recount. Until a full recount is done, the Government Accountability Board can’t certify the results.

The election is marred by controversy due to a conservative clerk in Waukesha County “finding,” on the day after the election, thousands of ballots for Prosser, which made him the winner. The clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, is a former Prosser employee and has previously been investigated for voter fraud.

“An honest and open recount is the only way that the voters of Wisconsin can have confidence in the results of the 2011 Supreme Court election,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO on April 20. “A manual recount will only add to the integrity of the electoral process and provide reassurance to the unprecedented amount of voters who came out on April 5 to make their voices heard.” (http://wisaflcio.typepad.com/)

Across the state, poor and working people from Madison, Milwaukee and beyond continue to engage in a wide range of protest activities, including recall campaigns, targeting banks and corporations through various means, protesting anti-people politicians wherever they turn up, protesting on “Tax Day” by demanding that the rich pay taxes, packing budget hearing meetings and more. International solidarity in many forms — such as the action of members of the International Longshore Workers Union Local 10 shutting down the docks in San Francisco and Oakland April 4 — is ongoing as well.

U. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee occupation continues

Aaron Luther is a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a participant in an occupation at this university which began its eighth week on April 25. The occupation began at the Theatre Department, which is facing virtual elimination under Walker’s 2011-2013 budget proposal. Students are now occupying space in the Student Union.

“We are here to get the message out to the students and the faculty that what Scott Walker wants to do to the university as far as privatization will raise our tuition and we can’t afford that,” says Luther. “We are also here to get information out about what Walker wants to do to the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin in general. We demand that UW-Milwaukee maintain a public status as a university, and that tuition and fees be frozen so that tuition no longer goes up. We’re going to use this space as long as we feel it’s necessary. We’re constantly rethinking, re-planning and reorganizing.”

Added Luther: “Getting support from the unions has been really big for us. We’ve gotten quite a bit of incredibly positive responses. The unions take care of all the maintenance and all the cleaning. If it wasn’t for them, the university wouldn’t run. We wouldn’t be able to keep it looking as good as it does. And the Teaching Assistants union [members] are giving us their support and we’ve gotten support from other groups on campus such as SDS and Act Everywhere.

“During the school day we leaflet and talk to people. When we have free time, we’ve gone out to protests. Several of us have gone to Madison. We protested at Walmart the last two Sundays because Walmart gave money to Scott Walker’s campaign, and Walmart has a bad workers’ rights record. We are also setting up more protests for other companies that happen to be on the boycott list or are grossly anti-union,” concluded Luther.

Statements of solidarity can be sent to uwmoccupied@yahoo.com. Supporters are welcome to visit anytime. Donations of food and supplies, which are always needed, can be dropped off at the occupied space in the student union, or people can email to work out arrangements. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

A brief history of Wisconsin

Less than a year ago the Tea Party was able to attract considerable publicity around a rally it held in Wausau, Wis.

High unemployment and foreclosures, plant closings, the virtual disappearance of family and middle-sized farms, and their displacement by larger factory farms had the people of this state angry and confused. But extreme right-wing movements are a sign of the weakness of the capitalist class, not its strength.

In just a few weeks of working-class action and struggle, a major shift in union and class consciousness has taken place here in Wisconsin.

It is instructive to briefly go over the history of this state. The land was stolen from the Native people, mostly the Ojibway, who had lived here for more than 10,000 years. That is where the name Chippewa comes from. Immigrants from Ireland and France began settling along the upper Chippewa River in the late 17th century.

The first natural resource exploited here was the pine — big, straight trees that produced the greatest lumber in the world. English lumber barons got rich off the labor of French and Irish lumberjacks like my grandfather.

Chippewa Falls for a while had the largest sawmill under one roof in the world. The logs and lumber were floated down the Chippewa River by river people, mostly French and Native men. V. R. Dunne, a Minneapolis union leader in the tempestuous struggles of the 1930s and a good friend of this writer in his old age, had been one such river person.

The exploiters cut the beautiful, straight timber, made their money and left relatively quickly. They left behind, however, another resource — the very rich soil. This was not flat prairies, like much of the Midwest, but small hills and valleys of rich grassland, perfect for cows and small family farms.

Soon there were more cows than people, and Wisconsin was the largest producer of milk and cheese in the country, exporting to other states and the world. Only in the area around Lake Michigan did much industry grow up. Continue reading

Part of coast to coast April 4 solidarity — Workers shut ports

On the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., workers shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., for 24 hours as part of a national day of solidarity with Wisconsin workers and workers who are fighting union busting.

According to Clarence Thomas, a dockworker, union activist and executive board member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, dockworkers unanimously agreed to honor a national call for a “no business as usual” day on April 4 in support of public sector workers in Wisconsin and their fight for collective bargaining rights. More than 1,000 actions were held throughout the country, with at least one in every U.S. state.

With only one ship in the Oakland port on April 4 — perhaps because the port bosses got wind of the planned work stoppage — not enough workers reported to work to even unload that ship. “This was a voluntary rank and file action — an organized act of resistance,” said Thomas. “It is significant that the action by Local 10 was taken in solidarity with Wisconsin public sector workers who are facing the loss of collective bargaining.”

Management had suggested that Local 10 use its monthly meeting on April 4 to honor Dr. King, but Local 10 members rejected the proposal, preferring to voluntarily lose a day’s pay. King, who was killed in Memphis while demanding collective bargaining for sanitation workers, had been named an honorary member of Local 10 six months before his death.

“So we’ve come full circle,” Thomas concluded. The Memphis public workers got their union, after a two-month strike. Now 40 years later their Wisconsin counterparts are threatened with losing theirs. But it is Wisconsin’s “fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.” In addition to the actions on the docks, thousands of workers took to the streets in the Bay Area on April 4 to support the struggle in Wisconsin and to commemorate King’s assassination.

Members of the Oakland Education Association attempted to occupy the lobby of the downtown Oakland Wells Fargo Bank to protest bank bailouts in the face of education cuts. The bank locked its doors before the OEA members could enter. At a spirited rally that effectively shut down the bank for three hours, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones said, “We are one with Wisconsin, Ohio and the workers and poor across the country.”

“We Are One” with Wisconsin workers was also the theme of a noon rally called by the Alameda County AFL-CIO Labor Council. More than 1,000 union members representing nurses, teachers, painters, engineers, domestic workers, janitors and others attended. Speakers demanded that the banks and the rich be held responsible for the economic crisis — not the workers.

In the late afternoon, several thousand union members marched through San Francisco’s financial district, stopping at all of the major banks and demanding an end to their massive bailouts at the expense of poor and working people. A final rally was held in front of the Federal Reserve Bank’s San Francisco office. Continue reading