I want to understand the American workers’ mass revolt against the extreme right-wing Republican anti-union attack. I was in San Francisco in 2011 and listened to union leaders’ enthusiasm that workers are fighting back all over the US. I learnt more about this resistance last month in the US.
Why did this revolt happen and why it is important? This is so that workers and union leaders in Australia can more clearly debate strategies against the anti-union offensives by Liberal state governments – and soon the CLP government in the NT and then by PM Abbott. Lessons about the right-wing assault on public sector unions in particular and the further slashing of the public sector jobs and services is critical.
One ‘must read’ book that explains this resurgence is “Wisconsin Uprising Labor Fights Back”
edited by Michael D Yates (Monthly Review Press) 2010. I post the Introduction to give readers some ideas.
“In early 2011, the nation was stunned to watch Wisconsin’s state capitol in Madison come under sudden and unexpected occupation by union members and their allies. The protests to defend collective bargaining rights were militant and practically unheard of in this era of declining union power.
Nearly forty years of neoliberalism and the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression have battered the labor movement, and workers have been largely complacent in the face of stagnant wages, slashed benefits and services, widening unemployment, and growing inequality.That is, until now.
Under pressure from a union-busting governor and his supporters in the legislature, and inspired by the massive uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, workers in Wisconsin shook the nation with their colossal display of solidarity and outrage.
Their struggle is still ongoing, but there are lessons to be learned from the Wisconsin revolt.
This timely book brings together some of the best labor journalists and scholars in the United States, many of whom were on the ground at the time, to examine the causes and impact of events, and suggest how the labor movement might proceed in this new era of union militancy.” Review promos now.
… it brings into sharp focus the challenges that working people faced as they rose up to take on Scott Walker’s reactionary assault. A probing analysis of the role of organized labor and the Democratic Party rounds out this indispensable volume.
—Matthew Rothschild, editor, The Progressive
…a vital examination of a pivotal moment when workers decided the billionaires shouldn’t be the only ones fighting a class war.
—Mischa Gaus, editor, Labor Notes
Now I post from the Foreword to “Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back” by Michael D. Yates.
I agree the essays in Wisconsin Uprising are outstanding.
“The accounts of the events in Madison in the winter and early spring of 2011 are the best I have seen in writing, with context, detail, and analysis…the connections of the Wisconsin revolt to the existential questions facing the labor movement are handled with a clarity, intelligence, perspective, and urgency that is exactly appropriate to the task. This book is a fundamental historical document in its own right and will stand the test of time.
First, as one who was there much of the time and who participated as one of the throng, not as a leader, there was most definitely something special happening, and everyone present knew it. For much of my adult life the actual prospects for social change seemed slender…
The Wisconsin protests reaffirmed what many Americans had forgotten or never knew:
that when people come together in solidarity directed toward social justice they are capable of great sacrifice and unrivaled joy.
When there is a sense of solidarity, of hope, of dynamism, everything changes. The feeling this engenders, this bonding, is like breathing fresh air for the first time.
I had experienced this in a handful of political campaigns in my life, but absolutely nothing came close to what was happening on the streets of Madison.
It reminded me why the right to assemble is a core democratic liberty—inscribed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—and probably the one liberty those in power fear the most.
Second, the Wisconsin revolt confirmed that the United States in the second decade of the twenty-first century is not a reactionary country.
The demands and signs were overwhelmingly progressive and far to the left of what most political and labor leaders would countenance.
I did not see a scintilla of immigrant-bashing or racism. The signs and chants reflecting progressive positions on unions, taxation, social services, and military spending would never be found in the corporate news media.
The cynical claim that the American people are a bunch of shop-till-you-drop airheads incapable of critical thought was purged from my system. It made me remember that people are far more complex and beautiful.
When the events in Madison began, they seemed the natural and proper course, both to me and to the other participants. No one felt like what we were doing was a flight of fancy, or something people in other states could never do…
Something that connected to the great uprisings across the planet, in Egypt and Tunisia and Greece and Spain?
Then Occupy Wall Street began in September and the Occupy movement spread like wildfire across the nation.
That put all those concerns to rest. Wisconsin was no longer an isolated skirmish. It was the first chapter in the current phase of popular and democratic struggles that will define this nation going forward.
Third, the Wisconsin revolt provided yet another case study in how atrocious and anti-democratic the corporate news media system is…
Political players who do not correspond to the range of legitimate debate (that is, the range countenanced by capital) simply disappear from the official record.
Crappy media coverage matters. It did incalculable damage. Political journalism effectively forgot the protests ever took place and returned to its conventional wisdom.
Fourth, the political crisis in the United States today is not merely that corporations and billionaires own the government and have turned elections into a sick joke, or that the news media accept this state of affairs as a given, and woe be it for a journalist to question the status quo without appearing ideological and “unprofessional.”
The crisis is that public opinion is no further to the right on major issues than it was in the 1970s, and in some cases is moving to the left.
But the political system has moved sharply to the far right over the past thirty-five years, such that the range of legitimate debate in Washington and in state capitals is the range countenanced by capital, and the system has very little to say to the majority of the people in the nation.
The gap between the concerns of the masses and the solutions countenanced by the corporate-run political system are wider than at any point in generations. It is the defining political story of our times.
At 65 or 70 percent, the United States moves decidedly to the left. If nothing else, this should provide a tremendous measure of optimism for progressives. We have the numbers on our side! Now we need a party to represent our interests.
Fifth, the Wisconsin revolt brought home the political dilemma that labor and progressives have faced for decades: whether to work through the Democratic Party and attempt to get some support for progressive policies by making it possible for Democrats to win elections or throw support to a third party that is explicitly on the left and avoid the pitfalls of the two-party system. Both routes have well-known pitfalls.
The Democratic Party has delivered next to nothing to labor for decades, except the knowledge that Democrats are not Republicans. Labor and progressives have been triangulated…
Both options, it is now obvious, are dead-end streets, and the Wisconsin revolt only crystallized the point.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, on the heels of the Madison protests, stated that labor would scale back its support for Democrats in 2012.
“For too long, we’ve been left after Election Day holding a canceled check, waving it about—‘Remember us? Remember us? Remember us?’—asking someone to pay a little attention to us,” he recalled in an interview, sharing, among other things, his frustration with the failure of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and other needed labor law reforms.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a snootful of that shit!”
But what to do?
An emerging consensus connecting activists across labor and the entire progressive community is that labor and progressives need to develop an independent body, unattached to the Democrats, which will only support candidates who are on board with a progressive platform…including issues like universal single-payer health care, sharp cuts in the military, guaranteed employment at a living wage, green jobs and conversion to a green economy, massive infrastructure spending, trade unions for all workers who wish them, expansion of public education, free higher education, and expansion of Social Security.
We are very close to the point where there will have to be a demand for the nationalization of the big banks. It is, effectively, a left-Keynesian, social democratic platform that unites liberals, progressives, and socialists. The plan would be to cut down corporate power while working in a capitalist system. For some in the coalition, the reforms will stand to make capitalism work more efficiently and productively and in a more humane manner, a super-charged New Deal, if you will. For some, the social democracies of Scandinavia provide a model of what can be squeezed out of a capitalist system with sufficient political organizing.
This leads to my final point: although left-liberals and socialists will join forces to battle effectively for a progressive platform, we have to understand that the political crisis of our times is at its core an economic crisis.
Political activists, like generals, routinely fight the last war, and the notion of battling for progressive reforms within capitalism has become de rigueur on the left. There is little doubt that progressives have exacted significant reforms within a capitalist system, and it has seemed throughout the neoliberal era that capitalism, for better or for worse, is here to stay.
But we need to be prepared for the possibility that this is not your grandfather’s capitalism, and the sorts of reforms that high-growth rates made possible are unlikely going forward…The downward pressure on wages is staggering. The attacks on necessary social services are unprecedented.
To keep itself alive, capitalism is eating our future…
It should not surprise us. Marx, of course, zeroed in on capitalism’s contradictions and understood that at some point in time…capitalism’s disadvantages would far outnumber its advantages, and the system would be replaced.
But it was not only Marx or socialists who understood that capitalism as a system had a necessary historical expiration date attached to it. John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes—classical liberals of the first order, and staunch proponents of capitalism in their times—both anticipated that eventually capitalism would run its course and need to be replaced by a different economic system, one better suited to the needs of humanity. In such a world it would be necessary, as Keynes said, to break with the alienated moral code, in which “fair is foul and foul is fair,” that governs the present society of greed and exploitation, dedicated above all to the accumulation of capital.4 If that moment is at last before us, it is imperative we put our minds to work on what comes next as we organize to get there.
Wisconsin in 2011 and in 2012 the Occupy movement. We can see now, for the first time in decades, a truly radical potential to U.S. society today.
If this country does have a future, it began on those frozen snowy days on the streets of Madison in February 2011, and it spread across Wisconsin, and across the nation, to the point where hundreds of thousands, and then millions, of previously quiet Americans rose up.”
Now a summary from the first chapter by Connor Donegan:
“Disciplining Labor, Dismantling Democracy: Rebellion and Control in Wisconsin”.
Connor Donegan, discussing Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, detailed the extent of the Governor’s assault:
“It was a monstrosity designed to destroy public sector unions, expand executive power over all government agencies, and slash health and social services by $50 million while restricting eligibility, raising fees, and excluding undocumented workers.
He also aimed to privatize public utilities in no-bid sales. Thought the last item was removed before signing, the rest remained intact: the entire public sector will be ‘right to work’, the state will no longer deduct union dues from paychecks, contracts will expire if union representatives fail to receive support from a majority of members in annual elections, employees’ contributions to pensions will increase to half the actuarial costs, and collective bargaining will be limited to wages.
Certain university and health care workers will have no right to organize whatsoever.
The legislation promised to land a deadly blow to all of Wisconsin’s public sector unions, on top of an immediate drop in take-home pay totaling roughly $1 billion each year…an equally monumental offensive on public education is pushing its way into law….that will defund public schools while establishing a parallel system of private schools, funded by the state(31).”
Teachers and students met to respond to the millions taken out of public schools with drastic consequences for students, the use of vouchers and Charter schools taking away elected public school boards.
As well new laws to take away voting rights of poor citizens and their health and welfare services removed. Then the downward pressure on public sector wages and conditions and taking away union collective bargaining rights.”
Connor Donegan then gives an account of the Wisconsin uprising that is most exciting reading. Some 300 teachers and students first attended the public sessions of the Budget Repair Bill and then decided to stay. With the beginnings of the occupation of the capitol building (same as our parliaments) they called on others to attend and they did in their thousands.
On February 15th 2011, 700 students marching in the snow for miles to join an already huge number of 10,000 protesters, with teachers already organizing rallies. Then the Wisconsin Education Association called out for sick days teachers and the closing of schools (35), and then this infecting others with urgency and militancy.
When the Senate was to vote, those occupying organized blockades of doors and stairways and the Democrats left the Chamber and the State to try to ensure there was no quorum to vote and the police were powerless. This worked, for awhile.
From left groups joining the demands of ‘Tax the Rich’ and ‘No Concessions’ became popular.
But Governor Walker tactically changed so that a quorum was not needed and the Bill was ready to pass.
Despite calls for a strike, union leaders backed down arguing for a movement to collect signatures for an electoral recall of Republican Senators.
Despite the following days seeing 150,000 rallying, the scene was set for the mass movement to follow the Democrats down the electoral path, while many new solidarity actions and groups and large May Day rallies followed, the efforts were on the raising of signatures for successful recalls but ended in by-elections that disappointingly fell short by one of ending the Republicans’ Senate majority.
Rebellion and Control
I arrived in Madison to find a line of hundreds of people snaking out of the capitol building. Police guarded the doors, allowing only one person in for every few that left. The game lasted for only an hour before the doors were closed and those still inside were told to leave.
I stood outside in curiosity-cum-frustration as a small group of students spoke to the growing crowd from behind a line of police officers, flanked by AFL-CIO trained “marshals” in bright orange vests, urging everyone to comply with police orders to give up the capitol occupation.
Later, I would wince as protesters chanted “Thank you” to the
officers sent there to control the movement. Yet, that night around one hundred protesters defied police orders to end the occupation, and two weeks later the police would be forced to cede control of the statehouse to the people. These conflicts and contradictions within the movement—between union workers and union bureaucrats, between Page 34
the promises of liberalism and the reality of class domination, and
between differing interpretations of the attack—both constrained the struggle and propelled it forward.
How did this mass upsurge of popular
struggle occur? Is its energy now contained by electoral politics?
And what has it achieved?
Many of those same activists from ENSJ gathered on those first
Wednesday and Thursday nights to call other teachers about the next
day’s sickout. By the time Mary Bell, president of WEAC, called for a statewide sickout the rank and file was already mobilizing. Twentyfour school districts closed on Thursday…
Just as the student walkouts inspired teachers, the
mass strike by teachers infected workers, university students, and
others around the state with a sense of urgency and militancy. By then, the capitol was occupied twenty-four hours a day, providing a space for essential movement building activities like communication, planning, and a visible presence. When the Senate prepared to vote on the
Budget Repair Bill, protesters quickly organized blockades in stairways, hallways, and the Senate antechambers to stop the legislators from voting. This not only was the fire that compelled the Democrats to break the Senate’s quorum by leaving the state, it also is why they were able to escape the Senate’s sergeant at arms. Police, who were scouring the building for the minority party members, were stopped by an ironworkers’ blockade while the Democrats fled the building.
Police responded carefully to the occupation and the protests so as
not to inflame them. Outside the statehouse, law enforcement personnel patrolled in groups and were generally uninterested in intervening in demonstrations and rallies. Inside, police built relationships with a small group of unofficial leaders of the occupation. These police-appointed spokespeople acted as conduits for police orders to protesters, who generally complied. For two weeks the police slowly increased their control over the building until they finally moved in, locked the doors, and demanded that the occupation end. Most reluctantly vacated the building, though eighty would remain for two more weeks before finally being cajoled to leave by authorities.
The success of this soft-power strategy revealed as much about the
protesters as it did law enforcement. There were competing conceptions of the struggle, and the “middle-class” perspective quickly became hegemonic. Defending the middle class was a common refrain in speeches, homemade signs, and conversations. These protesters drew from the progressive roots of Wisconsin politics and tended to personalize the struggle (that is, blame Walker). Many argued strongly for respecting and obeying police orders (to thwart any direct action) and even thanked the police for their hard work. For them, victory meant returning the Democrats to power.
There were others—mostly Page 36
from unions, immigrant rights groups, and leftist organizations—who
understood this to be a broader struggle of the working class and
oppressed groups. They made more militant demands, like “No
Concessions” and “Tax the Rich,” that drew on the history of class
struggle in the United States, and placed this battle within the context of a transatlantic fight against austerity. These groups aimed to build a broader movement independent of the Democrats and pushed for more direct action while seeking to build solidarity between public sector workers, community organizations, students, immigrants, and people of color.
On March 9 the Senate Republicans reintroduced a slightly
revised version of the Budget Repair Bill that, at least by their estimation, was void of fiscal items and therefore did not require the Democrats—still out of state—for a quorum. As they quickly passed the measure, angry protesters returned, passing one by one through police checkpoints. Once the senators were escorted away, protesters renewed the popular occupation, vowing to stay the night in preparation for the assembly vote scheduled for the following morning.
Capitol police locked the doors at 8 p.m., but with protesters pushing against police lines, from both inside and out, the police became overwhelmed and ceded control of the building to the people. There was incredible excitement as tens of thousands rushed triumphantly inside, but by morning the numbers had dwindled. Eighty of those
who remained inside, committed to stopping the assembly vote by
blocking entrance to the chambers, were forcefully removed by state
troopers before the assembly passed the bill.
Back in Milwaukee, teachers called a late-night union meeting
after learning that the bill was moving through the legislature. They hotly debated their next move, with a majority seeming to be in favor of a strike. As Milwaukee teacher union steward Stephanie Schneider recalls, “Everyone’s enthusiasm deflated” upon hearing that WEAC president Mary Beal was calling for teachers to go to work the next day and that Madison teachers planned to do so. The next call sent to teachers was “to turn in your protest signs for a clipboard” to collect signatures for recall elections. “I see why recalls are important,” Stephanie told me, “but it is a serious de-escalation. . . . To really win
this we’re going to need all the new and best tactics.”10
Students across the country staged walkouts on the day after—including Wisconsin, New York, Illinois, and Oregon—but this time the teachers did not follow. The Saturday after the signing of the Budget Repair Bill, the AFL-CIO, with many others, called a mass demonstration at the capital. It was the largest to date, with roughly 150,000 protesting. The message from the AFL-CIO leadership was clear:
leave the streets and direct your energy to electoral politics. Most saw no alternative course of action.
Throughout April and May the movement followed the
Democrats out of the streets and into electoral politics. In this sense the Democratic Party was successful in containing the boiling pressures from below by pretending to express them. Since the labor movement and nearly all other social movements had been largely dormant for over three decades, local union leaders, workers, and most other participants lacked the skills and organization necessary to take the fight in any other direction. But Walker’s budget was moving
through the legislature well in advance of the recall elections.
The withdrawal of the state and national union leadership, and their refusal to even consider workplace actions, signaled that they were still uninterested in leading a wider struggle for social justice.
But as the AFL left the scene other groups began taking leadership.
On June 2 the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera
organized a civil disobedience action, disrupting the proceedings of the Joint Finance Committee. Voces and the immigrant rights movement in Wisconsin began gaining momentum just as protests in
Madison subsided. The first indication of this was the record
turnout—100,000—for the May Day march that Voces has led in
Milwaukee for five years running, this one cosponsored by the state
AFL-CIO. Voces membership was mobilizing against cuts to education
and particularly against a measure that excludes undocumented
Wisconsin students from in-state tuition. Then on June 6, in protest of impending austerity measures, came another civil disobedience action in Madison—workers and students shut down an M & I Bank with a demonstration and attempted to blockade streets on the capitol’s square. This was organized by a “Solidarity Roundtable” consisting of two AFSCME locals, Madison firefighters, National Nurses United, UW teacher’s assistants, Union Cab Cooperative, and community organizations. These demonstrations were significantly smaller, reaching only two thousand strong on June 6, and many of these unions expect to be destroyed by the Budget Repair Bill.
Nonetheless, this “Solidarity Roundtable” and related community coalitions represented the kind of independent organizing necessary to turn the rebellion into a movement.
The Wisconsin rebellion was the result of accumulated grievances—
declining wages and benefits, cuts to education, unemployment
and underemployment, bank bailouts, and record corporate
profits—pushed over the edge by an assault on the only remaining
organized segment of the working class. Student walkouts inspired
teacher sickouts. Their courage in turn energized mass protests and
an internationally celebrated occupation that turned into direct action to kill the bill.
Workers pushed the union leadership to call mass
demonstrations in the streets. All of this failed to stop the Budget Repair Bill, but attacking public sector unions was only the next logical step in the offensive against labor. The backlash, however, marks an energetic start to what appears to be a new era of struggle.
Here is the opening remark in radical economist Andre Gender
Frank’s 1980 summary of the political response to economic crisis in the West:
“Capital and the state under its influence in the West have
responded to the deepening economic crisis through political policies of deliberate unemployment in order to weaken labor unions and to reduce labor’s wages in particular, and to impose belt-tightening austerity measures ‘in the national interest’ on the population in general.”
As the Organization of Economic Cooperation and
Development dryly but bluntly described its own position, it “envi-
sioned . . . a sizeable shift in income distribution . . . from labor to capital”
to be achieved through a “special effort” toward restraining
public and private consumption.12 As then chairman of the Federal
Reserve Paul Volcker more famously stated, “The American standard
of living must decline.” While these statements were made in the late 1970s, they summarize just as well today’s ruling-class consensus regarding capitalism’s current crisis.
This “special effort” would include the “Volcker Shocks”—
Volcker cranked up interest rates for two years, restraining economic activity to such an extent that the official unemployment rate reached 11 percent. It was then that President Ronald Reagan broke the air
traffic controllers’ strike by firing the controllers and replacing them
with scabs. As David McNally writes in his book Global Slump, “The
shock of mass unemployment was thus joined to the trauma of union
busting.”13 He continues: “Volcker and company were in the business
of instilling fear” so that workers would accept the serious concessions—
including a greater workload for lower pay and with fewer benefits—
that would be forced on them in the coming years.14 In a very
real way, then, Walker was not far off in comparing his attempt to break
the public sector unions with Reagan’s own union busting. Walker’s
budget proposal is a political instrument designed to, besides
destroying social programs, beat down wages. As the Department of
Administration’s Budget in Brief explains, “Over one-half of the
budget goes to cities, counties, towns, villages, and school districts . . . most of the general fund budget supports the compensation costs of public employees.”15 This biennial budget reduces spending by $4.2 billion while disallowing subordinate levels of government—including school districts—to compensate for the loss of funding by raising local property taxes. Thus, municipalities, counties, and school districts,
including K-12 and technical colleges, will be compelled to reduce
benefits and wages. They will otherwise cease to operate anywhere
near their current capacity. That is why Walker argues that his Budget Repair Bill is integral to the budget—without it, or without otherwise implementing the same drastic cuts, “local government and school district leaders [will have] no choice but to lay off public sector servants who teach our children, plow our streets, and deliver a multitude of other critical services.”16 But even the $1 billion of “savings” to be wrenched out of public servants will not cover the total loss of funding, so those who rely on the public sector will nonetheless confront
significant cuts to those critical services.
The contracts of some public workers in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee
suburb, have already expired, making the city among the first to confront the administration’s ultimatum. Since contract negotiations began in November, the unions had refused to accept concessions requested by the city. But once it appeared that the Budget Repair Bill would become law, the unions conceded even more than the bill was going to require them to, including a one-year wage freeze. On the night of the vote, conservative citizens, encouraged by a local radio pundit, filled the room and demanded that the contracts be voted down. The atmosphere was vicious—the unions offered significant concessions to get a contract that would secure their existence for the next two years. The conservatives understood this well and argued that the city should wait for the bill to pass so that they could take advantage of the new “tools” to force more concessions, like sick time, from their public servants. The City Council gave in and voted not to
sign the contracts.
But even the quiet suburban residents of Wauwatosa were not
immune from the unrest across the state. With pressure coming from
the other side, the council held a second hearing and vote. The room filled to capacity an hour before the meeting’s scheduled start time.
The atmosphere was highly charged and emotional as neighbors and
family members took opposing positions. Dozens of residents spoke
from both sides, with registered comments evenly split. One councilperson who voted against the contracts commented that with so many unemployed workers he is certain that the city would have no problem replacing any office workers who found the contracts to be intolerable. Most of the residents who spoke in opposition expressed frustration with their own declining standard of living and described public workers as the only ones still “sheltered.” The City Council reversed its vote, but the mayor vetoed the decision.” …
“A number of teachers’ unions also moved quickly to sign new
contracts. Green Bay teachers, for example, agreed to $15 million
worth of concessions in a contract that even includes a suspension of collective bargaining rights. As Green Bay Educator’s Association President Toni Lardinois stated, “This was not an agreement, this was an ultimatum.”17 Across Wisconsin, workers have similar battles to look forward to.
Subjecting public sector workers to such conditions is a central
component of the ruling class’s strategy to manage capitalism’s crisis.
The unstated premise is that corporations and the wealthy will not
pay for the bailouts or for loss of revenue due to recession. Union
busting makes this possible without contradicting the sacrificial
fervor that insists we spread the pain to “everyone.” The drastic
spending cuts by states and the federal government (as well as by governments across Europe), by simply removing trillions of dollars
worth of investment and spending, will be sure to increase unemployment even further. The labor market will do the real disciplinary work as competition for jobs becomes ever more frenetic. In the meantime, these public sacrifices stand as official endorsements of the mantra that working people must submit to an austere existence,
buttressing the bargaining position of all employers seeking concessions from workers. Ultimately, the purpose is to cheapen labor in general and to get rid of the fight in us so as to achieve a “sizeable shift in income distribution from labor to capital.”
Conclusion: Global Crisis, Global Struggle
The continuing global economic crisis that erupted in the 2008 financial meltdown forced the ruling class—of investment bankers, corporate executives, the International Monetary Fund, politicians and state functionaries—to intervene in the markets in a most pronounced fashion. They chose, conveniently, to distribute trillions of dollars of public funds to the banks and auto industry to avert the imminent threat of a global depression. Prolonged depressions, however, are Page 42
endemic to the capitalist economy. Such crises are caused by the overaccumulation of capital—that is, capitalists accumulate more productive capacity and money-capital than can be profitably put to use (causing speculation, military complexes, and other dangerous means of soaking up excess capital).
Crises and slumps cause massive devaluations
of capital—of money, assets, and inputs to production, especially
labor. By pushing the masses of humanity into a state of misery
and desperation, and by dampening competition among capitalists,
depressions eventually relieve the system of the problem of overaccumulation.
18 Today, the ruling class is attempting to manage the crisis
so as to shelter themselves from the destruction that their system has wrought, by subjecting humanity to the blunt ax of austerity.
But labor is not a throwaway commodity. The struggle over the
Budget Repair Bill began just as the Egyptians began celebrating the fall of the U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarek. And it was just as the mass demonstrations in Wisconsin were subsiding that the call for “Real Democracy Now” sparked a mass movement of “indignados” in Spain, itself inspiring anti-austerity protests across Europe.
In the face of a series of offensives that further concentrate the power of capital, and as millions of youth find themselves “indignant” and without a future under capitalism, hope is found in the struggle for a better world.
The uprising in Wisconsin highlights the tasks ahead—popular
education and independent political organization, which are at
historic lows in the United States, must be undertaken. The
Wisconsin rebellion may mark a changing tide. As Rosa Luxemburg
aptly wrote: “The organization does not supply the troops for the
struggle, but the struggle, in an ever growing degree, supplies recruits
for the organization.”19 This is only the beginning.”
After this book went to press in the end despite forcing Governor Walker to another election, it is now history that he was returned defeating the Democrats. After the measures became law, public sector unions offered concessions on wages and conditions in return for their existence, but Walker refused winning the day getting both.
This is the same world-wide with “austerity measures” on working people while the rich and corporations do not bear the burden, and the high unemployment has the labour market disciplining workers further.
This Wisconsin rebellion may mark a changing tide as seen all over the world. Is it happening in Australia?
Buy the book. Get your library to order it.
I will post the next chapters later.
Table of Contents
Foreword, Robert W. McChesney
Editor’s Introduction: “Something is in the Air”, Michael D. Yates
PART ONE: ON THE GROUND IN MADISON
“Disciplining Labor, Dismantling Democracy: Rebellion and Control in Wisconsin”, Connor Donegan
“Capitalist Crisis and the Wisconsin Uprising”, Andrew Sernatinger
“Who Were the Leaders of the Wisconsin Uprising?” Lee Sustar
“A New American Workers’ Movement Has Begun”, Dan La Botz
“The Wisconsin Uprising”, Frank Emspak
PART TWO: MOVING FORWARD: THE LESSONS OF WISCONSIN
“Back to the Future: Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America”, Rand Wilson and Steve Early
“In the Wake of Wisconsin, What Next?” Jane Slaughter and Mark Brenner
“What Can We Learn from Wisconsin?” Stephanie Luce
PART THREE: BROADENING AND DEEPENING THE STRUGGLE
“Potholes and Roadblocks on “The Roads Not Taken,” Elly Leary
“The Assault on Public Services: Will Unions Lament the Attacks or Fight Back”, Michael Hurley and Sam Gindin
“Marching Away from the Cold War”, David Bacon
“No, No, No, the People Have the Power,” Dave Zirin
“Fighting Wage Cuts in Upstate New York Teaches Chemical Workers the Value of Mobilization”, Jon Flanders
“Beyond Wisconsin: Seeking New Priorities as Labor Challenges War”, Michael Zweig
“Building Communities of Solidarity from Madison to Bend”, Fernando Gapasin
“Class Warfare in Longview, Washington: “No Wisconsin Here,” Michael D. Yates
Michael D. Yates is a writer, editor, and labor educator. He is Associate Editor of Monthly Review and Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. Read his other books “Why Unions Matter” and “The ABCs of the Economic Crisis” (with Fred Magdoff), among other titles.
More later on this book…
Last, I wrote the following for the magazine Australian Options in 2011.
“The Republican and corporate assault on workers’ rights and the mass resistance is hot news.
US workers are standing up for their rights against the rich. In 2007, 400 of the wealthiest people in the US owned $1.5 trillion of wealth, which is more than the “bottom” 90%.
Can the unions out organise the T-Party?
Is the sleeping giant the US working class arising? I encourage the reader to follow this class struggle.
In February 2011, hundreds of thousands of workers in Wisconsin rallied against Republican attacks taking away collective bargaining for public sector workers. The breadth and depth of community resistance is very significant.
“Fight Like an Egyptian!” sums up the spirit.
This Wisconsin story is one example. On February 11th T-Party Republican Governor Walker introduced legislation to crush unions and take away rights and cut pensions and health benefits 8%. The privatisation of public sector work escalated.
Protest began with teachers and students who went into their Parliament House to watch and later decided to stay overnight. By the 17th 30,000 had joined, surrounding and occupying – debating the issues and singing in opposition.
Then by February 26th 100,000 protested, the largest rallies since the 1960s. Photos and videos of the tremendous enthusiasm are on-line.
The Governor threatened the National Guard.
A veterans group said the military is ‘not a personal intimidation force to be mobilised against political protests’.
He backed off, but ordered the police to remove the protesters. The police turned up and supported the protesters – as did fire fighters, farmers, private sector unionists and community groups. At the same time as the Egyptian protests signs compared Walker with Mubarak. An Egyptian man in a news report held a sign that said: “We’re supporting Wisconsin.”
The pizza shop feeding the protesters became famous when they put on the Internet a special solidarity price to donate to the occupiers. They were swamped from all over the world. Cairo protesters said they were standing up for democracy and that’s what US protests said.
The Republican spin is that the financial debt crisis is the public sector workers’ fault. But the debt was because of tax-cutting to companies and the rich.
This Republican attack is to destroy unions so that corporations have total say over what happens at work and in society.
The billionaire Koch brothers (pronounced Coke) oil funds the T-party. The Koch brothers own polluting companies and fund the climate deniers. They want lower corporate taxes. Already giant corporates Exxon and GE pay little tax.
Tea Partiers and anti-union politicians are trying to take advantage of a capitalist crisis sparked by Wall Street and use it as an opportunity to attack unions.
Opposition to the Kochs sees active blogs, boycotting products, protesting at their meetings. Their Wisconsin T-party rally flopped.
Public sector workers, teachers and nurses and fire-fighters and university academics and others are respected and supported.
The protests turned around public opinion in favour of unions. Now some Republicans are critical of Walker, as he has stirred this working class giant.
The Wisconsin Democrats left the state so no quorum could be formed to stop the legislation. Walker tried to have them arrested but could not.
The laws were rammed through despite mass opposition. A judge declared the laws unlawful on a technicality, so court appeals are on.
In Wisconsin, citizens who find their elected officials lied can get enough signatures for a re-call election. Workers in Wisconsin and other states are getting more involved in elections in an effort to unite working-class voters:
Recall campaigns are organized against eight Wisconsin State Senators who backed Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill.
I visited the San Francisco ILWU International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “From now on, no one who works for a living can afford to support any politician who won’t pledge to support union members,” said ILWU President Bob McEllrath. “I don’t give a damn about what party they’re from, I just want to know if they’ve got the guts to stand-up for unions and working class instead of selling out.”
From the ILWU Dispatcher April 2010 ‘Anti-union forces want to eliminate unions. With more than 93% of private-sector workers now without a union, their work has been successful, and the remaining public-sector unions are more vulnerable.
They hope to use public-sector unions as a “wedge issue” that can generate enough conflict to divide working-class voters. By portraying union members as lazy and overpaid, anti-union forces hope their “divide-and-conquer” strategy will be as effective as gun control, abortion, the teaching of evolution, and other issues that drive working-class voters toward anti-union politicians.’
In the state of Maine, anti-union Republican Governor Paul LePage went off the deep-end by ordering the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting the state’s labor history from the Department of Labor. He removed the names of labor leaders listed in the conference rooms. The governor says the mural and labor names “go against the department’s pro-business goals.” Republicans are trying to ease child labor laws, requiring young employees to work longer for less money.
The peak union body the AFL-CIO coordinated 1000 events – rallies, and teach-ins – on April 4th 2011 the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination – while he was supporting public sanitation workers who were striking for union recognition.
To show their solidarity, ILWU International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 members did not work at the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco on April 4th 2011.
“An Injury to One is an Injury to All”
At the San Francisco ILWU, I learnt of the battle of workers in the desert against the lock-out by the giant Rio-Tinto Corporation. See my posts on how organising works. Buy the film Locked Out http://www.lockedout2010.org
See ILWU website
‘Workers have got to stand together right now. If we don’t step up, everything we’ve fought for can be taken away. The companies aren’t going to give workers anything. It is only because workers come together and collectively fight for improvements in our working conditions that anything has ever been won. This is an emergency we have in Wisconsin and across the U.S. This is an attack on the middle class. We are in the battle of a lifetime.’
“Rally to End Corporate Greed” in San Francisco attracted thousands. On April 8th 2011, 12,000 rallied to “Put People First” in Washington State.
Programmes to “tax the rich” were presented. Unions organise statewide ballot propositions to ‘tax the rich’ to ease budget deficits. In 2010, voters in Oregon passed two measures that raised taxes on corporations and high-income households with support from labor unions.
The film ‘Inside Job’ is popular showing the same rich corporate leaders responsible for the global financial crisis still push their interests.
Paul Krehbiel’s point is accepted. ‘How can there not be enough money in the richest country in the world for needed social services when practically every other industrialized country funds them?
Actually, there’s tons of money. Billions and trillions of dollars.
The problem is that it isn’t in government bank accounts because the giant corporations and the rich have taken it. The sales pitch from the Republicans, their financiers, and their mouthpieces in the corporate media have turned this reality upside-down. There is also tons of US government money being wasted. The biggest waste, financially and in lives, is the over $1 trillion spent on unpopular wars in the Middle East.
During WWII, corporations paid over 40% of all taxes collected by the federal government… Today, in 2011, corporations pay 10% . It’s the same or even lower in state governments.’ See Paul Krehbiel posted on chriswhiteonline.org
One programme is from New Priorities that ‘seeks to fund urgently needed jobs and restore vital public services by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and substantially cutting the core Pentagon budget. The campaign is to “move the money” from military to help struggling communities.’
This serious class fight maybe the end of the unions. Either US unions survive and grow – and membership is spiking up during the protests – or else the corporates finish off US unions.
Various left anti-capitalist groups are organising strongly. http://www.labornotes.org/2011/03/whats-next-wisconsin
Reports in International Union Rights vol 18 issue 1 2011 http://www.ictur.org
And much more with Occupy.