Opprør i Wisconsin
Skrevet av Fredsvenn den mars 2, 2011
Opprøret i Wisconsin har nå funnet sted i flere uker, men det har fått lite presseoppslag. Her er en mail skrevet for å vinne solidaritet:
The state of Wisconsin, historically a major center of US progressive movements and labor organizing, found itself at the head of the reactionary electoral wave of 2010.
The state elected a new governor named Scott Walker who first made a name for himself by refusing to accept money allocated by Obama’s federal government for building a passenger train line between Wisconsin’s capital Madison and its largest city Milwaukee (thus connecting Madison to the rest of the country’s national passenger train network). He had campaigned on the need cut government spending, but then hit on the brilliant cost-saving scheme to divert the rail money to road maintenance.
After that, he decided to cut taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and then declared, in a panic, that the state was out of money. He proposed a law that would, naturally, severely cut wages and benefits for public employees in the state; but he added something he had never mentioned during his electoral campaign: he wanted to cut not only costs but also labor rights.
The proposed law would severely curtail union organizing, for example by no longer allowing public employees to bargain collectively over working conditions or benefits.
When the plan was made public (though it was originally hidden in a small “budget repair” bill), Wisconsin’s unions organized a protest, which grew into a two-week occupation of the state capitol building. Until building access was recently restricted, hundreds and possibly thousands of people were camped out in the building, participating in non-stop debates over the bill, and receiving donated fast food deliveries ordered by supporters from around the world. (Due to Wisconsin’s progressive history, this was all legal; the public had the right to freely access the halls of their government, until the state government changed the law this weekend.)
Many public schools teachers have gone on impromptu strikes. There have been solidarity rallies around the country. And for two Saturdays in a row, there have been demonstrations of 70,000-100,000 people in Madison, the vast majority of them rank-and-file members of Wisconsin public employee unions, including many graduate students employees of the University of Wisconsin (Madison and Milwaukee) whom I know as fellow members of the American Federation of Teachers, with which my University of Chicago grad student union is affiliated.
But the fight has gained the support of workers and activists from around the country, including several of my friends from Chicago who have been in Madison at the center of things.
The situation is both exciting and frightening. If the proposed law goes into effect, it represents an unprecedented defeat for labor organizing in the United States, and already several other state governments have proposed similar plans. If the plan goes through in Wisconsin, these other state governments are certain to try building on the Walker government’s success. It only stands to reason that this would, moreover, offer great hope and inspiration to anti-union forces everywhere.
But just as the proposed law is unprecedentedly bad, the scale of opposition to it has also been unprecedented. The current rebellion may be the largest labor unrest in the United States since the 1930s. And there is a strong possibility that it will grow. One major labor federation in Wisconsin unanimously approved a call for nationwide general strike if the law passes.
There has never been a nationwide general strike in the United States—it would be, among other things, illegal – yet I have not seem any union organizers or leaders speak against the idea, in spite of their usually moderate, even conservative approach to organizing.
What’s more, the Wisconsin police union has issued a statement of support for the protests, calling for the capitol building to remain open and calling on its members to join the protestors sleeping overnight inside — even though Walker had proposed that the law not affect police (as well as firefighter) unions.
This may be the first time in U.S. history that police have openly defied their superiors’ orders to move against a labor protest, at least one this large.
In addition, some valuable moral support came from several members of the Green Bay Packers, the Wisconsin football team which in late January won the Super Bowl, and which, it so happens, is a non-profit organization publicly owned by its fans; I’m talking about American football, with helmets and funny-shaped balls; the Super Bowl is sport’s highest championship.
There have been other colorful turns of events which, at least, make for good news stories.
One right-wing (Republican) Wisconsin state legislator made the mistake of complaining, early on, that his fellow lawmakers were merely attempting a modest fix of government finances, and suddenly “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.” Whether journalists got the idea from him or came up with it on their own, nearly every major news piece since has picked up on the theme.
Certainly, there are some differences in the two situations. For one thing, Mubarak allowed public employee unions to exist, though he tried to control them from above. For another thing, no one has been shooting at the Wisconsin protestors, although the deputy attorney general of Indiana did publicly suggest the idea to his Wisconsin colleagues (but he was fired).
The plot also thickened when opposition (Democrat) lawmakers in Wisconsin decided to support the workers’ movement by boycotting the state senate so that there would not be a quorum and no bills could be passed.
Since Wisconsin law empowers police to find missing legislators and bring them physically to the capitol, the lawmakers fled to neighboring Illinois, where Wisconsin police would have no authority. In anticipation of a similar situation, Democrats in Indiana did the same, helping to provide the public with the unusual spectacle of respectable politicians on the run from a police force which, itself, does not seem to want to catch them, while Republicans fume but have not found a way to legally force a vote.
Scott Walker, meanwhile, was further embarrassed when a journalist called him, pretending to be billionaire contributor to his campaign David Koch. The caller was able to record the governor as he considered planting agents provocateurs among the protestors and then accepted an offer to be shown “a good time” after crushing his opponents. (The governor’s staff admitted the authenticity of the recording but denied being embarrassed.)
Nevertheless, and in spite of some rumors that the Wisconsin government might be backing down, the outcome of events is very uncertain. Already the movement can claim the partial victory that other governments will hesitate before provoking a similar response. But within Wisconsin, none of the major players have softened their stance. I think it’s a critical moment, and the protesting workers can use all the help they can get, including from people who have the misfortune not to be able to join them in person.
So I wanted to send suggestions for ways you can contribute:
- Write statements of solidarity – if you have contact with or are a part of any organization that might express its public support of the protesting workers, send statements of solidarity to firstname.lastname@example.org. These can be a great help for the workers’ morale and for building public support locally as well as abroad. You can see a couple of sample statements at the bottom of this page: http://www.defendwisconsin.org/.
- Donate at http://helpdefendwisconsin.org/ or http://store.iww.org/madison-donations.html. The former is operated by the American Federation of Teachers, which is among the largest unions representing Wisconsin public employees. The latter is connected to the Industrial Workers of the World, which is smaller but very active in Madison labor activism. Either organization will use the money well. The protesters have also suggested the following sites for ordering food directly to be sent to them at the capitol building: http://www.facebook.com/IansPizzaOnState?ref=ts&sk=app_6009294086 and http://cabellscrabble.blogspot.com/2011/02/donate-food-to-protesters-via.html. Access has to the capitol has now been limited, but since I have not heard otherwise, I assume there the people there from 8:00am to 6:00pm US Central Time can still use food donations.
- Phone bank (i.e. call people in Wisconsin urging them to support the protesting workers) – This may be more difficult for people outside North America. But it can be possible using Skype, and if you are careful what time you call. Write to email@example.com for instructions.
- Pass this message on (or another message of your own).
- Follow events at http://www.defendwisconsin.org/.