Posted on February 18, 2011 by

The dramatic, fast-changing and unpredictable events in Madison, Wisconsin have inspired and encouraged union advocates across the country.

Sparked by a brazen move by republicans to weaken state government employee unions, outraged workers are converging on the capital in a rare show of solidarity and power.

Labor activists are often frustrated by what’s perceived as a very passive American working class, unwilling to confront – or even react to – growing economic inequality.

Now there may be some hope that anti-union forces have crossed the line, triggering an “enough is enough” dynamic among wage-earners and the unemployed.

National republicans thought they had a winning formula to take on the last union stronghold, arguing that public-sector benefit and pension costs are busting state budgets and burdening ordinary taxpayers.

After a generation of gutting unionized manufacturing, anti-union forces were sharpening their knives, particularly with recent takeovers of state legislatures and governor seats in many states.

The internal logic for republicans is clear.  Taking out annoying public employee unions deprives their democratic opponents of an essential political constituency with resources and other electoral capabilities.

We’ll find out soon if newly-elected Wisconsin republican governor Scott Walker has overplayed his hand and how long those “democrats-in-hiding” can block the anti-union forces.

A few other questions for the near – and not so near – future:

What will national democrats and this president say or do to on behalf of public sector unions?

Can these events do anything to refocus attention on the need to organize non-government workers?

And could this courageous stand by union workers in Wisconsin touch the American working class in a way which gets people thinking – and acting – in their collective interest?

Comments (9)


  1. Alan K. says:

    On Wisconsin!!!!!

  2. Ron Alcalay says:

    I heard yesterday on Left, Right and Center that the total deficit of ALL STATES is 760 billion, the same amount that US taxpayers paid to bail out AIG, a private corporation ready for bankruptcy. So why are state governments less important to our federal government than a single corporation?

  3. Dear Friends,

    For the last week, working people in Wisconsin have staged a rebellion against a brutal attack on the rights of workers by a governor and legislature dominated by sociopathic Republicans. These plutocrats want to destroy collective bargaining for all public employees and turn Wisconsin into a right to work state for private employees.

    Gary Huck and I both grew up in Wisconsin. Gary was raised in Racine and I grew up in Manitowoc. Both towns are on the shores of Lake Michigan and both towns were manufacturing centers. Racine and Manitowoc were devastated by the Reagan recession of the 1980s and are still part of the Rust Belt.

    I moved to Madison in 1971 to finish school at the University of Wisconsin and arrived one year after the massive anti-Vietnam War riots ended with the bombing of Sterling Hall. The demonstrations in Madison today don’t have any of the violence of the anti-war riots of the 60’s or of Seattle 1999. In fact there has been an atmosphere of celebration and camaraderie. Families bring their children of all ages and feel very safe. The kids are having fun.

    Wisconsin was the birthplace of Fightin’ Bob LaFollette, the founder of the Wisconsin progressive movement. Progressivism merged into the New Deal and Wisconsin was influential in the creation of laws and culture that respected working people. This is from the Wisconsin Historical Society: “Wisconsin’s workers and reformers made significant contributions to the history of labor in the United States, helping to enact legislation such as workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance that served as models for similar laws in other states. The study of labor history itself also began in Wisconsin when University of Wisconsin economist John R. Commons set out to document the history of work and labor in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Commons and his associates also joined labor leaders, the business community, and politicians to bring about some of Wisconsin’s groundbreaking social policies.”

    Wisconsin was also the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, formed in 1932. They created what would later become Wisconsin State Employees Union/Council 24. We are proud to say that Council 24 is a subscriber to Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons.

    The progressive pro-labor culture dominated the state until the dismal 1950s when Joe McCarthy was elected and launched the McCarthy era of brutal repression of working people.

    We are now experiencing another period of repression. The workers of Wisconsin know their history and know what is at stake. Again, robber barons are trying to destroy our traditions and the history that our forbearers fought and died for. We are determined to preserve our proud history and fight against the forces of decay.
    In the election of 2008 we thought that change was coming. But change never comes from the top down. It comes from the bottom up.

    Allow me to use a football metaphor. The Green Bay Packers won this year’s Super Bowl. The Packers, the smallest market city in the NFL, are named after a meat packing plant in Green Bay. A plutocrat does not own them; they are a non-profit owned by the community. To Wisconsin, Packer football is as much a part of our tradition as the labor movement. In the Super Bowl the team, devastated by injuries all season, lost two of their top players to injury in the first half. The game went back and forth, and in the fourth quarter the Packers found themselves in trouble. Kevin Greene, outside linebackers coach, pulled linebacker Clay Matthews aside and told him that the time had come to take control of the game. “It is time!” He said. Matthews went back in and helped cause a fumble that lead to victory.

    For those of us who believe in fighting for the least among us, workers, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, IT IS TIME. Wisconsin workers are up to the challenge.

    Join with us.

    Mike Konopacki

    • Lou says:

      It’s inspiring and reassuring to know that Wisconsin union activist and artist Mike Konopacki is on the scene, fighting – as he says – the “forces of decay”. And he’s right, “it is time” and Wisconsin workers “are up to the challenge.”

    • Stephen D. Lewis, JD says:

      Public Sector unions are bankrupting our states. In CA, after 25 years, correctional officers have $1,000,000 in retiremet funds. Where is the equity there? Do private sector workers have that kind of retirement .. hell no! We should not let politicians give our tax dollars away to coercive, threatening unions.

      The public sector unions are breaking our states. They should have private employers negotiate in the future.

      • Bob Muscat says:

        Sad, friend. Private sector workers should have better retirement as well. While there are indefensible and unsustainable retirement benefits in some public sector cases that need adjusting, t he average pension is under $30,000 per year in most places. If that’s still higher than private sector pensions, would you feel better if no workers recieved a pension? Think harder about this.

  4. John Connolly says:

    Listen closely to the commentary on the Wisconsin workers by some of the same Liberal-Progressives” who were cheering and weeping over the victory of the Egyptian “middle class” revolution one week ago.

    So far none of them are openly supporting the elimination of bargaining rights, but they are all saying “of course” the workers have to give in to demands for “shared sacrifice” to sole the state’s phony fiscal crisis, completely manufactured by the Republican Governor and Legislature over the last two months with giant give-aways to corporations and the rich.

    Crypto-Liberal Chris Matthews of MSNBC is the worst, blathering on in half-sentences, interrupting every guest, every time, on Friday he babbled his agreement with some Wisconsin House Neanderthal that workers shouldn’t “be forced to join a union”, after the Republ-thug attacked the Agency shop — not even closed shop — when non-members still must pay fees for representation.

    At least President Obama hasn’t stood aloof, he weighed in however meekly on the side of the workers. I suspect that a Do-or-Die, Which-Side-Are-You-On? phone call from Rich Trumka to the White House provided significant motivation.

    Non-Labor Liberal-Progressives make squishy allies for the working class; they’ve never really been comfortable with the kind of shotgun marriage to Labor that is necessary to bring Labor dollars and people-power to bear in electing the Dems.

    It is this thinly disguised “icky” feeling among some Liberals towards workers (magnified by Tea Populist sneering) that drives some white workers toward the Tea Party Right … along with unresolved racist immaturity. But somehow the red-rimmed blowhard Teas seem more authentic to some workers.
    It’s horrifying to see working people vote against their class interests — as did many in Wisconsin in November — and then get stabbed in the front in February.

    And the only strategy that the Dems can come up with is to literally runaway and hide … in Illinois.

    Perhaps if the Dems hadn’t stabbed us in the back so often, the picture in Wisconsin wouldn’t look so grim today.

    I say once more: Go Egyptians! Go Wisconsin!

  5. Salvador Sanchez says:

    Lou, it is a “gut check” of whether or not labor leaders in America have the capability not to let this crisis go waste. Indeed, it is a huge opportunity to re-invigorate the labor movement in America.

  6. a supporter says:

    The stakes are incredibly high. Labor must force the Governor to back down or the message will be sent to this new batch of right wing clowns that it is open season on collective bargaining. I am not one to overstate things, but I honestly believe that the outcome in Wisconsin will be a defining moment in the history of the American Labor movement.

    I just hope that we can get out in front of the spin as Repubs usually do. This must be cast in broader terms than just fighting for wages, benefits and even collective bargaining rights. This should be the tea party of the left. Yes, we need to fix our government and balance the budget for the next generation, but we should start by taking away the billions in perks to the already well off. These protests can spread to other states and impact the 2012 elections and beyond, but can only do so if the protesters become the defenders of the middle class and the poor.

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