Unions and student organizations demonstrated and occupied the state capital building in Madison, Wisconsin demanding the dropping of a bill that would bust the unions and outlaw collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. (Bryan Pfeifer), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Wisconsin struggle continues in courts & streets
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published Apr 17, 2011 9:23 PM
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.
On April 11 in New Berlin, Wis., a city of 38,000 people between Milwaukee and Waukesha, the largest pro-worker-rights rally in the history of the city took place.
Sandy Jacobs, an occupational therapist at Milwaukee Mental Health Complex and member of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, joined the New Berlin protest. She has worked for 25 years as a health professional — both with and without a union.
“I am here because having a union — having a voice on the job — is crucial to patient care. Attacking workers’ rights is not what I value as a Wisconsinite. We need our representatives to listen to the people,” said Jacobs. “I am here to hold my elected officials accountable.” (wisaflcio.typepad.com)
Mobilizing is also going on statewide to pack public hearings in regard to Walker’s 2011-2013 budget, which, according to the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, “calls for the most extreme cuts to public education and public services ever proposed in Wisconsin history.” (wisaflcio.typepad.com/) These draconian cuts, if rammed through, will affect all poor and working people in the state, but will affect people of color, women and children the worst.
‘We will not give in’
Beginning April 4, more than 1,000 “We Are One” protests, rallies, candlelight vigils and other actions took place in every state in the United States.
According to the AFL-CIO, its affiliates, Change To Win federation affiliates and numerous other unions, community and student organizations took to the streets to say no to union busting and the vicious assaults by Wall Street on poor and working people.
One of the largest actions took place in Chicago on April 9. A major rally to protest union busting, anti-people attacks and to support the people’s resistance in Wisconsin took place at Daley Plaza and brought together thousands of labor-community-student forces in a rally sponsored by the Chicago Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Numerous speakers denounced the attempt by the banks and corporations to bust unions and cut funding for direly needed services.
Bill Lucy, retired secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the highest ranking African-American union official in the U.S., was the featured speaker. Lucy, who was with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis when he was killed on April 4, 1968, said King would have been on the front lines in Madison if he were still alive.
“Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what ship you may have come over on, but we are in the same boat now,” Lucy said of the looming threat that other states might follow Wisconsin’s lead. “We will not give up. We will not give out. We will not give in.” (Chicago Sun Times, April 10)
To help and for more information, visit www.wisaflcio.org; wisaflcio.typepad.com; www.vdlf.org; www.defendwisconsin.org; and www.bailoutpeople.org.
A brief history of Wisconsin
Published Apr 17, 2011 9:14 PM
By Joe Johnson
Chippewa Falls, Wis.
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.
Capitalist parties: no solution for the workers
Politically, the people of Wisconsin were very opposed to slavery and a plantation-type economy. The Republican Party was actually founded in Wisconsin in 1854. It was a new national party opposed to the spread of slavery into the Western territories. It soon had three divisions: a center, a far left and a far right — all with their own newspapers and followers.
The far right of the Wisconsin Republican Party eventually produced reactionaries like Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society. Out of the far left came the Populists and Progressives. This often led to great political swings in the state.
In that period, the Democratic Party hardly existed in Wisconsin, except during national presidential campaigns. The Republicans, however, had a strong social base among the farmers.
By the 1940s, Wisconsin’s economy was changing. The thousands of small dairies were being bought up by Kraft Foods. Soon small family farms were becoming large family farms. Later these were either absorbed by or became larger industrial farms that hired tens and even hundreds of laborers at low wages.
Industries began to develop in the Milwaukee area and the unions got a foothold there. Union members were able to get signatures to put Democratic Party candidates on the ballot. Auto and eventually computer factories came to the state, made a lot of money and have mostly gone elsewhere today. The Democratic Party, which grew in this period, has now grown weak.
Today hardly any family farms remain. Only a few specialty cheese producers and dairies that handle perhaps half a percent of Wisconsin’s cheese and milk production remain independent. Kraft Foods, however, has become a transnational corporation with $50 billion in net annual revenue and more than half its business outside of North America.
The Republican Party, which had been based on the farmers, is now a party of big capital. The Democratic Party has some people based in the unions. However, the industrial unions have been greatly weakened.
The election in 2010 of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who has launched a direct attack on the very existence of unions, was the result of people’s frustration with the failure of the Democrats to stem the growing capitalist economic crisis.
A union firefighter recently told me that he had voted for Walker because he thought at the time that Walker would bring jobs, while the Democratic candidate would not. But now he was out on the streets, protesting Walker’s attack on the unions’ right to bargain and organize.
Some think the uprising of the Wisconsin public workers has energized the Democratic Party. But U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat, never went to Madison and has said nothing about this struggle. President Barack Obama likewise has not spoken to the protesters or the teachers, only to a group of mainly Republican governors, telling them he understands their budget problems.
What strength the unions have at present comes from the public sector, like the teachers. If Gov. Walker is able to destroy the government unions, he will basically have destroyed the Wisconsin union movement.
But this is the past. Today the people of Wisconsin — union members, students and people from the community — are in the streets and have actually succeeded in occupying the Capitol for more than three weeks. They have gone around the capitalist political parties in their struggle, imparting a new consciousness that will make a new history.
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