Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 16, 2011

Wisconsin erupts

By some strange but excellent coincidence, our visit to Madison coincided with a tremendous series of demonstrations against Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to destroy public employee unions in the state, and no doubt inspire other governors to do the same. Wisconsin, it should be noted, was the first state to recognize the right of public employees to bargain collectively; Walker wants to make it a leader in reversing that history.

Liza & I dropped by today’s protest at the state Capitol—one that we’re told was far larger than yesterday’s, which is said to have attracted 10,000. It was incredibly spirited, but, since this is Wisconsin, rather polite. Here’s what the approach to the Capitol from State St. looked like.

There were lots of kids, from young ones like these to high school students. Madison schools were closed today because the teachers all called in sick.

Here’s that same side of the Capitol, a little closer-up.

There were lots of comparisons of Walker to Hosni Mubarak. It’s quite wonderful to see the spirit of Cairo hitting the American heartland. CNN’s Candy Crowley introduced a report on the demo by saying, “This isn’t the Middle East. It’s downtown Madison, Wisconsin.”

On the other side of the Capitol, a long line of demonstrators were entering the building, ready to mount what one Republican legislator called a “citizen filibuster.” Here’s what it looked like a bit inside the entrance.

A New Yorker couldn’t help but be struck by how there was no effort to keep people out of the Capitol—no metal detectors, no police lines, in fact only a handful of cops inside the building. Indeed, in New York City you can’t even get near City Hall any longer, much less just walk into the building. You’d have been cordoned off blocks away, where no one important would have to see or hear you.

Here’s what it sounded like inside the Capitol:

Madison fightback

Walking back to our hotel, to meet up with Matt Rothschild of The Progressive magazine so he could interview us for his radio show (here’s his take on Walker and the fightback), we ran into these folks, with a curious homemade contraption (“You can do anything with duct tape,” said one).

It all felt a bit like Seattle in late 1999—though I sure hope this movement has more legs than that one turned out to have.

The Republicans have majorities in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, and are likely to get what they want. It’s clear that he’s using a budget crisis to break the unions and to remove them as a political force in the state. As in most states, the unions are major supporters of Democrats—who keep writing checks and getting out the vote despite the fact that Dems actually do little for them once they’re in office. (In fact, Walker’s Dem opponent did his share of union-bashing during the campaign.) It may be that  had Walker not gone for such a maximalist agenda, this sort of protest might not have happened. Other governors may take note and opt instead for the death by a thousand cuts instead of one giant machete chop. But of course, it’s not just Republicans. Democratic govs like Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo also have it out for public sector workers, since, as everyone knows, you just can’t tax the fatcats these days. And you do have to wonder how aggressive unions in California and New York will be in protesting Democratic governors.

All that aside, this was cheering, inspiring stuff. Let’s hope that these protests marked the moment when Americans shed their quiescence and decided to fight the austerity party,

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Responses

  1. May I suggest #Feb16 as the Freedom Tag for Wisconsin?

  2. Excellent. Of course, the Green Bay Packers are a socialist organization. There’s something wrong with my grammar. I like that the demonstrators are polite, and they have some appreciation of hockey. I’ave just assumed the hockey part.

  3. Many thanks for the commentary and pics, Doug. Great to have your reportage on the ground. Inspiring, indeed.

  4. [...] like the drive for freedom has spread from the Middle East to the Midwest: By some strange but excellent coincidence, our visit to Madison coincided with a tremendous series [...]

  5. Worth noting that state and private sector wages are related to each other, cut the public sector and there is little chance the private sector will see any increases.

    And Egypt, post-Mubarak, just doubled police salaries, because without the ability to bribe they would be facing major salary reductions.

    Cutting the public sector will increase the chances of bribery becoming endemic. This was the whole reason for a professional public sector in the first place.

    Again, our ruling class is singularly stupid and avaricious. This goes hand in hand with America’s steep decline over the last 10 years in terms of global economic power.

    Having traveled a lot of the hostels in Europe and Asia the last year, I’ve met the younger generation of non-American elite, and they hold no fear or awe of American prowess. In other words, American decline – in my opinion – is irreversible, and probably on a steep downward slope.

  6. Thanks for the report, Doug. Good to see people out in the streets and seeing connections to what is going on in the rest of the world. We have been in PA for about six weeks. The Republican governor and the republican-controlled legislature are planning major social spending cuts, attacks of public workers, etc. Big on Marcellus Shale drilling. With no tax on the gas planned. Landscape is barren and horrible. No jobs. Drugs everywhere. An ugly spirit everywhere too. So Madison sounds pretty hopeful to me!

  7. Great post! I would only point out that there is no budget crisis in Wisconsin (credit to Richard Seymour for the link.)

    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/wisconsin-gov-walker-ginned-up-budget-shortfall-to-undercut-worker-rights.php

  8. If you attribute this world-wide assault on an individual bad character you’d be incorrect. The problem goes much deeper and it has a name– capitalism.The answer to the problem cannot be found in either the Democratic Party or the Unions.

    “…After the war, the CIO dropped any demands for a fundamental reform of American capitalism or for industrial democracy. Together with the AFL, it aligned itself with American imperialism’s expansionist strivings and enlisted in the Cold War anticommunist crusade against the Soviet Union. The union bureaucracies carried out a ruthless purge of socialist and left-wing forces, who had played leading roles in the mass struggles that established the CIO. The anticommunist witch-hunt established the basic physiognomy of the labor bureaucracy and laid the foundations for the decay and eventual collapse of the labor movement.”

    “The merger of the AFL and CIO in 1955 signified the end of any association of the American labor movement with a perspective for significant social change. The fact that the largest union in the United States, the Teamsters, was controlled by the Mafia was but the most repulsive expression of the pro-capitalist orientation of the American unions as a whole.”

    “Backwardness, ignorance, corruption and outright gangsterism were and remain the defining traits of the union bureaucracy. Its relationship to the working class was expressed most nakedly in the AFL-CIO’s collaboration with the Central Intelligence Agency in such international CIA labor fronts as the American Institute for Free Labor Development, wherein AFL-CIO operatives engaged in counterrevolutionary violence against left-wing unions and political organizations around the world. In its service to American imperialism, the AFL-CIO allied itself with military dictatorships, death squads and fascist organizations in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The ex-Stalinist Jay Lovestone became the chief strategist of the AFL-CIO’s counterrevolutionary activities abroad, succeeded by Irving Brown. The results within the US of the AFL-CIO’s counterrevolutionary perspective and integration into the American security state apparatus are reflected in graphs of union membership, which show a steady erosion beginning in 1955 and rapidly accelerating after the late 1970s…”

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/oct2008/bgr2-o14.shtml

  9. Hmmm… Doug goes to Madison, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites descend on the Capitol. A coincidence, he suggests. Riiiiiight! Pass the oregano oil, it’s a conspiracy!

    But seriously, this is the kind of mobilization that’s needed – and several times larger. Meanwhile, NY’s Democratic governor, Cuomo the Second, is all for “taking on the public sector unions.” And Friend of Obama, Mayor Moneybags in NYC wants to ax about 4,500 teachers and phase out another 1,500 teacher positions through attrition. No, this isn’t a GOP-only push… in fact, Obama and Arne Duncan have been maligning public school teachers and their unions for two years now, the GOP – as the vanguard party of the capitalist class – is just playing catch-up.

    And by the way – there’s no fiscal crisis: the state has an over-$100million budget surplus. This is just class terrorism, pure and simple.

  10. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/teachers/madison-schools-shut-because-o.html

    Madison schools shut down.

  11. Your tag is a bit off “Cairo on the Mahara” —> …on the YAHARA
    :)

  12. Oops, thanks. That’s what you get for typing late at night after a couple of glasses of wine.

  13. According to this, the crisis in Wisconsin was completely manufactured….to bust union s.

    http://host.madison.com/ct/news/opinion/editorial/article_61064e9a-27b0-5f28-b6d1-a57c8b2aaaf6.html

  14. [...] Henwood was local when the protests started, and has pictures, thoughts and followup. Joel Rogers explains the politics of Wisconsin to Henwood: “To outsiders, [...]

  15. [...] The first set is at Doug Henwood’s sterling LBO (Left Business Observer) News blog in two posts, and taken this weekend when he was in Wisconsin for the protests. His analysis on political [...]

  16. [...] 12 Doug Henwood, “Wisconsin Erupts,” Left Business Observer, February 16, 2011 at http://lbo-news.com/2011/02/16/wisconsin-erupts/ [...]

  17. [...] 12 Doug Henwood, “Wisconsin Erupts,” Left Business Observer, February 16, 2011 at http://lbo-news.com/2011/02/16/wisconsin-erupts/    [...]


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