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PORTSIDE  February 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE February 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Madison Labor Activists Strategize for 'Class War'

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Date:

Wed, 16 Feb 2011 23:48:25 -0500

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Madison Labor Activists Strategize for 'Class War' Ignited by Walker Budget Bill

Pat Schneider
The Capital Times
February 16, 2011
http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/grassroots/article_b8243b38-398f-11e0-a7bd-001cc4c03286.html

What's happening now in Wisconsin, with thousands of
workers flooding the Capitol to protest Gov. Scott
Walker's move to snuff the collective bargaining power
of public employees, is much more than backlash against
a union-busting maneuver, labor activists and their
supporters said Tuesday evening at a forum at the
Orpheum Theatre in downtown Madison.

It is, they insist, the first counter-strike in a class
war being waged against workers.

The urgency for reform of an economic system that
enriches the few from the labor of the many was a
recurring theme as some 100 workers and friends
gathered to pledge mutual support and strategize on how
to build on the momentum loosed at the historic Capitol
rally earlier in the day that drew more than 10,000
demonstrators.

Their weapons?

Protests, sit-ins, filibusters, work stoppages,
boycotts of businesses that support Walker's
legislation or that funded his candidacy. Civil
disobedience. And most potent of all: Solidarity!

"What's happening now is political theater - let's keep
it going as long as possible," said Scott Erlenborn, a
Baptist pastor.

Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate report
that they have the votes to pass the governor's Budget
Repair Bill, which he says is aimed at a $137 million
deficit in the current fiscal year. A vote could take
place as early as Thursday.

Several speakers at the Orpheum Tuesday conceded that
the GOP majority has the votes to pass the bill,
including Lester Pines, a Madison attorney who has
represented many public workers.

"There's only one way to stop them, and I don't think
that's going to happen: take over the Assembly and the
Senate and don't let them come in," he said.

Even if the legislation passes, that doesn't mean the
end to collective bargaining, Pines said. Workers'
power to negotiate comes not from any state law
recognizing them, he said. It is seized.

"The power comes from people coming together and
organizing and telling employers they want to bargain."

Although touted as a budget fix, the removal of
collective bargaining rights from most public workers
on everything but salary, as Walker proposes, would
have no impact on the deficit, Kathy Wilkes, a retired
writer and editor, said in an interview. "He's
demonizing workers as the cause of the economic
collapse - that we know came from Wall Street and the
shipping of jobs overseas - instead of talking about
the corporate elite and their gargantuan salaries. This
is a class war."

State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, told the crowd
Tuesday that conservatives are "trying to shove this
down our throats, and this is where we draw a line in
the sand."

The role of social media in spreading the word about
worker actions was cited by several speakers, as were
websites with information backing up their arguments
about the catastrophic impact of destroying public
worker unions on the state's economy. University of
Wisconsin-Madison sophomore Scot McCollough spoke of
sending Walker copies of all the assignments produced
for UW classes to give him an idea of how much work
goes on there. "They are backing people into corners
here," he said. "We cannot roll over. We will never
give up."

Madison ironworker Anthony Anastasi, a private sector
union member, spoke to the struggle that in the last
century won the rights that are now threatened for
public employees. "People literally died for our
rights," he said. "I want the public sector to know we
have your back 110 percent."

The solidarity required to challenge the entire
economic system will need to extend beyond public and
private union members to the general public, activists
said. Carmen Clark urged fellow union members to talk
with friends and family about what the resistance to
"the owning class" is about. "Many of them have
unionism somewhere in their family closet," she said.

Labor activist Ron Blascoe declared that the time was
right for a general strike -- a refusal to work by all
public and private workers -- to pressure politicians
to enact reforms. The call for such action will not
come from union leadership, he predicted. "They will
tell us it is too radical, but Walker's plan is too
radical. This is no time to be cautious."

It's very important to enlist private sector workers,
because it is their envy of the the pensions that
public workers still enjoy that the right wing uses to
mobilize antagonism against unions, said Earl Silbar, a
Chicago labor activist. "Unless we organize inside and
outside unions for a class fight, we are not going to
get anywhere," he said.

The success of a grass-roots uprising in Egypt in
toppling strongman Hosni Mubarak was a source of
inspiration for many of those who brainstormed Tuesday
in Madison about resistance to attacks on U.S. workers
in several states.

It helped fire a passionate expression of solidarity by
Bryan Pfeifer, an organizer of part-time faculty at
Wayne State University in Detroit. "We are calling on
people from throughout the Midwest to descend on
Madison and make a stand. We did not create the
economic crisis and we are not going to pay for it," he
declared to cheers and applause.

"Fight like an Egyptian!"

___________________________________________

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