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March 2011, Week 2

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Fri, 11 Mar 2011 22:17:27 -0500
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Pro-Worker Movement Power in Wisconsin: What's Next?

John Nichols
March 11, 2011
http://www.thenation.com/blog/159188/pro-worker-
movement-power-wisconsin-whats-next

Now that a series of crude power plays--violations of
open meetings laws, restricted debates, denial of
access to dissenting legislators, snap votes--have
given Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a momentary
victory in his fight to strip public employee unions of
their collective bargaining rights, the governor and
his allies are claiming that they are implementing the
will of people of Wisconsin.

Referencing last November’s election results, which
gave him the governorship and control of the
legislature, Walker has repeatedly said through the
month-long fight in Wisconsin that "the "people have
spoken" and "the voters have spoken."

And, if we elected monarchs (or "kings for four years,"
as Thomas Jefferson feared), then Walker’s
pronouncements from on high might have to be accepted--
at least by those inclined toward a docile citizenship.

But, of course, the United States went with a
representative democracy model where elected officials
are supposed to at least note and ideally respond to
the will of the people.

The clear will of the people of, as confirmed by
contacts with the offices of Republican legislators
that ran in some cases 10-1 against the governor’s
proposal, in polls that show less than one-third of
Wisconsinites support the governor’s approach (and that
a clear majority would replace him as governor if they
could) and in mass demonstrations that have already
drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets and that
could draw hundreds of thousands more this weekend.

There is a lot of talk about where to take this energy,
and a lot of options--all with credible arguments and
all with support from serious players.

In Madison and Milwaukee, you’ll see posters calling
for a general strike. The calls frequently reference
some of the boldest and most romantically recalled
moments in labor history, harkening back to the great
1934 struggles in San Francisco and Toledo, both of
which garnered such broad support that they forced the
hands of private employers and yielded significant
gains for what would become the International Longshore
and Warehouse Union on the West Coast and the United
Auto Workers in the Great Lakes states. Those actions,
like the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936 and 1937, are
the stuff of labor lore. But the Wisconsin struggle, a
statewide fight that involves public-sector workers, is
a different game in many senses. What’s significant is
that some Wisconsin unions are serious about exploring
options for mass action that borrow from more recent
experiences--especially the "Days of Action [1]"
strikes organized by Ontario public-employee unions
when they came under attack from the government of
Conservative Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s.

"There are a lot of people in Wisconsin who are looking
at what was done in Canada, how it was organized and
maintained, how they made sure that emergency services
were maintained, that vulnerable people were protected,
while at the same time getting their point across,"
explained Madison Firefighters Local 311 union
president Joe Conway Jr., a key activist in the
Wisconsin struggle.

Not all unions are on the same page with regard to
strikes, general or otherwise. And there is concerns
that Walker, who fancies himself as a new Ronald
Reagan, might delight in firing striking state
employees. But the Madison-based South Central Labor
Federation has passed two motions [2] relating to the
effort:

"Motion 1: The SCFL endorses a general strike, possibly
for the day Walker signs his budget repair bill.

"Motion 2: The SCFL goes on record as opposing all
provisions contained in Walker’s budget repair bill,
including but not limited to, curtailed bargaining
rights and reduced wages, benefits, pensions, funding
for public education, changes to medical assistance
programs, and politicization of state government
agencies."

SCFL president Jim Cavanaugh says: "As the labor
movement moves to address this naked class war waged
upon us, we know we have already accomplished much,
setting an example to the nation and the world for how
to fight for our rights and for our children’s futures.
It appears we have much more to do."

And this is not just local talk in Madison.
Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen
is talking about organization of of a national "no-
business-as-usual" day of action on April 4, the
anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King
Jr.

At the same time, many unions are embracing a plan to
move money from banks and businesses that have
supported Governor Walker’s campaigns and his current
initiative. Firefighters’ union president Conway and
members marched Thursday on the M&I bank branch in
downtown Madison and began withdrawing money--taking
out close to $200,000 in the initail action--as a
protest against the support the bank executives have
given Walker.

"Pull the plug on M&I Bank!" reads the literature
distributed by members of Sheet Metal Workers
International Association Local 565 [3].

"M&I execs gave more money than even the Koch Brothers
to Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP," the message
goes. "M&I got a $1.7 billion bailout while its CEO
gets an $18 million golden parachute. Tell M&I Bank:
Back Politicians Who Take Away Our Rights (and) We Take
Away Your Business."

David Goodspeed, Local 565’s business agent, says the
unions top international leaders have taken up the
cause, which means that substantial amounts of money
could be removed from banks that back Walker. And the
United Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard says his
union "has started taking a very close look at where we
are banking."

This focus on the banks take up the message pushed by
National Nurses United, which produced "Blame Wall
Street" signs that have become favorites at the mass
rallies in Madison, Milwaukee and other cities.

The economic pressure on the banks and businesses that
back Walker becomes all the more important at a time
when the Citizens United v. FEC ruling gives
corporations a go-ahead to spend freely on behalf of
candidates that do their bidding.

And that gets to the politics of the moment.

The first fight will come April 5, when Wisconsinites
will choose a state Supreme Court justice. Incumbent
David Prosser has aligned himself with the right-
leaning judicial-activist majority on the Hi [4]gh
Court [4]--a majority that favors corporate power
almost as explicitly and consistently as does the US
Supreme Court. Prosser says that, if re-elected, he
would vote on the court as an aggressive and
unapologetic "judicial conservative." He is, as well, a
former legislative leader with close ties to Walker.

Prosser’s challenger, veteran Assistant Attorney
General JoAnne Kloppenburg, [5] has taken a different
direction. She promises to serve as a judicial
independent who is interested in restoring the
integrity of the court and following the rule of law--
as opposed to the partisan demands of the governor’s
office.

The national special-interest groups that have aligned
with Walker will help Prosser, as they know that their
agenda will face court challenges. Progressives will
need to counter the out-of-state money with in-state
grass-roots campaigning. But with hundreds of thousands
of newly energized foot soldiers, that won’t be nearly
as hard as it would have been just a few weeks ago.

The same goes for special elections (the primaries will
be April 5 and the elections will be May 3) to fill
three state Assembly seats vacated by Republicans who
went into the Walker administration--those of Mark
Gottlieb, Scott Gunderson and Mike Huebsch. Some
political insiders want to focus solely on the Huebsch
seat in western Wisconsin, as that district has tended
to back Democrats in recent national elections. But if
the movement that has developed in opposition to
Walker’s anti-worker, anti-community, anti-schools
agenda is to mean anything, it must compete beyond the
traditional boundaries. That’s especially true in the
Gunderson district, which includes sections of western
Racine County that are home to many union members who
work at state facilities in the region.

And what of the recalls?

There will be plenty of them. Tea partisans are already
putting their Koch brothers funding to use, plotting to
challenge Democrats such as Senator Bob Wirch, D-
Kenosha, in the southeast, and Senator Jim Holperin, D-
Conover, in the north. They might even go after a
renegade Republican, Senator Dale Schultz of Richland
Center. Progressives will need to be active in all
those races.

But the recall initiative will be primarily offensive,
not defensive. Every Republican senator who votes for
the bill and is eligible for removal will likely face a
recall race. Activists are already organizing to
support these efforts. The only real question is: Where
to begin? The answer is with state Senator Alberta
Darling, R-River Hills. She’s a co-chair of the Joint
Finance Committee, making her a lead player in Walker’s
budget battles. More importantly, she represents a
district that has long leaned Democratic when it comes
to national politics. In addition, she has a ready-made
challenger in former state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, who
came within 2,000 votes of beating her in 2008.

Ultimately, the movement politics that has developed
since February 12 will seek to replace three Republican
senators, and in so doing to restore the system of
checks and balances that is so sorely needed in a state
that is now being battered by the worst excesses of
one-party rule.

But the process of restoring democratic governance must
begin somewhere. And beating the point person for
Walker’s draconian budget would be a good start to any
recall drive--a drive that, if it realizes its full
potential, could target the governor early next year,
when the timeline for his possible removal (after he
has served one year in office) kicks in.

Links:
[1] http://www.troublemakershandbook.org/Text/Strikes/La Botz Days of Action.htm
[2] http://www.scfl.org/?page=generalstrike&amp;gt
[3] http://www.smwialocal565.org/
[4] http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prosser-Equals-Walker/169466923105528
[5] http://www.kloppenburgforjustice.com/
[6] http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nationnow/id399704758?mt=8

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