Wisconsin: Critical Juncture for Labor

[caption id="attachment_732" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Wisconsin Solidarity - Graphic by NoelsLight/ Rock Netroots"]Wisconsin Solidarity - Graphic by NoelsLight/ Rock Netroots[/caption] “It’s been a wild few weeks here,” said my friend Erik Shager from the Wisconsin state capital of Madison. He’s a teacher and department chair at the Work and Learn Lapham, part of the innovative and alternative programs of the Madison Metropolitan School District. For sixteen years he’s used my book “Always Running” with inner-city youth, including setting up websites and innovative interactive means so I can communicate with his students. I’ve even visited his classes a couple of times over those years—he’s one of my biggest supporters. But, moreover, he’s a great teacher, a lover of good literature as well as social justice. “I’m feeling pretty optimistic,” Erik wrote me today. “I think the governor is feeling the pressure. People who have been in Madison a long time, and have witnessed protests from the Vietnam-War era through Bush's wars, have never seen such a large and sustained movement. What was incredible this past weekend was that the bus tour across the state in support of Governor Walker’s bills—budget repair and biennial budget—was completely dwarfed by those opposing the bills. In my hometown of Eau Claire, 1,600 protesters met the 200 supporters (the bus tour was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity—the Koch brothers group.)  People are mobilizing around the state. It's democracy at its best.  I think we needed something like this to get us going.  The ‘waking up a sleeping giant’ phrase is heard a lot around here.” That sleeping giant is U.S. labor. Organized and unorganized, working people in this country are standing up against the corporate thieves and their government cronies (in particular, the Republicans in Congress and in state governorships and legislatures). A grass-roots response to Wisconsin Governor’s Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining efforts began in mid-February with the state’s public employee unions and then spread across the country with all facets of organized labor and other organizations protesting the deep social cuts and anti-labor moves perpetuated by politicians connected to or allied with the Tea Party Movement. It’s evident, especially with the backing of oil/energy billionaires like the Koch brothers, that the Tea Party is becoming the corporations’ social base to perpetrate their anti-working class, anti-social justice agenda. “On most days my eleven-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter joined me and got a first-hand look at democracy in action,” Erik wrote. “My son’s sign read—in response to those who criticized teachers for their actions—‘I AM learning.  Best social studies class EVER!’ My wife, who works for the state, spends her lunch break with the protesters. This past weekend was special in that my parents, both in their late seventies, were able to participate in their first-ever protest. They too were impressed by the positive vibe and the lack of the “union thugs” Fox News says make up the crowd. It’s hard to put into words my feelings on those first few days. Although we were looking at the possibility of terrible outcome for our state, we remained incredibly upbeat. The rotunda of the capitol was filled with chants of ‘Kill the Bill!’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ and ‘Thank You!’ I now know what solidarity really is.” I support these civil uprisings that show people aren’t going to take this growing right-wing thrust into our lives, our ability to survive, into our futures. We are still involved in two major wars, a terrible economic crisis, and social fracturing that the previous Republican administration pushed on all Americans (including some of the worse robberies of people by big banks). Those politicians who don’t capitulate to this will be seen as heroes. Those who go meekly into the night will be denounced and trounced. It’s the people who speak here. “It is truly amazing that after all those days when people occupied that capitol building and converged on the capitol square, there was NO VIOLENCE,” Erik emphasized. “It was the definition of non-violent protest. There were lots of heroes in those first few days, from the fourteen senators who left the state to stop the vote on the bill to those who slept in the capitol and testified at legislative hearings.  I can’t say enough about the young people—and middle-aged people and older people. Everyone together!” Whatever the outcome, the working class of this country, including those who have been pushed out of their livelihoods and homes, must not stop their organizing, protesting, and pushing back. But we also need to have a vision of what’s possible, of where we need to go. In the midst of these important struggles to stop the Tea Party movement from taking over this country, let’s also strategically lay out what we must see in terms of truly just and cooperative changes in both the economy and in politics. For whatever is best and equitable for the least among us (and those being pushed in that direction) will benefit everyone. Thank you Erik and your family for taking up the banner. And thanks to all those workers, organizers, unions, and families in Wisconsin and other states who are saying no to corporate power. I will now and always be in solidarity. c/s

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