Wednesday, March 02, 2011

[olympiaworkers] Wisconsin – Next Stop, the General Strike!

Feb. 28, 2011 Trial by Fire

"This has been a life experience we will never forget. I feel like all
of these people are family."

Union Supporter and protester, Neporsha Hamlin, of Madison, WI.

News this week of well over seventy thousand union members and their
supporters occupying the Capital Rotunda of Madison, Wis., comes not a
moment too soon, as workers around the country have faced vicious attacks
on their basic freedom's in the face of badly managed state budgets.

Events in the embattled state have unfolded quickly, starting with the
public Teachers unions and quickly spreading to other sectors.

So far, over 40% of the city's union teachers, acting on their own
initiative, have led wildcat strikes in their schools, calling in "sick"
to attend protests, closing entire school districts, with thousands of
their students following in toe.

In response, city employers threatened to fire any teacher who skipped
school to attend the protests. Thwarting their efforts, Doctors from
hospitals across the city joined together and set up a station near the
capital to provide the "sick" teachers with notes, covering their absences
from work. Family physician Lou Sanner, 59, of Madison, told reporters
that many of the teachers he was writing notes for appeared to be
suffering from stress.

Fire-fighters in Madison joined protests last week as well, marching with
other union members and supporters, with some even occupying the capital

Across the country, protest and rallies have been had in over 60 cities
that we are aware of, and solidarity protests were held by the unions on
Saturday at every state capital in the country.

Whats in the bill?

On February 11th, Governor Scott Walker introduced a bill (which you can
read here) that would essentially destroy collective bargaining rights –
the rights which legally allow workers to band together to bargain over
working conditions – for Wisconsin's nearly 175,000 state and local
government employees. That Bill has now passed a house vote, and is
awaiting a vote in the State Senate.

Barring police and fire-fighters, most workers employed by the State of
Wisconsin would lose their right to bargain over wages that exceeded
inflation, and could be terminated for participating in legally protected
acts of protest if the Governor ever declared a "State of Emergency." Home
health care workers, family child care workers, UW Hospitals and Clinics
employees, and UW faculty and academic staff would lose their collective
bargaining authority altogether.

State employees would be barred from negotiating a contract which lasted
longer than a year, and employees who have voted to certify as a union
would automatically lose their recognition at the end of one year, and
have to run an entirely new certification campaign in order to remain

To justify his vicious attack on workers, Walker argues feebly that the
state's budget shortfall has tied his hands. In a letter to Wisconsin
State Employees, he cites a strange statistic to back himself up – "In the
current fiscal year which ends on June 30, 2011, we face a budget deficit
of $136.7 million."

He fails to mention that before his recent debt plan, the state's
nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that the state would
actually end the year with a surplus. Walker and Republicans themselves
sunk the State into debt by spending hundreds of millions on benefits for
the wealthy.

Their new debt plan gave $48 million to private health savings accounts,
which reports found regularly only benefited wealthy people – people with
an average adjusted gross income of $139,000. The HSA accounts are, in
fact, primarily serving simply as tax havens for the wealthy, nearly half
of whom reported withdrawing nothing from their accounts.

The handouts to the wealthy – which happened to also bankrupt the state –
have prompted SEIU president Mary Kay Henry to speculate that this year's
"budget crisis" may well have been engineered specifically to justify
anti-union legislation.

Perhaps most revealing of all, however, is the recent discovery that
Wisconsin tax payers are not in fact paying for the pensions and health
insurance plans of state workers – one of the biggest rallying cries of

In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, author Rick Ungar
found that: "Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by
collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension
and health insurance plans. Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as
fact, and failing to check, creates the impression that somehow the
workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are
not. Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health
insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state

As it turns out, workers receive their pension and health insurance plans
using "deferred compensation" – money that employees otherwise would have
been paid as cash, but instead have placed in the government operated
pension fund where the money is then invested.

What next for us workers?

When asked why she was attending protests in Madison, 30 year old Virginia
Welle, a teacher at Chippewa Falls High School, told reporters in no
uncertain terms that she was "fighting for my home and my career."

More than that, though, workers in Wisconsin are fighting on the frontline
of what is quickly becoming a heated nationwide assault on workers'
rights. Already, similar bills have been proposed in Ohio, Michigan,
Indiana, Tennessee, and Iowa.

But in Wisconsin, the next step for the Republican controlled government
is to kick the protesters out of the capital.

They may try a number of things to do so. They have already, in fact,
passed new rules barring protesters from sleeping overnight in the capital
building – a move opposed so thoroughly by the public that even the head
of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association called on the governor to
keep the Capitol open.

But that will not be enough to end the unrest. Even "If they kick us out,"
says Dan Wise, a 19-year-old Technical College student who has been
attending class by day and protests by night, "we will protest outside."

The smarter, and more likely move that the Walker administration will take
is to try to "compromise" on the bill, offering to the Democrats and Union
Leaders a more watered down version of the same crap.

If the workers stay out in the streets, and continue to occupy the
capital, Walker will eventually come to terms with the fact that he has to
compromise in order to quiet the crowds. The problem is that Walker, in an
effort to keep as much of his bill as possible, will look to compromise
with Democrats, and not with the workers themselves (who undoubtedly have
much more at stake than the politicians).

The Democrats, in turn, will lean on their lackeys in the union leadership
to begin helping to reign the crowds in.

The rank and file of Wisconsin, if it is interested in stopping this bill,
has to ignore the calls that may soon come from their union leaders should
the Democrats reach a "compromise" with Walker. The union bureaucracies of
every country have always, when push came to shove, been fundamentally on
the side of the employers – on the side of the state. Although they may
support the basic rights of their members, and may even at times support
their militancy, the union leadership has an interest fundamentally at
odds with the rank and file.

The union leadership, in the end, is interested in dues collection. The
union leadership is interested in "seats at the table" with the Democratic
Party, and the union leadership is interested in maintaining its position
as "union leaders." They will, at all costs, defend this holy trinity of
modern business unionism, if necessary against their own members.

The creative and brave initiative of the Wisconsin rank and file, in fact,
have put some of these interests at risk. Union leaders are at this moment
scrambling to regain control over their workers, who without being
instructed, led one of the most brash wildcat strikes in recent memory.
They are concerned the workers may realize that not only are they capable
of acting independently of their union presidents, but that their
independent action is twice as effective!

The single most important thing to do now is to keep that independent
spirit alive amongst the workers of Madison.

To do this, and to bring more workers on board with the Teachers, workers
must devote all of their energy to building for the general strike in
Wisconsin, which the South Central Federation of Labor (representing
45,000 workers from 97 different unions) has recently announced it
endorses. The prospects are superb, with an outpouring of solidarity the
likes of which this country has not seen for years.

In using this spirit of mutual support and understanding to build a
general strike, workers in Wisconsin can definitively show that our
greatest power, and our greatest virtue, is our ability to withdraw our
labor power from society, and in so doing, pound the forces of reaction
into submission.

Perhaps Joe Hill, the famed "troubadour of the IWW," said it best, when he
observed that:
"If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains; every
ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains."-Joe Hill

No comments: