Showdown in Madison: A Primer for the Wisconsin Protests

by Raquel Brown, Media Consortium blogger

It’s been a tumultuous week in Madison, Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of state workers, teachers, and students have packed the state Capitol building to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to weaken public unions.

In a move ostensibly aimed to balance the state budget, Walker proposed a bill on Friday, February 11 that would dislodge collective bargaining rights for all public workers except for police, firefighters and the state patrol—some of the few public employee unions that supported Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. In addition, the bill will require most state workers to pay significantly more for pensions and health premiums.

Armed with scores of clever signs, demonstrators are rumbling through Madison, chanting “Kill the bill” and “This is what democracy looks like!” To delay the passage of Walker’s controversial bill and forge negotiations, 14 state Senate Democrats fled the state on Thursday, leaving the chamber with too few lawmakers to take a vote.

The Uptake is also LiveStreaming from Madison:


Roger Bybee of Working In These Times explains why the protests in Wisconsin are vital to America’s labor movement. “America’s labor movement is enjoying a great start in this epic battle to hold onto fundamental union rights in Wisconsin. It’s already had vast repercussions across the nation,” Bybee writes.

For the people?

Walker claims that the Democrats’ boycott is disrespectful to democracy. Further, he contends that his anti-union bill is representative of the people since he fairly won the election and Republicans gained control of both houses in the Wisconsin state legislature last November.

But John Nichols of The Nation argues that Walker’s elected position does not give him total free reign over the state: “Democracy does not end on Election Day. That’s when it begins. Citizens do not elect officials to rule them from one election to the next. Citizens elect officials to represent them, to respond to the will of the people as it evolves.”

This week, Wisconsin workers have embraced their First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and petition the government” and are making sure their voices are heard.

Furthermore, according to Colorlines.com’s Kai Wright, the current assault on public workers is racialized. He writes:

But as governors and columnists have painted pictures of overpaid, underworked public employee in recent weeks, I have also seen the faint outline of familiar caricatures—welfare queens, Cadillacs in the projects, Mexican freeloaders. It’s hard to escape the fact that, in the states and localities with the biggest budget crunches (New Jersey, California, New York…) public employees are uniquely black.

Young people rallying

Emboldened by the bill’s potential to destroy the quality of their education, students have helped the protests gain momentum. While graduate students led a “teach-out,” undergraduate students organized a “walk-out” from university classes and a sleep in at the capital’s rotunda.

Micah Uetricht of Campus Progress writes, “If public sector union workers—indeed, all workers—are to gain dignified work and lives, it will take a mass cross-generational mobilization that engages students and workers of all ages and industries. In other words, it will take the kind of movement in full bloom in Madison right now.”

Here comes the Tea Party…

Tea party activists will meet head-to-head with union protesters on Saturday, as many are flocking to the state Capitol for a massive counter-demonstration in support of Walker’s bill. Led by the conservative group American Majority, and other conservative pundits like Andrew Breitbart, Jim Hoft and Joe “The Plumber” Wurtzelbacher, Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that “the organizers of this anti-union protest do have the resources and know-how to stage a big rally. … But more important, the scheduled protest appears to be resonating with Tea Party activists across the country, who have been praising Walker for taking on unions.”

Historical perspective

Wisconsin was “the birthplace of public sector unions” 50 years ago, which makes Walker’s proposal a significant break from the state’s pro-labor past. Even worse, “other state legislatures could see Walker’s assault on public employees and their unions as a blueprint for how to fix their own budget catastrophes,” notes Mother Jones’ Siddhartha Mahanta. “Such plans are already under consideration in places like Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee, where the GOP scored major electoral victories last November.” Thus, the bill is an attack not only on Wisconsin’s workers, but on the rights of public workers across the country.

From Egypt to the Midwest

So does this make Walker the Mubarak of the Midwest? In light of Egypt’s recent uprisings, The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson examines the glaring double standard surrounding Wisconsin’s protests:

American conservatives often profess admiration for foreign workers’ bravery in protesting and undermining authoritarian regimes. Letting workers exercise their rights at home, however, threatens to undermine some of our own regimes (the Republican ones particularly) and shouldn’t be permitted. Now that Wisconsin’s governor has given the Guard its marching orders, we can discern a new pattern of global repressive solidarity emerging – from the chastened pharaoh of the Middle East to the cheese-head pharaoh of the Middle West.

But, wait: There’s more! Here are some other notable stories from Wisconsin:

The Progressive’s Josh Healey provides a list of ten things you should know about Wisconsin’s crusade for worker’s rights.
Adele M. Stan of AlterNet describes Walker’s cozy relationship with the Koch Brothers’ deep pockets.
On GRITtv, Milwaukee’s Ellen Bravo reveals state workers struggle for basic rights, while Ev Liebman shares her similar experience in New Jersey.
Free Speech Radio News interviews Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller  from an “undisclosed location.”
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the Wisconsin protests by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. For more news on Wisconsin, follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The China Blames Game

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

So bipartisanship isn’t dead. By a vote of 348-79, Democrats and Republicans alike put aside their acrimonious differences and agreed, at least for a moment, to stop blaming each other for the sad state of American economic life. Instead, they agreed to blame China.

The bill authorizes the president of the United States to impose tariffs on Chinese goods in response to what it considers an illegal subsidy of Chinese exports in the form of an undervalued currency. It helps that the supporters in the House know that this bill has precious little chance of becoming law; it will not pass the Senate and it is unlikely that it would be signed into law by Obama if it ever came to that. As a result, the bill is the perfect campaign gesture, bombastic, angry, self-righteous, and without much real-world consequence.

The office AFL-CIO union leader Richard Trumka issued a statement that encapsulated the thinking behind the bill: “the House of Representatives voted to put an end to the Chinese government’s currency manipulation, which has destroyed millions of good American manufacturing jobs. For more than a decade, the Chinese government has deliberately manipulated the value of its currency, ballooning our trade deficit with China and costing American communities good jobs….Working people continue to mobilize to elect candidates who will put America’s workers first and are committed to rebuilding an economy that values working people. This November we will send a powerful message that we will support those who vote for an economy that works for everyone.”

 

There's more...

The China Blames Game

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

So bipartisanship isn’t dead. By a vote of 348-79, Democrats and Republicans alike put aside their acrimonious differences and agreed, at least for a moment, to stop blaming each other for the sad state of American economic life. Instead, they agreed to blame China.

The bill authorizes the president of the United States to impose tariffs on Chinese goods in response to what it considers an illegal subsidy of Chinese exports in the form of an undervalued currency. It helps that the supporters in the House know that this bill has precious little chance of becoming law; it will not pass the Senate and it is unlikely that it would be signed into law by Obama if it ever came to that. As a result, the bill is the perfect campaign gesture, bombastic, angry, self-righteous, and without much real-world consequence.

The office AFL-CIO union leader Richard Trumka issued a statement that encapsulated the thinking behind the bill: “the House of Representatives voted to put an end to the Chinese government’s currency manipulation, which has destroyed millions of good American manufacturing jobs. For more than a decade, the Chinese government has deliberately manipulated the value of its currency, ballooning our trade deficit with China and costing American communities good jobs….Working people continue to mobilize to elect candidates who will put America’s workers first and are committed to rebuilding an economy that values working people. This November we will send a powerful message that we will support those who vote for an economy that works for everyone.”

 

There's more...

The China Blames Game

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

So bipartisanship isn’t dead. By a vote of 348-79, Democrats and Republicans alike put aside their acrimonious differences and agreed, at least for a moment, to stop blaming each other for the sad state of American economic life. Instead, they agreed to blame China.

The bill authorizes the president of the United States to impose tariffs on Chinese goods in response to what it considers an illegal subsidy of Chinese exports in the form of an undervalued currency. It helps that the supporters in the House know that this bill has precious little chance of becoming law; it will not pass the Senate and it is unlikely that it would be signed into law by Obama if it ever came to that. As a result, the bill is the perfect campaign gesture, bombastic, angry, self-righteous, and without much real-world consequence.

The office AFL-CIO union leader Richard Trumka issued a statement that encapsulated the thinking behind the bill: “the House of Representatives voted to put an end to the Chinese government’s currency manipulation, which has destroyed millions of good American manufacturing jobs. For more than a decade, the Chinese government has deliberately manipulated the value of its currency, ballooning our trade deficit with China and costing American communities good jobs….Working people continue to mobilize to elect candidates who will put America’s workers first and are committed to rebuilding an economy that values working people. This November we will send a powerful message that we will support those who vote for an economy that works for everyone.”

 

There's more...

Labor's Victory in Arkansas

Last night was a pretty good night for organized labor. Their candidate (in the AR-SEN primary) didn’t win, but they turned a blowout into a toss-up and pushed a moderate Senator to the left on at least one major issue. Taking on Democratic incumbents like this is largely unchartered territory for labor, and I’m not naive enough to believe that if you only almost win on a first run, then you’re finished with a stake through your heart. Unfortunately, much of the media is that naïve.

Politico’s Martin Kady says that Senator Lincoln “drove a stake through organized labor last night with her surprise victory over surging Lt. Gov. Bill Halter… Lincoln's victory means that at least for the time being, other moderates in the Senate can breathe easy and keep playing the middle on big ticket legislative items.” A CBS headline asks, "Did labor waste $10 million in Arkansas?" Even First Read says, “Simply put, Lincoln's narrow victory was a crushing blow to organized labor and the internet left, which had rallied around Halter.”

Excuse me, but Lincoln went from 18 points up to 4 points up, from a lock to a dead heat. What if she had started 14 points up? What if the next moderate starts just 10 points up? Organized labor showed they can make up those differences. Since when does that count as “breathing easy?” I’d call that a new and huge headache for Blue Dogs.  

Furthermore, labor started at a severe disadvantage – at just 4.2%, Arkansas has the second-lowest union membership in the country. All of the moderates Politico says can breathe easy are in states with higher union membership than that. Ben Nelson’s Nebraska – 9.2%. Bill Nelson’s Florida – 5.8%. What if labor chose to get involved in primaries in states like Alaska, with 22.3% membership, or Washington, at 20.2%?

A blow-out race in a state unfriendly to unions, and yet labor’s money came very, very close to toppling Lincoln. She was running scared, so stepped it up on derivatives and Wall Street reform – a pretty sweet worst-case scenario for progressives.

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