Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 26 in Madison...











The Great Labor Uprising in Wisconsin continues, despite the Republican senators, quite possibly illegal maneuver to push through their anti-union bill without a quorum. Day 26 in Madison turned out to largest protest yet outside the Wisconsin State Capitol. As many as 150,000 attended last Saturday’s rally. The character of the protests that day was particular interesting. One could feel the spirit of old Bob La Follette and the Progressive Party in the air. Thousands of members of Wisconsin’s Farmers Union attended the rally, many arriving in the dozens strong “tractorcade”. The theme of the day was worker / farmer unity. One of the farmer’s I interviewed, Randy Jasper, told me…“Its time for a worker farmer government, or at least a worker farmer party.” One of the most common chants of the day was the perennial favorite “this is what democracy looks like”, but as I watched farmers marching side by side with steelworkers, plumbers, electricians, nurses, farm laborers, Teamsters, restaurant employees, teachers, painters, Wobblies, fireman, policemen, students, and immigrant rights activists, I couldn’t help but think the chant should have been – this is what a social movement looks like. I can’t think of any other movement that I have experienced in some 25 years of activism, where the popular support was so broad. It feels like a subterranean fire has been tapped; that after decades of a one sided class war of the elite against the working class, working people’s simmering anger has finally reached the boiling point.

As is to be expected, with the 24 hour occupation of the capitol ended by a ruling of the Wisconsin courts, and attention being re-directed to the recall effort, the daily protests in Madison have waned in the past week. But that doesn’t mean people are not still mobilizing. Protests have dogged Governor Walker wherever he has turned up around the state, including a rally of thousands in Green Bay on Monday and hundreds of protesters who rushed passed security guards and occupied the lobby of a building in Washington D.C. where Wisconsin Republicans held a corporate fundraiser on Wednesday. There have been actions across the state and across the country over the past week in solidarity with Wisconsin’s public sector workers. And workers in Michigan and Missouri have held their own protests to try to stop similar legislative efforts in their states. The proposed legislation in Michigan is particularly disturbing as it would give the governor practically dictatorial powers to remove elected local governments and place them under the control of unelected “financial managers” who could than abrogate local union contracts. Truly scare stuff. For more on this see the following links…

http://www.freep.com/article/20110310/BLOG24/110310002/Mike-Thompson-Michigan-emergency-financial-managers

http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2011/03/were_all_dps_now_senate_moves.html

An attempt to pass a “right to work” law in Missouri was defeated today after a rally of nearly 5,000 in St. Louis. Apparently Republicans there are also trying to repeal minimum wage and child labor laws. Yes, the good old days the tea baggers long for really are the days of the robber barons of the 19th century when kids worked in factory for 12 hour shifts.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are planning a big rally for Madison on Saturday. For more info on that check the following link…

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=193875367309986

There are also major public meetings planned for Madison on Sunday to discuss plans for continued direct action to defeat Governor Walker’s anti-labor agenda. One is organized by National Nurses United, the other by the IWW…

http://madison.iww.org/content/march-20th-madison-strategy-meeting-and-organizer-training

Much of the focus of the movement in Wisconsin at the moment is around the re-call effort. But talk of a general strike is still a hot topic as well, though it has received scant attention by the mainstream media and is being down played by most of the labor leadership. One exception to this is the Ed Schultz program on MSNBC which on March 10th discussed the idea of a general strike. Despite Schultz talking against the idea and suggesting it would play into Scott Walker’s hands, giving him an excuse to fire public sector workers, a phone poll on that same show resulted in nearly 70% in favor of a strike. The South Central Wisconsin Federation of Labor’s endorsement of a general strike really kicked off serious discussion of the topic. You can read there statement here…

http://www.scfl.org/?page=generalstrike

The concept has received support from surprising quarters. Here is Madison Firefighters union President Joe Conway talking about his support for a strike…

http://theuptake.org/2011/03/10/madison-firefighters-prez-calls-for-general-strike/

But the Republican’s parliamentary trick to push through passage of the anti-union law caught the movement by surprise and has complicated the question as to the effectiveness of a strike and when to declare one. Nonetheless, militant activist in the labor movement continue to call for a general strike and are advocating that the movement start now to prepare for one. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has been one of the leading voices in Madison pushing for a general strike. They held a meeting at the Madison Labor Temple last Saturday attended by roughly a 150 people to discuss the idea. Excerpts of that discussion aired on last week’s episode of Labor Express Radio. You can also here my interview with Farmer Randy Jasper on the program…

http://www.archive.org/details/LaborExpressFor3-14-11&reCache=1

I recorded the entire meeting which is now online, minus a couple speakers who asked not to be recorded…

http://www.archive.org/details/IWWGeneralStrikeMeetingMadison3-12-11&reCache=1

The topic of a general strike will be discussed at both of the public meetings planned for Sunday in Madison listed above.

One final personal note on the rally last Saturday in Madison. I am not the type to get excited about celebrities attending rallies, or to get excited about celebrities under any circumstances. I am certainly glad when high profile figures lend their support to social causes, as this can bring more attention to these struggles. Indeed it is frustrating that we don’t see this happen more often. But I rarely give celebrities much attention as the focus of attention needs to remain on the people who are at the center of the struggle – in this case the public sector workers in Wisconsin and their fellow worker allies. Despite this, I was, perhaps surprisingly (an embarrassingly) thrilled by the attendance of one celebrity at the rally. Not Susan Sarandon, whose attendance was not much of surprise as she is one of the few in Hollywood who has been a consistent progressive and lent her support to many social movements over the years. But by the attendance of Wisconsin native Tony Shalhoub. I don’t watch much T.V. and have almost no time to follow particular T.V. programs, but somehow I did devolpe an attachment for the USA Network show Monk, one of the very few contemporary TV comedies I actually found really funny. Perhaps because I myself had once worked for a very eccentric individual with sever obsessive-compulsive disorder. So I did get a kick out of his speech at the rally.

To see pictures from day 26 in Madison, including pictures of Farmer Jasper, the Wobblies and Susan Sarandon check out the following link…

https://picasaweb.google.com/jerrymeadlucero/Day26InMadison?feat=directlink

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