Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Fight For Unions and Democracy in Wisconsin Is A National Fight That We Must Win!



An inspiring example of what it's really going to take nationwide in the very near future to actually fight for and bring about real Democracy in this country...FOR REAL...Stay tuned...


The Dream Team in Madison: Unions, Progressives and Young People Jubilantly Celebrate Democracy, 100,000 Strong

Submitted by BuzzFlash on Sun, 03/13/2011 -. Guest Commentary


I headed to Madison from Minneapolis with a couple of friends for Saturday's massive rally against Scott Walker and the Republican legislature's move to do away with collective bargaining for public sector workers.

When we arrived at 11am, there were already tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounding all sides of the Capitol, watching the "Tractorcade" of farmers showing their support for workers' rights. The numbers only kept growing throughout the four hours I spent at the rally, as a constant procession of marchers, ten-people wide, circled the Capitol all day. Estimates put the crowd at over 100,000, the biggest demonstration in Madison yet.

Who were these 100,000-plus people? I saw thousands of teachers and plenty of their students; hundreds of autoworkers; members of just about every union imaginable: Teamsters (chanting "2-4-6-8, Walker sucks!"), laborers, boilermakers, social workers, service employees, dozens of fire fighters in uniform, sheriffs, and immigrant rights' activists. The crowd ran the full gamut in age, from babies dressed in union t-shirts to an elderly woman standing next to her wheelchair holding my favorite sign: "84-year old union thug."

There were thousands of these homemade signs, more than I've seen at any protest since the anti-war demonstrations in February and March of 2003. The right would have the rest of the country believe that this is a tightly controlled mobilization, manipulated by the union "bosses" to defend their own power and privileges. But these signs prove otherwise. They are always an indication of a real grassroots movement, one which has touched the hearts of everyone in attendance. They reflect the participants' anger as well as the creativity and bitter sense of humor of Americans (another one of my favorites read: "Dear Scott, Thanks for all your help. Love, Satan").

One of the best speeches of the day came from populist agitator Jim Hightower, who told the crowd, "They get to thinking they're the top dogs and we're the fire hydrants. But I think they're gonna find out there's a lot more power in a fire hydrant than in a few pissing dogs." He expressed the national significance of the Wisconsin struggle: "Because you stood up, people in Ohio, in Michigan, in New Jersey, in Indiana, all across the country, are standing up. Wisconsin is the spark that's igniting a new democracy movement all across America!"

This message was echoed in a moving speech by actress Susan Sarandon, who said, "Wisconsin is the front line in the war to restore democracy ... Wisconsin is the wakeup call for all of America in the 21st century, building upon the legacy of unions which brought dignity to working people - factory workers, teachers, firefighters, hospital workers, nurses, visible, invisible, who literally make this country. The Constitution gave no right to work less than 12 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, defy the courts, to create a movement which won the 8-hour day and caused such a commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the right to assemble and collectively bargain."

This is what's at stake in Wisconsin. The Kochs want to roll back history to a pre-New Deal era of unchecked corporate power. As one sign in Madison put it, "It's daylight savings tonight. Don't forget to turn your clock back 50 years." The right has spent the last 30 or 40 years laying the foundations for these attacks. They've developed a powerful conservative juggernaut made up of think tanks, media outlets, PR strategists, and fake grassroots organizations like the Tea Party.

Can this juggernaut be stopped? If Wisconsin has shown Americans anything, it's the depth of the opposition to right-wing politics. Wisconsin is another reminder that there is nothing innately conservative about the American working class, though it also shows that we are being badly out-organized by the well-funded right-wing attack machine. But the foundations have been laid for a potential resurgence of the left.

Where to now in Wisconsin? At the rally, the overwhelming emphasis seemed to be on the efforts to recall eight Republican state senators who voted for the bill, with petitions circulating and Democratic Party and union activists signing up volunteers for the recall effort. While these efforts have a reputation for losing steam, the outrage in Wisconsin and the historic protests are a hopeful sign that they may succeed, which would send an even stronger message to any legislators elsewhere considering similar bill.

There were also calls being circulated for the labor movement to implement its resolution in favor of a general strike now that the budget bill has gone through. This resolution was passed by Wisconsin's South Central Federation of Labor, a coalition of 97 unions, and recently support for this tactic voiced by the president of Madison's firefighters' union. But at Saturday's rally calls for a general strike seemed mainly limited to the youthful socialist organizations and radical labor groups like the Industrial Workers of the World, scattered on the fringes of the demonstration (although having played important roles throughout, including in the occupation of the Capitol and most recently the student walkouts on Thursday and Friday). Judging by the outpouring of workers and their enthusiasm at Saturday's rally, an organized general strike might very well succeed. But strikes - let alone general strikes - have become a lost weapon in labor's arsenal, with 2009 and 2010 two of the lowest years on record in terms of number of major work stoppages.

Still, at the end of the day, everyone has to return home and turn on their televisions, run by the innately anti-labor corporate media. Here is where much of the battle for public opinion is waged, as the right deploys its vast wealth into shrewd anti-union ads developed by Karl Rove-aligned Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies. I couldn't help but think, as I watched Amy Goodman and her small crew film Democracy Now in front on the Capitol, of just how tragic it is that the labor movement has yet to develop its own television station (run by Amy, of course!), or to even help fund the expansion of unionized websites like Truthout. The working people of Wisconsin were out in force on Saturday, expressing themselves in their thousands of homemade signs - don't they deserve a voice in the media?

Regardless, we can all take heart from the events in Wisconsin, which might just herald a progressive offensive in the years ahead, after so many years of a one-sided right wing class war. As Jim Hightower put it, "My message to you today is that it's not enough to be progressive - we've been progressive long enough - we've gotta become aggressive!" And thankfully, we've got some 84-year old union "thugs" on our side.