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Wisconsin Uprising

Wisconsin Uprising

edited by MICHAEL D. YATES
foreword by Robert W. McChesney
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Wisconsin Uprising
    Book Description:

    In early 2011, the nation was stunned to watch Wisconsin's state capitol in Madison come under sudden and unexpected occupation by union members and their allies. The protests to defend collective bargaining rights were militant and practically unheard of in this era of declining union power. Nearly forty years of neoliberalism and the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression have battered the labor movement, and workers have been largely complacent in the face of stagnant wages, slashed benefits and services, widening unemployment, and growing inequality. That is, until now. Under pressure from a union-busting governor and his supporters in the legislature, and inspired by the massive uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, workers in Wisconsin shook the nation with their colossal display of solidarity and outrage. Their struggle is still ongoing, but there are lessons to be learned from the Wisconsin revolt. This timely book brings together some of the best labor journalists and scholars in the United States, many of whom were on the ground at the time, to examine the causes and impact of events, and suggest how the labor movement might proceed in this new era of union militancy.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-282-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. 11-18)

    When Michael Yates approached me about writing a preface to this book, I feared it might be a hastily thrown-together operation, an effort to capitalize as quickly as possible on the events in Wisconsin before they were sucked into the black hole of America’s political memory. As a resident of Madison who spent much of February and March participating in the protests at the state capital, I was concerned that the book would fail to convey accurately the Wisconsin uprising, and there would be a tendency to leap from a weak foundation into political flights of fancy. I thought my...

  5. EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION: Something Is in the Air
    (pp. 19-26)

    During the past year, I spent three months in my hometown. Ford City, Pennsylvania, was established in the 1880s by John Ford, founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Until the great Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) union drives of the 1930s, Ford City was a company town, with all that that meant in terms of the power of the workers who made the glass compared to the power of the men who owned the corporation. Then, matters changed dramatically, especially after the Second World War, when, through strikes and collective bargaining, the union forced the company to pay much...


    • 1 Disciplining Labor, Dismantling Democracy: Rebellion and Control in Wisconsin
      (pp. 29-44)

      In the midst of the popular uprising to defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill the newly elected executive received a prank phone call from a “ David Koch,” a billionaire campaign supporter. With the prompt of “How are things going in Wisconsin?” Walker spent twenty minutes divulging details of his political strategy. Among the more intriguing moments came when “David Koch” baited the governor to admit that this was about “personal interest.” Yet Walker insisted, “It’s all about getting our freedom back.” What spurious freedom is it that strips workers of their unions and the poor, elderly, and...

    • 2 Capitalist Crisis and the Wisconsin Uprising
      (pp. 45-58)

      Throughout February and March of 2011, I couldn’t help but wonder if I were living in a folktale: in a flash tens of thousands of people rallied at the state capital in Madison; teachers shut down public schools in a statewide “sick strike”; and union workers physically blocked the legislature doors. I remember being at work listening to the radio when we all stopped to cheer at the breaking news about the fourteen state senators fleeing the state to halt a vote on the governor’s antilabor bill.

      And for over a month it kept going like that. A prank phone...

    • 3 Who Were the Leaders of the Wisconsin Uprising?
      (pp. 59-84)

      It was another day, another demonstration in the midst of Wisconsin’s dramatic, nearly month-long labor mobilization against anti-union legislation. But the protest that took place March 1 was different.

      The unions, following a 100,000-strong protest on Saturday, February 26, had broken down their soundstage and dropped the twice-daily rallies that had become a focus of national attention. Days earlier, union officials had—according to the chief of the Capitol Police—collaborated with authorities as the police ended the occupation of the building that had been a focus of activism.¹ Union leaders apparently believed that they had made their point by...

    • 4 A New American Workers’ Movement Has Begun
      (pp. 85-100)

      Thousands of workers—sometimes as many as 100,000—demonstrated at the capitol building in Madison during February and March of 2011 to protest plans by that state’s Republican Governor Scott Walker to take away the state workers’ union rights. The massive protests were accompanied by strikes by Wisconsin school teachers and by the day-and-night occupation of the capitol building by as many as 3,000 workers. Once the movement had begun, hundreds of workers from other states flew in or drove in to join the protests. The United States had not seen such a massive worker uprising in years—indeed, in...

    • 5 The Wisconsin Uprising
      (pp. 101-121)

      Describing the Wisconsin Uprising may be like the parable of the blind man and the elephant. There are many valid perspectives. Teasing them apart may diminish the whole, but to understand the extent and the depth of the uprising, we need to have some perspective to understand the actors. To continue the parable a bit further, the uprising was so unexpected that the blind man would have been trampled by the elephant had he arrived in Madison on Monday, February 14, 2011.

      We look at the Madison Uprising from that of a news organization producing daily accounts of the events...


    • 6 Back to the Future: Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America
      (pp. 125-138)

      When the history of public sector deunionization in the Midwest is written, its sad chroniclers will begin their story in Indiana. That‘s where Governor Mitch Daniels paved the way, in 2005, for more recent attacks on workers’ rights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. A right-wing Republican, Daniels was elected in 2004. Immediately after taking office, he began cutting jobs and, via executive order, revoked bargaining rights granted by his Democratic predecessor, Evan Bayh. Over the next six years, the number of state employees dropped from 35,000 to 28,700. In 2005, 16,408 of them were paying union dues; today, only 1,490...

    • 7 In the Wake of Wisconsin, What Next?
      (pp. 139-154)

      The revolt in Wisconsin is the most impressive response of American workers to the employer offensive that began three decades ago—remarkable for its numbers, for its sustained nature, for the labor-community-student coalition that spontaneously arose.

      The stunning support from non-union workers distinguishes it from most other labor struggles. In insisting on the right of workers to have something to say about their conditions of employment, it expressed the bedrock basis of unionism.

      The national spring 2006 walkouts and demonstrations for immigrant rights were larger in numbers, but the Wisconsin actions were more long-lasting: four weeks of intense action.


    • 8 What Can We Learn from Wisconsin?
      (pp. 155-167)

      Like many people, I was glued to the news in early February 2011, watching as the Egyptian people filled Tahir Square, demanding that Hosni Mubarak step down. By Thursday, February 10, the world watched anxiously to see if the story would end in bloodshed or victory.

      Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the governor of Wisconsin announced his “Budget Repair Bill,” which would command major cuts to social programs, and remove almost all collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in the state. The next day, as Mubarak was resigning in Egypt and handing over power to the...


    • 9 Potholes and Roadblocks on “The Roads Not Taken”
      (pp. 171-184)

      My essay, “The Roads Not Taken,” published in the June 2005 issue ofMonthly Review, grew out of a presentation/training session at the Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Solidarity School in November 2004. The school, an outgrowth of strategic planning schools initiated by the New Directions Movement, the progressive caucus of the UAW, gave grassroots activists from the workplace and the community a space to reflect, develop a worldview, strategically plan, and most important, learn from one another and grow together. This talk was the opening in a longer program on how to move forward in the political climate of a...

    • 10 The Assault on Public Services: Will Unions Lament the Attacks or Fight Back?
      (pp. 185-200)

      We are living in one of those historic moments that cry out for rallying the working class to build new capacities, new solidarities, and concrete hope. The crucial question is not how far the attacks on the public sector will go. The question is how far we will let them go. How will working-class activists inside and outside the unions respond? Do we have a counterplan? Are we preparing one? Can we act as decisively as those attacking us?

      What’s at stake is not just a new round of concessions. The aftermath of the deepest capitalist crisis since the Great...

    • 11 Marching Away from the Cold War
      (pp. 201-212)

      One sign carried in almost every May Day march of the last few years in the United States says it all: “We Are Workers, Not Criminals!” Often it was held in the calloused hands of men and women who looked as though they’d just come from work in a factory, cleaning an office building, or picking grapes.

      The sign stated an obvious truth. Millions of people have come to the United States to work, not to break its laws. Some have come with visas, and others without them. But they are all contributors to the society they’ve found here.


    • 12 “No, No, No, the People Have the Power”
      (pp. 213-222)

      1968 was a revolutionary year, one when the established order was shaken to its foundations. In Vietnam, the Tet Offensive showed that the U.S. military could be challenged by a popular uprising. In France, there was the largest general strike in the history of the world. In Czechoslovakia, Prague Spring stood up to Stalinist tanks. Revolution was in the air, and the United States was not immune. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the mass revolts that followed shook every city in the country. The growth of the Black Panther Party inspired millions and terrified J. Edgar Hoover’s...

    • 13 Fighting Wage Cuts in Upstate New York Teaches Chemical Workers the Value of Mobilization
      (pp. 223-234)

      In 2006, General Electric sold its Waterford, New York, silicone products plant to Apollo Management, a private equity firm. For many years, the only news most people heard about this plant was about its occasional spills into the Hudson River, which some riverside communities in the area use for their drinking water. Workers at this plant are exposed to and work with dangerous chemicals, eight of which, according to a company website, are regulated under the EPA’s Risk Management Program rule (RPM).

      The Momentive workforce in the Waterford plant, which sprawls along the Hudson in about 800 acres a dozen...

    • 14 Beyond Wisconsin: Seeking New Priorities as Labor Challenges War
      (pp. 235-250)

      The attack on labor by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and that state’s legislature in early 2011 appeared at first to be a response to the state’s budget crisis. Two developments quickly contradicted this belief. First, the amount of money the governor said would be saved almost exactly matched the $140 million in tax cuts the legislature and governor had provided for Wisconsin businesses just a few weeks before. Also, within a few days of the proposal, Wisconsin’s public employee unions announced that they would accept all the governor’s proposed cuts in wages and benefits in collective bargaining negotiations. But the...

    • 15 Building Communities of Solidarity from Madison to Bend
      (pp. 251-266)
      Fernando Gapasin

      At the 2011 Left Forum in New York City, in a discussion about building a workers’ offensive, London-based labor economist Paul Mason spoke of the importance of creating new cultures of struggle and creating communities that actively support social justice. This means creating history, values, beliefs, and behaviors that reflect class consciousness, which is then transformed into action.¹ For example, historian Zoltan Grossman said in a recent article that the response of Wisconsin workers to the conservative assault on their rights is no surprise.

      Milwaukee workers struck for an eight-hour day in 1886, and seven workers were lost in the...

    • 16 Class Warfare in Longview, Washington: “No Wisconsin Here”
      (pp. 267-274)

      We have passed by Longview, Washington, many times on our way to Seattle or Mt. Rainier. We never knew about its rich labor history, and we would never have guessed that it would become the center of a struggle that is as important for the future of the labor movement as the uprising in Wisconsin.

      Longview is a town of 36, 000 people, located along Interstate 5, forty-eight miles north of Portland, Oregon, and 128 miles south of Seattle. It was established in 1921, built privately by Robert A. Long, president of the Long-Bell Lumber Company. A company town, it...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 275-282)

    Most of the material in this book stands on its own. That is, it either describes what happened on the ground in Wisconsin and in different parts of the country or it offers lessons that we might learn from what happened in these places. Most of the essays do both. However, there are references to possible future developments, and since Wisconsin certain things have happened that need to be discussed and, if possible, connected to Wisconsin and the U.S. labor movement.

    The most important thing that has taken place since Wisconsin is another uprising, the phenomenal Occupy Wall Street (OWS)....

  10. About the Contributors
    (pp. 283-285)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 286-297)
  12. Index
    (pp. 298-304)