GADFLY: Aux Barricades, Wisconsin!

Posted by Marty Aussenberg on Sun, Feb 20, 2011 at 6:00 PM


Well, it's about time! I wondered what it would take for Cairo-like demonstrations to break out on this side of the pond, and now, thanks to the folks in Madison, Wisconsin, we know the answer: it's the same as anywhere else , autocracy. The newly-elected Republican-cum-tea-party governor of that state mistook his election as a mandate to engage in another of the right-wing's battles with the middle class by targeting one of the Republicans' favorite bogeymen, labor unions, threatening to unilaterally terminate the rights of 175,000 state workers to collectively bargain (a right, by the way, the union movement originated in—-you guessed it—-Wisconsin). He even borrowed a page from the Middle Eastern despots' playbook by threatening to call out the National Guard to quell any protests.

But, unlike the rest of the socio-economic class in this country who are under attack by conservatives but who have seemingly decided to shuffle off to the slaughter house in sheep-like obeisance to their oligarch, corporatist overlords, these feisty laborers have intoned Peter Finch's famous movie line, telling their bully governor that they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it any more. Now, how about the rest of us?

Americans are notoriously complacent. Ever noticed how, in so many other countries, in a matter of hours after something unpopular happens, tens of thousands are marching in the street, with banners and signs already made decrying the latest outrage du jour? In this country—not so much. Even though we have a rich history of public protest, dating from the original (and still the only authentic) tea party demonstrations during our colonial period, our impossibly high threshold for “taking it to the streets” (hat tip: Doobie Brothers) has all but eliminated public demonstration as a legitimate form of protest. The last time we had mass demonstrations in this country of an equivalent magnitude to what we've seen in the Middle East was during the Vietnam war, and that was primarily because many of the demonstrators were at risk of becoming involuntary cannon fodder. There's nothing like being told you're going to carry a rifle in a far-flung rice paddy against your will to put you in protest mode.

Sure, Americans have lost trillions in their pension and retirement accounts as a result of the crimes committed by Wall Street investment banks, for which no one will ever be held to account, and sure, millions of Americans have lost their homes as a result of fraudulent loans and foreclosures, for which no one will ever be held to account, and sure, the U.S. has even greater income inequality than many middle eastern countries (including Tunisia and Egypt), members of the middle class: get over it. Pay your taxes, even if the super-rich pay far less, proportionately, than you do, and STFU. Write a blog, or maybe even an opinion column for your local alternative paper, but whatever you do, don't put your bodies on the line, en masse, to express your disaffection or to demand your grievances be addressed and remedied. That would be so third-world.

Labor unions, of course, make a convenient target for the tea-and-no-sympathy crowd. It's much easier to blame public employee unions for the fiscal problems most states find themselves in than it is to take responsibility for policies that have caused those problems. In Wisconsin's case, this means the governor can bash unions as scapegoats for a budget deficit that he himself caused by a series of corporate tax reductions he promoted immediately following his election. Republicans hate labor unions, almost as much as they hate people of color, not just because they're a check on corporate power the GOP worships so slavishly, but also because they (unions and people of color) are strong enclaves of Democratic electoral support. So, while it's perfectly OK for the Wisconsin governor to water himself at the trough of corporate power brokers, the Koch brothers (the same ones who've funded the whole tea party “movement” and who also paid to have counter-demonstrators bused to Madison), labor unions must be thwarted, at any cost.

The anti-union mantra is a familiar one here in the South, where the majority of “right-to-work” states are located. Unions are vilified here, perhaps as a remnant of a slavery-induced mentality that workers should be grateful, and even servile, to their employer/masters. Right here in River City the hostility towards public employee unions in particular was graphically displayed in the dustup that followed the garbage workers' failure to report for work during a particularly cold stretch of weather. And, other than WalMart, FedEx is perhaps the most successful corporation in the country when it comes to resisting unionization, so much so that it's managed to get traditionally pro-union Democrats to push its anti-union agenda in Congress.

Maybe the demonstrations in Wisconsin are a function of the fact that, unlike the rest of the country, the demonstrators were already organized, and maybe the public employee unions in Wisconsin are the ones who are really promoting the “don't tread on me” ethos the tea party disingenuously mouths as a subterfuge for its real, pro-corporatist, agenda, but either way, we can all learn something from their resistance efforts (and, indeed, from the demonstrations in the Middle East that preceded them as well), namely that there's something to be said not only for being mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore, but in storming the barricades to do something about it.

Comments (24)

Showing 1-24 of 24

I like how you write. I live in Wisconsin and subbed on Friday at a high school for a teacher that I am sure went to protest. There were about 15 to 20 teachers that called in sick that day. The kids decided a walk out was a great idea. I asked my class why they were walking out. One kid said he thought it would be cool. They didn't really know why they were walking out. Only one kid walked out of my class. The police were there to greet him at the door.
On Monday I went to the protest at UW-Milwaukee and at the State Office Building where they delivered Valentines to the Governor's office. Then we marched in front of the governor's house in Wauwatosa. He lives on a busy street and people honked their horns as they drove by. His neighbor came out and yelled at us that the people elected him and that was what the people wanted and that she was calling the cops. She never moved from her porch to make the call.

They used to have a protest every year in March against the Iraq war. I heard it ended because it is now in Afghanistan. Those were some big protests along Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. There is a history of protests here in Milwaukee and I attended a march in Chicago against the Iraq war as well. Thousands showed up for that and it seemed there were Chicago cops standing shoulder to shoulder along the route we walked through the streets. Way more police than I thought were necessary. They don't use as many police in Milwaukee for protests as they do in Chicago.

Thanks for writing and you should come join the protest in Madison just to see democracy in action. People are putting photos of the missing Senators on milk cartons. They are supposed to vote on this Tuesday. The 14 senators crossed the cheddar curtain into Bear's territory in order to avoid the state patrol who the governor ordered to bring them back to vote. Tuesday would be an excellent day to come visit. It is supposed to get up to 24 degrees that day with no snow in the forecast. Hope I see you there!

Posted by Cheesehead on 02/21/2011 at 4:10 AM

Thanks Marty...I'm from Wisconsin too and listen to one of our Congressmen, angered by the GOP-led antics... Have you read the Walker Bill? —crafted by minions and corporate creeps, whose numbers far out-strip the paltry staff left to aide each legislator. For such are the rules laid down in GOPher holes. Rep. Hintz's points go far beyond 144 pages! To them I say Friend, what words has your Drudge Report told you to say of the illegal vote, the pre-release, the silencing of discussion, the unsportsman-like conduct in our Capitol's Halls? If this Game Plan sent from K-Street Corporate lobbyists and billionaire Kochs, is this the way you play fair upon being given a seat at the table in our Badger State—then Friend, you and your GOPhers go find another hole in which to crawl, for if its GOPher games you like, this is Badger Country and we Badgers have begun to Unite! So listen up cuz over the weekend the lightning did strike!— the Night Watchman was givin thunda in da rotunda yesterday—
Mess with our rights and watch us Unite!

Posted by BuckyBadger on 02/21/2011 at 5:00 AM

I think we should Bill Murray the GOPher holes.

Posted by sbanbury on 02/21/2011 at 9:28 AM

Humbug, you are one of 'them' remember? Enforcing laws and regulations for the government? Champion of the SEC? Member of management and political insider?

Which is why your verbage glosses over the magnitude of what is really happening.

In the Tennessee legislature is a copycat bill which would outlaw collective bargaining. Instead of spewing cheezy cliches you could have addressed the real danger.

But no, not the Humbug.

Collective bargaining is what protects whistleblowers in government jobs when they warn the public about corruption and dangerous conditions.
Collective bargaining is what fought various McCarthy like attempts to force government workers to pass political or religious tests.
Collective bargaining is what forced several state legislatures to pass heart/lung bills.

The list goes on, and without collective bargaining, who exactly is going to protect people? The Flyer?

Posted by Neondragon on 02/21/2011 at 9:40 AM

Maybe I didn't make myself clear: I am FOR collective bargaining, and FOR unions. I'm a union man myself, having belonged to the Teamsters union when I drove a cab to help pay for college. I also represented the air traffic controllers in Memphis when they struck and were fired by Ronnie Raygun, so I am intimately familiar with how the "GOPhers" marginalize unions and their members.

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 02/21/2011 at 10:28 AM

Looks like the GOP picked the wrong state to conduct their little social experiment. They should have gone with a more anti-union-friendly state and limited the scope of their target to, say, the teacher's union. Tennessee, for example.

Posted by Jeff on 02/22/2011 at 8:02 AM

The only thing more ironic than watching the GOP slither from being the party of Lincoln to the party of Joe McCarthy to the party of Stalin, is watching the naive sheeple who think the Democrats are in the least bit different.

Posted by Neondragon on 02/22/2011 at 9:14 AM

Men are not all equal according to union philosophy. Some have more talents and drive and are more responsible. Unions tend to fill in the gaps, so to speak, for the lazy and irresponsible. Their roots lie in the medieval guilds whose charters often approached monopoly conditions. The strike-threat system has created continuous aggression and resistance to aggression, and union policy makers keep a 'suspicion' attitude toward employers. Unions have skilled agitators planted within companies to quietly subvert the efforts of management. The entire premise of unions is coerced wages that are transferred to the public in higher priced goods. Unions work contrary to anti-trust legislation and get by with it. the 'STRIKE' is the ultimate weapon of the union warfare. They blackmail the employer with the threat of a strike, sabotage, violence, and picket lines. They have threatened family members of management and other personnel. Labor unions are also a most essential ingredient in the communist philosophy of revolutionary warfare. Lenin called for strikes during his time as a weapon against work houses. The right of association gives the employer the right to hire and fire whom he wills. A contract between a worker and the company is a free-market transaction. Unions are great if one likes 'thug-cartels'.

Posted by CHG on 02/22/2011 at 9:54 AM

Wow, you're grasp of history is just as f'ed up as your grasp of theology.

Posted by mad_merc on 02/22/2011 at 10:04 AM

Those benevolent coal mine owners, with their peace-loving private security forces that nver intimidate and assault workers and their control of the government police forces as well, can you imagine the travesty of the coal miners actually wanting a decent day's wages and minimum safety standards? Gosh, I know I would much rather be paid my wages in company scrip that can only be used in the company store to purchase food and goods at inflated company prices. And child labor should be nothing more than a private, free market transaction. Those dastardly unions!

Posted by Packrat on 02/22/2011 at 10:18 AM

Charles has finally gone 'round the bend.

He is advocating that America switch over from individual rights to bureaucratic/government collectivism (more familiar as Stalinism, or old school socialism).

Kind of reminds me of the end of that Kevin Costner movie, where he effortlessly switches into Russian after eluding the hunt for the Pentagon mole.

Posted by Neondragon on 02/22/2011 at 11:02 AM

But CHG is absolutely correct. Men are not all equal according to union philosophy. See, some men are men, and some men are corporations. When dealing with individuals, the corporation has all the power and can dictate any terms it wishes. The individual has little power or ability to affect the corporation. To gain equality, the men must incorporate - in effect, form a union.

The best part is his example of how Lenin called for strikes to protest the work houses. Just like a communist to be against forced labor subjected. After all, if they didn't want to be forced to muck out cess pits, they shouldn't have been poor. What this country needs is work houses for our own poor. But of course, they couldn't be government-owned work houses. That would smack of socialism. What we'd need to do is set up private work houses, but have the government force people to work in them, maybe through the bankruptcy court system and the WIC program.

Posted by Jeff on 02/22/2011 at 12:53 PM

Boy...let me get my pen and take notes from the wisdom of Packrat and Mad_merc!

Posted by CHG on 02/22/2011 at 1:09 PM

I'll lend you mine, a nice gelpen. When you're done, why don't you use it to write a letter to a guy I know, a distant relative of mine, who lives in Whitesburg, KY and has one lung due to black lung disease from working in a coal mine after serving this country in the Navy during WWII and tell him that unions are evil institutions and corporations completely benign. I'm sure he'd be delighted to read your drivel since he wasn't born into wealth and worked his whole life.
You know, Charles, if you were a normal person, and capable of honest intellectual discourse, it might be halfway interesting to talk about the pros and cons of organized labor, as well as the pros and cons of unfettered and unregulated private enterprise. But then, you're not a normal person, and you're not capable of honest intellectual discussion.

Posted by Packrat on 02/22/2011 at 1:22 PM

Once again, Packrat makes a universal claim based upon a particular instance. I'll buy you 'Cliff's Notes on Logic' if you can't afford a hard-bound book. Lastly, your ad-hominems are always your outlet when you have no substance to your position. The fallacies are glaring; where does one start? First of all,what subjective standard of yours determines 'normal person'? Secondly, since you ask for 'honest intellectual discussion', this assumes that you admit to absolutes in moral and rational laws of the universe. How does your worldview account for the existence of such in a world where you have described all things as ontologically material in nature? Absolutes are not material, but are omnipresent and universally binding if you are applying them in such a manner. Never mind...

Posted by CHG on 02/22/2011 at 9:31 PM

So where in any book on logic does it say to use forged Thomas Jefferson quotes as you were caught doing Charles?

Where in any book on logic does it say to lie and claim you were never caught using forgeries?

Where in any book on logic does it say to make absolutist claims that all American indians lived the same lifetyle, and cite an encyclopedia article which says the opposite as proof, as you have?

Where is this logic book that says to bear false witness about what is and isn't in the Constitution?

Where did you buy this 'logic' book? At a gun show? From StormFront?

By all means, show everyone any version of this logic book you have... I'll bet it is as imaginary as your integrity.

Posted by Neondragon on 02/22/2011 at 10:39 PM

Charles, I'm not even going to address your points because, well to quite honest, they are ludicrous. Every time you make these types of wild accusations, half truths, conspiracy theories, revisionist histories, misquotes, and flat outright lies you are called out. Once called out you run away, or issue some statement so full circular il-logic as to make absolutely no sense what so ever. Then you run away and avoid that particular thread. Your game is childish and it proves to be tiresome for those that would genuinely love to hold a discussion of ideas. The funniest part (to me anyway) is that you really believe the stuff you write on here.

Posted by mad_merc on 02/23/2011 at 12:25 AM

Charles, as usual, when you cannot refute what someone has said using facts and actual history (as opposed to the many lies you have been caught using here) you resort to your simplistic mental circle jerk. Thanks for proving my point that you're incapable of honest intellectual debate.

Posted by Packrat on 02/23/2011 at 7:38 AM

I'm starting to think Charles is a DARPA-bot.

Posted by Jeff on 02/23/2011 at 7:41 AM

As a conservative-type I have no problems with unions of class groups who can elect group leaders to represent their interests, i.e. trade unions, and then have said representation bargain collectively in behalf of the collective interests. Where my problems arise are when those union bargainers are also empowered with the right to choose by ballot who they bargain with. That stinks.

Posted by RioBlanco on 02/23/2011 at 11:16 AM

Protesting and picketing is the hardest some of those Wisconsin union members have worked in decades.

Posted by Clyde on 02/23/2011 at 5:03 PM

RioBlanco, what exactly is the difference between labor contributing to campaigns in their interests and corporations doing the same? The only difference I see is that unions represent real people and corporations are, well, fictions.

Posted by sbanbury on 02/24/2011 at 9:05 AM

sbanbury, I was speaking out about collective bargaining and casting votes. As for your question to me, I see no differences in the principle of contributing to campaigns to promote valued interests...whether they be labor issues or corporate/management-type (Its worth noting that real people cast the votes and "fictions" do not).

I apologize if I am commenting between lines of your question, but in my mind, a more pertinent question to be discussed and debated would be what is the difference between private sector labor union (where you do not choose who you bargain with) and public sector labor union (where you do vote for who you bargain with)? My quarrel would be with the latter. An example would be the teachers unions and whether they serve or harm the educational goals of society.

Posted by RioBlanco on 02/24/2011 at 11:45 AM

The tax eaters in Wisconsin are going to lose, and the taxpayers are going to prevail.

Posted by Niles4334 on 03/07/2011 at 12:13 PM
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