FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What Michigan Can Learn from Wisconsin

by KEN KLIPPENSTEIN

The parallels between the assault on unions in Wisconsin and that of Michigan are striking: both were met with spontaneous protests in their state capitols, which were in turn met with large police responses; both were passed hastily by governors who did not campaign on curbing unions; and both took place in traditionally blue, Midwestern states. One parallel that remains to be seen is if Michigan will suffer the same defeat that Wisconsin did. By learning from Wisconsin’s mistakes, Michigan could not only beat back the Right-to-Work legislation, but also become a sort of blueprint for how to defeat union-busting legislation.

Being a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, I saw first-hand the response to governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, which culminated in demonstrations peaking at about 150,000 strong. With numbers like that, a union victory appeared all but certain; however, the demonstrations ended up petering out, and the Walker recall failed.

Opinions abound about what went wrong. Let’s look at the facts. Shortly before Walker’s bill was signed into law, 40% of the Madison school district teachers called in sick—effectively amounting to a strike. (Wisconsin teachers are not legally allowed to strike over anything but pay, so they have to get creative with tactics like the “sick out”.) 40% of Madison teachers amounts to some 2,600 members, a pretty impressive number for a strike. Days later, the 97-union South-Central Federation of Labor of Wisconsin (SCFL) almost unanimously passed a proposal that endorsed a general strike and created an ‘Education Committee,’ which would teach members how to prepare for a general strike.

Evidently union members were not opposed to a general strike. So why did they settle with a recall? Though the SCFL almost unanimously endorsed a general strike, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO acted with typical courage and did nothing. In fact, AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt said that “we don’t have the authority to call [a general strike]”—quite the battle cry. The Democrats were no more helpful. One Dem you may have heard of said that “if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America, because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.” His name’s Barack Obama, and a lot of Wisconsinites got stood up waiting for him and his comfortable shoes at the capitol occupation. The Wisconsin state democrats made an equivalently sincere promise: that a recall could kill the bill.

I think Howard Zinn put it best when he said, “voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.” The vibrant political participation characterized the 2011 capitol occupation gave way to a lengthy recall process. The republicans could not have chosen a better tactic than the recall. Again, let’s look at the facts. In Gallup’s most recent annual poll on confidence in institutions, the results showed the American public to have less confidence in organized labor than even banks—a stunning achievement of business propaganda. Only 21% indicated a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in organized labor, whereas 37% said that they have “very little/none.” Unions are going to have to spruce up their public image before they can rely on that same public at the ballot box.

Returning to Michigan and its recently passed “Right-to-Work” law (read: the right to enjoy things won by unions without being a dues-paying member of one), although Michigan can’t recall politicians, the lesson behind the failed Wisconsin recall still applies to the electoral process at large, should Michigan opt to vote in a Democrat majority in 2014. Public opinion with respect to organized labor probably does not differ dramatically between Michigan and Wisconsin. What’s more, as BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast writes, “almost 100,000 Wisconsin residents under 25 lost their right to vote due to a new ID law…the impact on voter registration lists was large enough to help Gov. Scott Walker beat back a recall campaign.” The ID law Palast is referring to was passed by Walker just prior to his own recall. It was craftily designed to prohibit out-of-state college students, traditionally blue voters, from casting votes in the recall: by requiring Wisconsin IDs at the ballot, many out-of-state students were out of luck. Republicans have been perfecting strategies like these since well before even Bush v. Gore. Add to this the fact that candidates backing union-busting laws generally have access to far more corporate funds (Walker outraised his recall challenger by 8 to 1), and I think Michigan has a solid reason to assume that, when it comes to the electoral process, the GOP has the home-field advantage.

In short, don’t make the same mistake we did, Michigan. General strike!

Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He runs a political SF magazine called “Solidarity Science Fiction,” which can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/solidaritysciencefiction/
He can be reached at Reader246@gmail.com

Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or by email: kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail