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

March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail