From grudging complacency to thousands on the streets, Wisconsin’s protests are spreading like a prairie fire. With notable work over the years done by small numbers of committed activists aside, widespread political activism has been dormant in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is the state where Fighting Bob La Follette led the progressive movement a century back and was the first state where public employees secured the right to collectively bargain in 1959. Wisconsites have enjoyed the equity of this past activism for decades, yet 30 years after Ronald Reagan launched his class war against workers, labor is finally taking a stand.
After a series of cascading factory closings, longer work weeks, shortened leisure, lowered expectations and heightened insecurity Wisconsin labor is saying “enough.”
Enter Governor Scott Walker to drop a match to the parched prairie and start the flames of resistance.
Early this week labor unions called for the usual lobbying, protests, rallies, and vigils against Walker’s aggressive move to eliminate collective bargaining rights and cut benefits in order to pay for his larding up the budget with tax breaks for the rich. Except this time it was different. Walker’s attack was not the usual administration of slow bleeding, but a move to go in for the final kill. This time, workers across the state realized it was time to fight or see themselves sacrificed on the altar of Scott Walker’s political ambitions.
This week, with each passing hour, demonstrations grew and communication among workers left the incubator of organized labor tops and went into a high energy transformation iinto a mass movement. On the ground, the Republican strategy to railroad the bill through in special session was confounded by protestors, abetted by progressive legislators, which halted its rapid passage in small hearing rooms and moved it into the halls of the capitol rotunda. An all night peoples’ discussion of the bill ensued. This brought out students and trade unionists to sleep overnight at the state capitol building.
The following day saw the crowd swell to near 15,000, with a walkout by Madison area students, which was followed by the Madison teachers’ union call for a walkout on Wednesday, which continues. The upbeat mood was further elevated by the firefighters, whom Walker tried to split off from labor by exempting them the cuts. Instead, the firefighters came in support of the people and entered the crowd as heroes. Meanwhile, Governor Walker remained rigid, but with some Republican State Senators beginning to bend and urge compromise. At this point, the largest union in the state, the teachers union (WEAC) had enough. With the vote pending on Thursday, they implored all Wisconsinites to come to Madison and get as close to the capitol rotunda as possible and sit. This call spread across with state, with 35 school districts either canceling or delaying classes today.
More to come!
CHRISTOPHER FONS is a Social Studies teacher in Milwaukee and a member of the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association (MTEA). He can be reached at email@example.com