FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Wisconsin Death Letter Blues

I got a letter this mornin I say how do you reckon it read?
You know it said Hurry, hurry, ’cause the gal you love is dead.
I grabbed up my suitcase and I took off down the road
but when I got there she was already layin on a coolin’ board
Looked like there was 10,000 people standin’ round the buryin’ ground
but I didn’t know I loved her ’til they laid her down

— Son House, Death Letter Blues

What is unfolding in Wisconsin these last few weeks with tens of thousands protesting the legislature’s plan to gut the state employee’s collective bargaining rights is certainly news; however, the basic storyline is nothing new at all. Scott Walker is the duly elected Governor, but he acts more like the CEO of Sate of Wisconsin, Inc. , His plan to dismantle the public employees union is more than a move to cut the state budget; it is the continuation of a class war that has been going on across the country since the 1930s; and it is war of attrition that labor has lost. Like any political war, this conflict is not one about ideas and beliefs so much as it is a conflict of interests; in this case, a remnant of union-elite workers vs. the state acting on behalf of the corporatist agenda. The real story is the elephant in the living room none want to acknowledge, namely, the cuts that humbled union production workers in the 1980s are now moving up the ladder to include the last bastion of union held territory. The schoolmarms and staffers who were content to play the fiddle while blue collar labor was burning, now want solidarity and sympathy from the Wal-Mart generation.

While I support unionism in general, the war was won by the other side years ago. What we are seeing now is little more than a mopping up action. In other words, what is happening in states like Wisconsin is not the emergence of a new front in the war on labor; but the backside of a prolonged attack on labor that has been going on for decades. Big business fired the first volley with the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. This is the legislation that Harry Truman once called a “slave-labor bill”; and it blasted holes in the labor protections enacted during the the New Deal. Then in 1981, organized labor was trounced at The Battle of PATCO, when Ronald Reagan broke a strike by firing all 11,359 of the nation’s air traffic controllers. After the formation of the NAFTA alliance — signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994 — labor was doomed. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 enabled the consolidation of media power into fewer and fewer hands, creating a media oligarchy with the unmatched power to frame the debate. Then, lest we forget, there is the most recent corporate triumph in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Citizens United case, which has effectively sealed our political lips and virtually assured labor’s electoral defeat at the polls.

During this same time, the U.S. government was being transformed from an institution that promoted the common good,into a steering committee for the private corporation, thereby enabling rabid privatization schemes and so-called right to work initiatives across the nation. From Clinton era out-sourcing, to the mercenary contractor armies of Bush-Obama, to such things as the sale of the Chicago parking meter system, public wealth and services have steadily been taken over by private capital. Why should it surprise us now that Wisconsin wants to eat its own employees? After all, the job is done. Union power has been emasculated — and the state workers who now find themselves under the gun have been complicit in its demise by looking the other way the whole time. Now it is their turn. Someone has come for them. The question is, are there any left to save them?

None of this is meant to suggest we give up the fight. But it is essential to take stock of the situation if there be any hope to reverse the tide that has swept away good jobs and imposed a lower quality of life on ours and our children’s future. One can begin by refusing to participate in the lies and deceptions that say all of this is somehow natural, inevitable, and acceptable. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom for all of us; everyone that is, except U.S. presidents, the quislings in congress, and a handful of billionaire activists.

General strike, anyone?

MATTHEW STANTON is a Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

 

More articles by:

Matthew Stanton is a Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail