FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

High Stakes in Wisconsin

Scott Walker and the Republicans are poised to strip almost all collective bargaining rights from public sector workers.  They are forcing all workers now to understand what a union really is.  If we don’t, all of us will be forced to accept a radically lower standard of living for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

But the issue is more than just about money, if Walker and his allies are victorious, we will be less free.

Americans have a long history of union organizing.  Workers joined unions, struck for better wages and working conditions, and engaged in collective bargaining with employers long before the United States government finally guaranteed those rights in 1935 with the Wagner Act.  In passing the Wagner Act, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Dealers were trying to balance the scales between workers and their bosses.  For years the government had called out the troops to side with employers with a few exceptions, but under the new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) the US government created a system of rules that backed workers in their demands for a fair share of the wealth that they produced.

The Wagner Act was an unmitigated success.  By the 1950’s union membership was near 30 per cent of the workforce.  Wages and benefits skyrocketed for all workers as nonunion employers kept up with union scale to avoid sharing power with the union.

By the 1970’s, however, union power declined as corporations shipped manufacturing overseas for bigger profits.  Emboldened, employers refused to recognize unions, hired anti-union consultants and made it harder for them to organize by firing workers and by replacing them if they went on strike.  The government of the United States also became more hostile to unions with appointments to the NLRB that made the institution a paper tiger.

Although the percentage of union workers in the private sector saw significant declines in this period, union membership in the public sector increased as states like Wisconsin had modified their laws to allow public sector employees to collectively bargain.

This brings us to the current moment.  Scott Walker and his corporate allies want to do for the public sector what they did for the private sector in the 70’s and the 80’s.  They know that a strong labor movement is the last vestige of organized resistance to privatization and stagnating wages; they also know that labor is the key source of support for social gains like public education for all, public transportation, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  They want to destroy these gains, and that is why unions are under attack.  Unions raise the funds, mainly through dues, and provide the foot soldiers for the politicians that support the gains of the New Deal and more.  Without them many of these policies will disappear as proposed in Scott Walker’s current budget proposal.

For these reasons it is all important that we act now to organize unions regardless of the law.  The Wagner Act did not give us the right to organize, strike and collectively bargain; it was a guarantee won by us through organizing, striking and bargaining.  As we have seen though, the law is a tool that the political class wields to try to convince us that they give or take away rights.

We must remember that union rights are basic human rights that can never be given or taken away.  We must put that on the agenda through action – strikes, sick outs, pickets, boycotts or whatever tactics our locals are willing to take.  Regardless of a collective bargaining law, you can raise the stakes in your community so that your local governments will accept a contract.  But you have to make them.  If activists want to recall, vote, change the constitution, write letters, send emails, or poke on Facebook or Twitter, they certainly should.  But we should never forget that workers won protections at work and through the law because unions acted to pressure employers to recognize them.  We must return to this model or we will end up with a massively lower standard of living, and we’ll be less free to fight again for a better life.

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 fonsca@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail