Volume 22, Number 1

Perspectives on the Battle
for Human Rights in Wisconsin

“The Right to Collectively Bargain is a Human Right” • Fred Schepartz
“Gov. Scott Walker Has Already Lost” • Fred Schepartz
“Scotty’s Fatwa” • Andy Heidt
“Walker's Budget Repair Bill Is Big-Government Republicanism at Its Worst” • Andy Heidt
“Marching With Ghosts at the Capitol” • Tom Neale
“The Battle for Wisconsin: Selected Excerpts” • John McNamara
“The ‘Last’ Defender of Dead Tree Journalism Gives Up” • Leon Lynn

The Right to Collectively Bargain is a Human Right

Fred Schepartz

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Sound familiar?

For many reasons, the Declaration of Independence is an utterly extraordinary document, but in terms of what’s on my mind today, I am especially enamored with one aspect, that it is perhaps the first document in human history to delineate the concept of human rights, that we have certain rights that are endowed to us, not because of the noblesse oblige of some monarch, but by virtue of the simple fact that we are human beings.

And yet, in the context of the battle for human rights in Wisconsin that currently rages, there is the rightwing meme that the ability of public sector employees to bargain collectively is not a right but a privilege.


This brings up the question of what a right actually is. One talks of legal rights, rights granted to citizens by the legislative branch of their country. But is it really a right if one day one possesses a right, but the next day they do not?

In terms of the dichotomy of rights and privileges, a common example is that one has the right to vote, but one’s ability to drive a motor vehicle is a privilege circumscribed in very specific ways. It can certainly be argued that we can’t let everyone drive, but there have been times where it was also argued that we couldn’t let everyone vote. We couldn’t let women vote. We couldn’t let African Americans vote. We couldn’t let people vote who didn’t own land. We couldn’t let people vote who couldn’t afford to pay a poll tax.

Certainly in our sad and regrettable past, there has been a great deal of relativism in our notion of rights, legal, human or otherwise. Rights are granted, sometimes slowly, sometimes with a great deal of argument, a great deal of fighting and even a certain amount of bloodshed. And then years later everyone agrees it was the right thing to do.

The right to form a labor union and bargain collectively was won only through hard work, dedication and sacrifice by countless brave women and men involved in the labor movement. And yet, despite decades upon decades where we’ve lived within this paradigm, the right for public sector employees to bargain collectively is still not recognized by the federal government, which leaves this matter up to the discretion of individual states.

On February 11 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced a budget repair bill that included language that would essentially outlaw collective bargaining for all Wisconsin public employees. In the weeks that followed, somewhere in the neighborhood of a half million people have showed up at the State Capitol to protest. Solidarity protests have popped up all over the country as workers and their families and friends have stood up for Wisconsin workers because they know full well that an injury to one is an injury to all.

More importantly, they recognize that what’s going on in Wisconsin is a battle for not just labor rights, but for human rights, except the right is telling us that our right to organize into unions and collectively bargain is a privilege, not a right.

My reply: human rights supersede legislative fiat.

Human beings have evolved. We have brains, but we also have heart and soul. We have intellect, and we have compassion. We know right from wrong. We, as a species, have the authority to determine human rights, and these human rights trump what governments may or may not do in terms of granting rights to its citizens. The process may be slow, but eventually, governments do catch up.

Thomas Jefferson wrote of the notion that an authority higher than any government grants us certain rights. 172 years later, the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which codifies in great detail what Jefferson meant by the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The right to organize labor unions and bargain collectively is specifically included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a right. It is not a privilege. It is not something to be trifled with by legislative bodies, despite whatever mandate they think they may possess.

We value democracy. However, it must be understood that a democracy cannot function properly without human rights. Just because one has the right to vote, that does not necessarily mean one lives in a properly functioning democracy.

The right to freedom of speech and assembly is a fundamental aspect of democracy. This includes the right to organize labor unions and bargain collectively. Functioning democracies have vibrant labor movements. Repressive regimes do not. And when democracies transform into repressive regimes, one of the first things that happens is that organized labor is squashed because it serves as a bulwark to preserve democracy, as well as facilitating prosperity.

The other day, I saw an off-duty police office protesting at the Capitol. He had his bulletproof vest mounted onto a wooden frame, and he held a sign that read, “Taking away my right to collectively bargain is like taking away my vest.”

Taking away our right to collectively bargain is like taking away our right to breath. We don’t breath, we suffocate. We die.

To read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, go to un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml.


Gov. Scott Walker Has Already Lost

Fred Schepartz

I’ve been saying this for a week now, even before Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was punked by blogger Ian Murphy in a phone call where he pretended to be billionaire conservative David Koch.

Despite his utterly heavy-handed efforts to essentially outlaw public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin, despite his unwillingness to budge on the issue, he has already lost this battle and this war. Regardless of what ends up happening, he has already lost. He cannot win.

Let me say this again. Walker has lost. He cannot win.

Walker expected this to be settled quickly and quietly, but thanks to the dedication and bravery of tens of thousands of people, it has been anything but quick and quiet.

Little Madison, Wisconsin has been he center of the media universe for nearly two weeks now. Solidarity protests have popped up all over the country. The people have risen up to tell Walker they are not going to take this lying down.

Walker introduced his budget repair bill Friday, February 12. It was expected to pass both houses by the following Thursday. In addition, he was supposed to give a speech where he would unveil his biannual budget Tuesday, February 15.

None of this came to pass. As we all know, the Senate Democrats are still in Illinois, blocking the senate from taking action. The assembly didn’t pass the bill until one AM, Friday, February 25, and it took some trickery to accomplish this. Walker still has not introduced his budget.

The problem is that Walker has been so stubborn that he’s boxed himself into a corner. He can’t back down because that would make him look weak, but if he doesn’t compromise, this so-called budget repair may not ever pass. But let’s be clear, it’s an impasse of his own creation, and it’s not a very intelligent or expedient position that he has put himself in.

The tide is turning against him. Seeing what’s happening in Wisconsin and how it’s rippling across the nation, various other Republican governors who wanted to try the same union busting measures have backed off. It would seem that Walker is becoming increasingly isolated.

On top of that, apparently one Republican senator, Dale Schultz, has flipped and will vote no. Schultz is a moderate who had proposed an amendment to sunset the collective bargaining aspects of the bill, so they would end July 1, 2013. Republican leadership essentially thumbed their nose at Schultz. In fact, the senate, while going into session without the Democrats, advanced the bill to the point where it cannot be amended. So much for compromise.

I have to figure that Schultz has had enough. And I predict that more Republicans will follow.

But what if somehow the bill does end up passing? I still say that Walker has lost.

The activism that Walker sparked is not going away. Eight Republican senators can be recalled right now. Organizing efforts are already under way. Walker could lose the senate by the end of this year.

Walker is eligible to be recalled next January. It will be an uphill effort, but there is so much anger at Walker that recall is certainly realistic. Imagine if the recall election coincided with the presidential election. Imagine if Russ Feingold ran against Walker (that’s my fantasy). It would be an absolute slaughter. As one friend of mine said, Walker may have single-handedly guaranteed that President Obama will be reelected, though I wish Obama would be a little more out front on this issue.

Even if the recall effort fails, Walker is damaged beyond repair, and his getting punked by Ian Murphy is just the frosting on the cake. Certainly, Walker cannot be reelected at this point, unless the Koch Brothers donate a billion dollars to his campaign. More importantly, I have to think that nationally, behind closed doors, Walker must be a pariah to national Republican leadership.

He overreached, and they know it. He provoked mass protests, the likes of which we have not seen in decades, if ever. We may even see general strikes. You know what really, really freaks out Republicans? General strikes. Despite all the attention Walker is getting from Fox and all the love he’s getting from the hard, hard right and various front groups like Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, I have to think that Republican leadership is none to pleased with Walker.

This brings me to perhaps a more long-term, more ephemeral point. Looking at the arc of history, I see where Walker has truly lost. For tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, this is a defining, coming of age moment. People have been politicized. People have been radicalized. The uprising in some way, shape or form, will turn into some kind of movement that possibly could transform America into the kind of place we believe it is supposed to be. And all these people, who knows what they will be able to accomplish?

There is something truly amazing going on. Despite misrepresentations about the anger and rage of the demonstrators, the rallies have all been incredibly peaceful, and vibe has been so, so positive. It truly is a beautiful thing.

For myself, I’ve noticed that I’m happier than I’ve been for quite some time. I like people more than I did a few weeks ago. Part of it is the euphoria one feels when demonstrating with thousands or tens of thousands of other people. But also, it’s gratifying to see people finally fighting back after thirty years of working people being under attack. That’s pretty much my whole adult life.

There’s a richness that Walker doesn’t have. He can’t understand it. He can’t even pretend to comprehend it. Frankly, I can’t help but think he’s dead inside.

We have our passion and energy. We have our fellowship and dare I say, our love.

What does Scott Walker have? Thirty pieces of silver.


Scotty’s Fatwa

Andy Heidt

The stunning depth and breath of the reach of Governor Walkalloverus’s “Budget Correction Bill” lingers deep into the beginnings of this battle in the class war that has raged for generations on the American Middle Class. Of course the poor have been subjugated into hopelessness long ago. Where will it end?

What is stunning is the depth and breath of this attack. First the obliteration of the fundamental underpinnings of public employee unions, then the abrogation of the legislative responsibility, perhaps with the associated plausible denial ability regarding gutting Wisconsin’s Medicaid and Badger Care Programs for low-income, elderly and people with disabilities. As if that was not enough, after extended testimony about the fundamental injustices within this bill, the Republicans added a provision to subsidize developments in wetlands as if it addressed the fundamental concerns within this legislative morass. Ok so they also raided a tiny bit of State pension monies, proposed selling off the State owned coal plants that provides energy to our universities, as if they do not have a captive customer base, that when gouged by its new owners will actually drive up tuition costs for future students. It is not even funny that the billionaire brothers at Koch industries are already advertising for the position prior to the passage of the bill as if this fix was more deeply imbedded that the craving of a junkie looking for his heroin.

I almost forgot to mention the complete elimination of the Capital Gains tax. This will help our non-productive, usually non-working elites bilk the state treasury of over $220 million dollars by 2014, while public employees are expected to foot the bill for this transfer of wealth.

An amazing element of this pillaging is that the Walkalloverus thought he could get this through so quickly that the second wave, his actual budget would hit like a tsunami as funding for the public sector is ravaged. Senate Democrats have fled the state so a vote cannot occur. The sad irony is that this is perhaps the best thing the Democrats have done in years. This inevitability has been delayed, but it is coming, brutally.

The early prognosis is the cutting of $50 million for the University of Wisconsin as it is carved out into a quasi private entity. At least $900 million cut from public schools over the two year budget and who knows what else as mining companies lick their ugly chops at the prospect of getting back into business in a big way in Wisconsin and right to work laws that will threaten the minimum wage looms. Oh and then Latinos watch out as Arizona is on the way. Finally domestic partnership health insurance coverage will be obliterated as these twisted Christians continue their jihad against us.

We are reeling with the myriad of implications, but we are mobilized. The marble mattress of the Capitol invigorates our sleep deprivations as we will wage our battle. This is all of our fight. Our sisters and brothers pour in. Small, locally owned business gets it. As money is taken from us, it does not flow as readily to them and throughout our economy. Wealth only redistributes upward. It is an old and brutal story. But it does not end here. This is just the beginning as we are waking up. This fight will morph into many areas. Even now disability advocates are occupying the Republican Party offices. Consumer boycotts of products and companies that support this swine and his efforts are growing. Even the possibility of the first general strike in a century looms.

The mobilization grows and the worm turns. The longer we battle the more is exposed, as our Pharaoh’s stripped bare in his evangelical worship of plutocracy and its sundry favors. We are the epicenter for a new movement, a new American revolution as we slowly but surly transform our polity into one that respects each other and our earth. It is a long way to go but it is crystallizing. We are peaceful warriors, but beware our strength.


Walker's Budget Repair Bill Is Big Government
Republicanism at Its Worst

Andy Heidt

Scott Walker’s attacks on public employees collective bargaining rights and their rights to form and have unions is an attack on people and small business across this state. This proposal and its unequal application of law continues Walker’s tradition of savagely battering the working man. Walker’s tax and budget polices take from the poor and middle class and give to the wealthy. His attack on the very structure of public employee unions will hurt families and small business across this state. Working people will not sit still and let this happen.”

Wisconsin public employees make eight percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, but with this leadership we are all on a race to the bottom. The multiplier effect of taking money out of workers pockets will sting small business where workers spend their money. Less spending creates a cycle of less revenues, more foreclosures, evictions and social needs. It is clear that this governor has no clue about the Wisconsin Idea and Wisconsin Values, he is taking his orders from his masters at the Chamber of Commerce and hurting all but an elite few in this state. Wisconsin is now the nation’s right wing laboratory for big government in service of corporations. Working people will respond by working together to fight this injustice.”

Public Employees, with collective bargaining rights are at the forfront of finding taxpayer savings and efficiencies in their workplaces. They are also a check and balance against politicans who may manipulate thopse bureaucracies inappropriately, or for their own gain.


Marching With Ghosts at the Capitol

Tom Neale

It is difficult to wrap my mind or, for that matter, my heart around everything I experienced when I finally made my way to the Wisconsin capital building earlier this week. I saw all around me something I had only been able to dream of in the thirty-odd years I had lived in Madison. Leaderless and peaceful, filled with far more than just hope, was the resurrection of the labor struggles that had begun in Wisconsin well over a century earlier. I felt I was marching with Joe Hill and Robert LaFollette, with Mother Jones and Gene Debs. To paraphrase the great black spiritual: Here at last! Here at Last! Great God almighty, here at last!

As I wandered the rotunda and the grounds two thoughts kept recurring: one, that I carried any number of ghosts with me, dear friends and comrades—Joey, David, Frank, just to name the first three that come to mind—that, had they lived long enough, would be marching beside me. I knew I was not alone in this; that everyone else there had undoubtedly brought their own ghosts with them to share in this inspiring moment of true American history.

The second idea that continued to flicker at the edges of my excitement was the realization of how, if the conditions are ripe, one very small event can be the catalyst for unimaginable change in the world. A humiliated street vendor in north Africa in defiance and despair immolates himself in protest. His death and funeral sparks an uprising in Tunisia. This spreads to Egypt, and Cairo comes to the American Midwest.

Incredible as this is, it is not unique. The French Revolution was sparked by a parade of women asking the French crown to alter their visiting privileges at the Bastille, Louis XVI responds with a savage cavalry attack and Paris explodes.

In Poland in the 1970s, the government attempts to smuggle ham out of the country hidden in paint cans. There is an industrial accident along the Baltic coast scattering the cans along the wharves. Dock workers, whose wives, daughters, sisters and nieces had stood in line for hours to acquire hams for their traditional Easter feasts, are outraged. Wildcat strikes erupt in Stettin, Danzig and other ports. From this humble beginning Solidarity emerges; the creation of which is instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe.

As I marched with both complete strangers and dear friends, with ghosts and the city workers I had labored beside for years; I was filled with the belief, that its hour come round at last, the American democracy that Lincoln spoke of at Gettysburg, that King dreamt of in Washington and Memphis, was being born in the streets of the city I still consider home.


The Battle for Wisconsin

Selected Excerpts from cooperativeconsult.com/blog

John McNamara

February 14, 2011

I am marching today.

Becky and I are pulling our daughter out of High School, and we will be marching to the State Capitol to protest the biggest assault on Labor in my lifetime.

The governor of Wisconsin has unveiled a proposal that would eliminate the right of all non-federal government workers to collectively bargain (except for the firefighters, police, sheriff deputies and state troopers). This Act will prohibit any body of government (except Federal) from engaging in collective bargaining with government workers except for base wages (and then not to exceed inflation). It will prohibit unions from being able to collect dues through payroll. It eliminates job security, fairness and imposes an 8.5 percent paycut. Today it is the garbage man and DMV clerk. Tomorrow, it will be every worker. I have more to say about why that is wrong at Breathing Lessons.

Walker has put the National Guard on notice in case the workers actually stand up for themselves.

So I am marching tomorrow. I am standing with my side.

It isn’t clear that this will pass; however, the governor’s party controls both houses and, in an example of the cronyism and Boss politics to follow, the recently hired (three days before the budget repair bill was introduced) head of the State Troopers is the father of the brothers who run things under the dome (Republicans Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald and Speaker of the Assembly Fitzgerald). If Wisconsin succeeds, expect other states to follow.

I was going to write about how this Act of Depravity might be undermined—I have some ideas although I don’t know if any of them would really work. However, today and the following days, it needs to be about stopping it.

Today, the Students and University of Wisconsin march. Tomorrow and Wednesday, AFSCME will conduct an emergency rally on the Capitol Square. From that point, it is anyone’s guess. The threat of the use of the military to put these rallies down has been raised by the Governor. I can only hope that the WI National Guard will be as judicious in their presence as the Egyptian Army.

February 16, 2011

30,000 working men and women, college students and high school students descended on the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin to defend the human dignity and rights of public sector workers.

You might have missed this in the press reports that seem to only mention pension funds, but the governor’s proposal does the following:

Amazingly, he actually claims that he is not “union-busting,” but that it is the unions’s fault for trying to ratify their contracts in November before he took office. These contracts that were defeated by turncoat Senators (Jeff Plale, who got a job from Walker, and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker) would have covered the period from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011. They were already 18 months overdue!

This bill is anti-business. It creates a hostile work environment and will usher in a generation of labor unrest. It is obviously anti-worker. It is also anti-clean government. It will create the environment for corruption and machine politics. If workers have to “pay to play” in order to get a promotion it will create two dynamics:

The protests started on Sunday with about 250 people picketing the Governor’s Mansion and the Capitol. On Monday, the UW Teaching Assistants Association managed a 700-person protest on 48 hours notice. On Tuesday, 13,000 people showed. Today, the 30,000 in Madison (the Chief of Police, Noble Wray commented that he has never seen that many people on the Square in his 27-year career). In addition, protests occurred throughout Wisconsin at the district offices of Sen. Darling and other Republicans. Most of this was ignored by the national media.

Police and Firefighters arrived (even though the Governor cynically protected them to help smooth passage) arrived. I am proud to say that my co-op, Union Cab, arrived with about a dozen of us on the square. The Interpreters’ Co-op also issued a statement of support. The energy on the Square was electric. The sound was deafening. Later in the day, WI 2nd District Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, stood in Congress and denounced Governor Walker.

The Joint Committee on Finance threatened to vote at noon, but as of this writing they are still debating passage despite a GOP lopsided 12-4 majority. Rumors of compromise existed all afternoon but have yet to materialize. The talk is about recall. Wisconsin can recall legislators after they have served for one year. Eight Republican senators fill that bill. The rest of the Republicans will have to wait for their turn at recall until January 3, 2012.

This isn’t about Wisconsin; this is about the future of the labor movement in the United States. Today it is the public sector workers. Tomorrow it will be the private sector. Will worker co-ops be next? Can any of us believe that if unions lose, that the powers will allow our labor movement to succeed?

If we lose this battle, Ohio and New Jersey are ready to follow suit. The goal isn’t fiscal responsibility, it is destroying the ability of working people to engage in the political debate and have a voice against those of the bosses. This is the Shock Doctrine coming home to the US.

Walker faked a fiscal crisis which is being exposed as I type. The “deficit” for this budget year, if it exists is the result of actions taken by the Walker administration since his ascension on January 3rd. This fake crisis is being used to attack the strongest unions in the state and may even jeopardize basic services such as mass transit.

Tomorrow the unions will show up in mass. The United Council of the University of Wisconsin System has called for a mass walkout by the 27 UW campuses. The Teacher’s Union has asked their members to show up at the Capitol, attend a house of worship and pray for the protestors or be a scab. The Teacher’s Union made this statement.

What can you do? If you are in Wisconsin (or within driving distance), you need to get to the Capitol tomorrow. If you can’t make it to the capitol, you need to call the Wisconsin Legislators: 1-877-752-8878 or the office of Governor Walker: (608) 266-1212.Tell them this bill is bad for business, bad for clean government, bad for Wisconsin and bad for America. There are about 400 people who read this blog regularly (from mostly Wisconsin, Texas, California). You all need to do something tomorrow to stand with us.

February 17, 2011

The “school closing” scroll on the local stations would have made one think that Wisconsin had been hit with another blizzard like we had at the beginning of the month, except it was 45 degrees out! Also, after the school was named as closed there was a tag that said “Teacher expected to report.” It wasn’t a blizzard, but it was a storm. A storm of solidarity by the teachers of the state to fight back the Republican Party’s attempt to destroy their rights to collective bargaining and their livelihood.

I spent another day at the State Capitol. I saw even more people that the previous day and a number of friends. One, a Madison schoolteacher, told me that he would have to quit if the bill became law. His health care premiums would become more than his pay. This is the Walker and Bosses Code: Workers are “human resources” or “assets” and once they have been used up (depreciated) they should be cast aside. He was fairly convinced that if the bill passed, there would be a statewide strike and the school year might be lost.

Many of the high school students took the day off to stand in solidarity with their teachers. Students came from all over the state. The University was out as well. It was amazing to watch the entry processions. Racine-Horlic, Milwaukee Public Schools, United Faculty, TAA, Madison Firefighters, Madison Police. One by one they swelled the ranks until the Capitol was full, the sidewalks around the Capitol were full and the streets around the sidewalks were full. I went inside for a bit and it was deafening. Constant drumming and chanting.

I did several laps around the Capitol meeting and talking with people. Reading the signs. Marveling in the energy in a mass movement that I have only seen on television. As I was leaving, I heard people announcing that the Madison School Board had granted their teachers amnesty provided that they show up on Monday.

I have heard a lot of people “tsk-tsk” the demonstration as not really doing anything and how they (the unions, I presume), need to be more “engaged.” What a load of rubbish. The governor threw his gauntlet down on Friday with a plan to vote on Wednesday and sign the bill by either today or tomorrow. What, exactly, would these masters of civil disobedience ask of the unions? On two days notice, they managed a sustained 5-day protest that escalated each day.

What did the protest do?

It gave the senate Democrats the will to embrace their values and act in solidarity. The Democrats broke quorum and fled the State of Wisconsin. They are in hiding until the Republicans agree to negotiate. I don’t think that would have happened without the protest.

The organizers set up a table to collect signatures of people willing to pledge to re-call the eight republican senators after the vote. This helps the next stage of the battle. Recalling eight senators this spring and the rest of the GOP (including the governor) next January. Without the thousands of people coming to Madison from those republican districts, getting the contact names and information would have made recall efforts even harder.

The governor plans to hold a press conference (more likely just to issue an ultimatum) to tell the Democrats to “get back to work” and denounce them as being “disrespectful”. He would do better to announce he is pulling this bill back and promise not to threaten collective bargaining rights. As the delay in passing this bill drags on, it has given time to get out the facts of the so-called deficit. The deficit apparently has been completely manufactured by the Republicans. It is the classic Shock Doctrine.

The Battle for Wisconsin has entered a new and somewhat unexpected phase. I understand that there are two or three Republicans that have resisted this bill (and who are also missing in action). This will be a long battle. Regardless of the outcome this week, Walker and the Fitzgeralds have put Wisconsin workers on notice. It is a war that will be fought at the ballot box and on the picket line. The victory of today is one victory. We have many more to go.

February 18, 2011

Things are moving.

Senate Democrats have left the state.

Apparently, the assembly is now one vote short of quorum.

Teachers are out again.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Jesse Jackson arrive to offer their support (and perhaps pick-up some street cred from us).

The people in the People’s House are cleaning it and preparing for a potluck this evening. Yesterday, police showed up with hotdogs and donuts for people in the Capitol. The Firefighters marched to the Overture Center where the Common Council met in an emergency meeting to approve contracts for all City of Madison workers through 2012. The County Board of Supervisors met and made similar moves. City and County workers now have protection through the 2012 election.

Rallies were held across the state in Steven’s Point, Milwaukee, Green Bay, etc.

The biggest news (and this is second-hand, not reported–but then I doubt it would be) is that the governor has started threatening Republican lawmakers with primary challenges if they don’t vote for this bill. He has been in office for six weeks and is already threatening lawmakers.

Recall of the eight GOP legislators is being talked about casually. It is almost a forgone conclusion that the recall effort will begin as soon as the vote happens. The Republican lawmakers have to choose if they want to end their political career carrying water for Scott Walker.

The Tea Party is expecting a counter-demonstration tomorrow—but it seems that pro-Boss crowed will be dwarfed by the expected crowds for the people.

Keep calling, keep writing, keep protesting.

More later, after I get to the square.

February 19, 2011

The day of the counter-attack met a wave of peaceful, fun-loving exuberant Wisconsinites and their allies from across the globe. It was hard to figure out how many “Tea Party” protesters were present, but most media was reporting between 2,000–3,500 while putting the pro-worker crowd at anywhere from the Walker Administration’s 50,000 to CNN’s 100,000 plus. The Madison Police reported ZERO arrests.

I have never been more proud of choosing the life that I have chosen—of choosing to stand with the working men and women instead of the profiteers. I have also never been so proud to be a Wisconsin citizen or a member of Union Cab of Madison Cooperative.

Our co-operative rolled 40 vehicles from our office on the east side of Madison about 3 miles to the capitol. As mentioned in my earlier post, we expanded the protest zone. We drove down Langdon St (the Greek Row of UW) and then up State Street (which links the Capitol to the UW Campus). The AP reporter who interviewed me reported that we blocked intersections; however, we had a hard time moving because of all of the protesters who spilled out from an extremely crowded Capitol onto State Street. I then joined the rally on foot and found a contingent of IWW marchers.

The streets ringing the Capitol have two driving lanes, a parking lane and a bus lane. The crowd was so massive that all four lanes were packed curb-to-curb and maneuvering was difficult (think the Dan Ryan Express Way during Friday rush hour when the Cubs and White Sox have evening games).

While the majority of people were from Wisconsin (evidenced by their intimate knowledge of all things Badger such as the words to “On Wisconsin” and knowing what to do during “Jump Around”), there were people from out of state to show solidarity (especially since they know that there state may be next. There were more than a few Iowans. I saw one person identifying themselves as being from Toronto, Canada.

People know that this is there fight wherever they are. A picture making the rounds on Facebook shows a man in Tahrir Square with a sign supporting Wisconsin workers. But here is the amazing thing: People from all over the world are sending food and supplies to assist the people occupying the State Capitol and the crowds. Ian’s Pizza apparently received an order for 300 pizzas to be delivered to the Capitol from either New York or San Francisco. On Facebook, I learned that by evening, they were only taking “donation” orders and claimed that they had even received orders from Egypt!

The amount of “free food” on the Square is staggering (which is good because the restaurants cannot keep up with demand). The IBEW provided a free brat stand. Near the end of the day, a family identifying themselves with SEIU showed up with about 200 hot dogs. Last night, two college kids were pushing free Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches.

Working people across the world see this for what it is. It is everyone’s fight. We shouldn’t be afraid of attacks about people coming from outside Wisconsin to protest—the vast majority are state people. The State has always attacked protestors as being “outside agitators”. We know the truth. An assistant DA from a northern county held a sign that said, “I am NOT a Thug. I prosecute Thugs and know one when I see one.” We invite anyone who supports the rights of workers to support workers. I would never turn down a show of solidarity. If the unions get broken in the state that led the way in collective bargaining for public sector workers, unemployment insurance and the home base of AFSCME, it will not lead to better day for any worker.

It was fitting for the Wobblies to show en masse. If this bill passes and the unions are broken in Wisconsin, it will be even more devastating for the movement than Wilson’s war-time attack on Labor during WWI. Imagine the work of the CIO being done with Taft-Hartley. Once collective bargaining is destroyed, it may never come back (just as Taft-Hartley has never been repealed). As one sign summed it up: “We bargain collectively, or beg individually.”

February 22, 2011

Today, depending on what the Republicans do, the United States may be left with 49 democratic states and one that is ruled by decree. That is why the Democrats left and why they should stay away. Democrats can only block financial bills, but at least they will be able to starve the new autocracy of Wisconsin to its senses.

There is a reason that the trade unions are getting attacked first—they offer protections to the workers to speak out and expose what is happening in government. Unions offer protections that allow workers to make sure that sunlight shines on the functions of government and prevent excesses.

The Budget Repair Bill that will strip workers of their rights also does many other things. It is a 144-page document. In addition to attacking workers, it also expands the number of positions that exist purely as political appointment—a drastic departure from open government towards the horrible days of patronage and boss politics of the late 1800′s.

It will also minimize the role of the legislature. The Joint Committee on Finance, instead of the Assembly and Senate, will decide on the sale of public assets. The Joint Committee on finance is a 16 member body with the Senate and Assembly each providing 8 seats. Currently, the Republicans (due to majorities in both houses) enjoy a 12-4 majority.

A colleague of mine made this comment:

“It’s even worse than this. It’s also a power grab away from public process and the deliberations of our democratically elected officials by inserting clauses throughout the bill—especially in the Medical Assistance section—that says whatever else is written in policy or statute can be overturned by the creation of “administrative rules” which are made by the Governor’s political appointees.…”

That is right. Wisconsin’s legislature is giving up its role and obligation to provide due diligence and deliberate. Instead, Wisconsin will mostly be ruled by decree of political appointees.

This, is not what democracy looks like—at least not the type that we are used to in Wisconsin. Today may be the last day of the Wisconsin Idea.

Please continue to call and write the legislators. What happens in Wisconsin will sweep across republican held states.

February 25, 2011

Events happened quickly today and February 25, 2011, may be remembered as one of the most unique days in labor history.

Despite promises to consider all amendments, early this morning Republicans in the assembly ended debate and rushed a vote and ended voting as soon as they reached the majority of 51 votes. Almost half of the Democrats (and a couple of Republicans) were not even allowed to record their vote! The Democrats are looking for a legal angle to challenge this ridiculous display of suppressing democracy.

The reaction after the vote was caught on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=5f0VProvuAo&feature=player_embedded

The completion of the assembly’s business also allowed the Republicans to force the Capitol Police to start closing the Capitol. The cops began handing out flyers announcing that tonight, anyone staying in the Capitol would be required to sleep on the ground floor with no bedding allowed. On Saturday, at 4:00 pm the Capitol would close as normal and everyone would be expected to leave.

The TAA decamped from the Capitol to the nearby Democratic Party headquarters.

Then something absolutely crazy happened! The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state-wide labor union for police officers issued a call to its members to join the occupation: come to Madison and join the sleep-in this weekend. If the Capitol Police intend to clear the Capitol, they will need to begin by dragging out fellow police officers. This sets the stage for the first true act of civil disobedience to be completed by police officers.

Has this ever happened in the history of Labor? I remember in Toledo, Ohio, when the police union authored a change in city ordinance that prevented them from being used to break up picket line (or arrest anyone in a lawful picket unless they saw a felony committed), but that was after the AP Auto Parts Strike and a rough-and-tumble melée with the cops.

The head of the union (as reported by Dane101.com) said “Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Governor Walker’s attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin’s devoted public employees is wrong,” continued Palmer. “That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight.” Dane101.com has been an incredible source of news during this conflict. I follow them on Twitter, and they are one of the few twitter accounts that I allow to have sent to my phone. If you want to get the low-down on what is happening, please look them up (Isthmus’s Jack Craver has also been doing excellent work).

In Madison, the “thin blue line” standing between the forces of democracy and human rights and the forces of crony capitalism and despotism turns out to be Agents of the State. These officers have chosen to uphold their oath and defend the people and workers of Wisconsin. I know that there will be many battles to come, and at some point, more stark choices will need to be made. However, as the Battle of Wisconsin moves from the inside of the Capitol to the streets of every town in Wisconsin and the ballot box, it feels good to know that today, the police and the people are on the same side. Some might say that this is the result of Madison’s history; however, the police in the Capitol have largely been from out-of-county. The police standing with us certainly include Madison, but they also include officers from the far flung reaches of Wisconsin, from communities that (in a normal season) would mock the protestors in Madison, mock Madison in general, and not see the protestors as allies.

Were Wisconsin a stand-alone republic, losing support of the police would likely mean the end of the government. As David Brooks mentioned on NPR this afternoon, the governor still has the upper hand in the Battle of Wisconsin, but it is becoming clear that he and the Fitzgeralds have lost the war. They willingness to hang on seems to be how much they can get away with before they are thrown out of office. The recall and other elections cannot come soon enough; however, for 13 days now, I have been more proud than ever to be a Wisconsin resident. It is really a very unique place.

February 27, 2011

A quick update:

Yesterday in a cold, snowy afternoon, over 120,000 Wisconsinites (and a few from out of state in solidarity) rallied against the horrid Budget Repair Bill. This greatly exceeded the rally the previous Saturday and included at least three marching bands. The media has largely ignored these rallies, and I noticed the lack of media on Saturday. The previous week when it was promoted as a show down with the Tea Party, the media came ready to cover a fight. After seeing the Tea Party outnumbered by some counts as much as 35 to one, the media lost interest. No conflict, no story. Never mind the government’s attempt to deny basic human rights and the questionable tactics of the majority during voting in the Assembly.

Today, the Capitol Police have assured the world that they will be clearing the Capitol at 5 pm (CST). Thousands are now inside (including off duty police officers who have joined the protestors) the Capitol refusing to leave. It is expected that the Capitol Police will begin a very slow process of dragging peaceful resisters out that, depending on how much the cops really want to do this, may take all night.

Then, at 8:00 am tomorrow morning the Capitol doors will open and people may once again enter the Capitol. Depending on the determination of everyone involved, tonight’s action may become a daily event. Close the doors at 6 p.m, slowly remove people who refuse to leave in time to open the doors to allow everyone back in.

The protestors are being trained in passive resistance and everyone expects this struggle to remain peaceful despite what Fox News reports.

I won’t be able to get to the Capitol today (sadly), but my heart is with them!

February 28, 2011

While the Capitol Police stood down yesterday and did not forcefully remove the people expressing their constitutional rights to assemble and address their government, the Department of Administration has no such qualms. This morning the DoA closed the Capitol. Only legislators and staffers may enter and only if they have appropriate identification. Representative Roys reportedly refused to show her “papers” and was denied entry to her office. Supposedly the general public may enter if they have an appointment.

This started out as defending labor and protecting the citizens of the state from being robbed of their collective assets (no-bid sales on power plants), it has expanded to much more–defending health care for the poor and people with disabilities, the oversight of the legislature over the executive branch and now the basic freedoms that this country was founded upon—the first amendment.

It has become clear that the aim of the Republican Party is not to destroy the Democratic Party, but to destroy democracy itself. It seeks a new world order in which the corporations decide who serves and writes the rules. It isn’t just Wisconsin—Arizona’s attempt to privatize its prison system and make undocumented entry into the country illegal was written by the private sector, for-profit prison lobby.

The Battle of Wisconsin is really a manifestation of a civil war between those who believe that the Corporations and the State should rule together (with the State as the junior partner) and those who still believe in a republic of the people, for the people and by the people. This battle needs to expand from the Capitol to the entrenched party status—people need to join the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and start fighting at their conventions and leadership. For too long we have ignored this dynamic. Despite the heroic efforts of the Wisconsin 14, we can’t only think about electing progressive Democrats. We, especially those of us in the Labor Movement, need to also elect Republicans who believe that the government should listen to and represent the people in their districts, not corporations or influential billionaires with investments.


The "Last" Defender of Dead Tree Journalism Gives Up

Leon Lynn

Today, for the first time in my adult life, I became a person who does not subscribe to a hard copy edition of a daily newspaper.

We're keeping the Sunday paper, for now, because you can't really have Sunday without color comics. And I still need an ongoing supply of newsprint to check the sharpness of kitchen knives.

But I can no longer spend money in good conscience having the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel delivered to my house every day.

The reason is simple: The newspaper sucks. I say this despite the fact that they pay me to write columns on occasion.

Their coverage of local issues, including a series that somehow won them a Pulitzer last year for exposing child-care payment abuses, is sophomoric at best, and at worst calculated to suck up to the paper's political allies.

Today the Journal Sentinel ran an editorial imploring Gov. Scott Walker to undo some of the damage he intends to do through budgeting and related legislation. This struck people as a major break: The Journal Sentinel has been in his pocket all along. The paper even endorsed him, after watching him play fast and loose with the Milwaukee County budgeting process for years.

But even in calling for budget reform, the editorial board made sure to trash the unions for being "greedy," and the 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state, stopping the budget process, for acting "irresponsibly."

The editorial cited a trumped up debt-refinancing scheme Walker claims MUST be passed by the Senate this week to avoid immediate state layoffs. It's BS. There are about six other ways they could refinance the debt without this silly deadline, which is clearly a gimmick to try and force the senators to return.

And the paper simply ignores this, and reports Walker's claims as if they were chiseled on stone tablets by the finger of God.

I can't tell if the newspaper staff is too dumb to know better, or is still bending the truth to suit its political agenda, which despite a lot of whining from right-wing zealots, is decidedly pro-business and anti-labor.

And I no longer care.

I worked for that paper, back when it was the Milwaukee Journal. I have many friends who work there still. And I am by nature a loyal guy.

But even I cannot do this any more.

I'm pissed that the paper keeps shrinking, to the point that it's folded in quarters, like a shopper, before it's stuffed in a bag and thrown on my porch.

But I could live with that if they showed even a modicum of journalistic integrity and talent.

I'm open to suggestions for how to spend the money in more socially just ways.