Another dispatch from Wisconsin from Bob Muehlenkamp:
By now everyone is following the events in Wisconsin and the other states where the right wing took over legislatures and/or governorships (Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Florida) and make their first priority the dismantling of the labor movement.
The mainline press frames pretty accurately how it is playing out in Wisconsin: workers give back money to help balance a budget, but do we have to curtail union power or eliminate unions altogether? Lost, of course, is who caused the crisis and continues to benefit from it. How many of you know the details about the business tax breaks Walker has recently handed out?
Also it is now clear that whatever the outcome in Wisconsin, the outcome nationally of the Wisconsin struggle is stunning: Indiana has pulled back right-to-work legislation; instead of totally eliminating collective bargaining for public employees, Ohio is imitating Wisconsin and saying they can continue to bargain, but only over wages; Pennsylvania and Michigan have pulled back legislation aimed at limiting public sector bargaining. The remaining big state where action will start next week is Florida, where they will likely pass a bill saying that if a public sector union membership (in this right-to-work state) drops below 50 percent, the union is automatically de-certified. Why do I say “likely”? Because there will not likely be a popular uprising to stop it.
Here in Wisconsin no one knows how this will end. In this stalemate, I think the question is: Who can most change the status quo? Our side will continue to try to escalate rallies at the Capitol. There are now substantial daily rallies at cities all over the state. Recall petitions have already started. Regardless of the outcome, people are talking about recalls and the 2012 election.
Unfortunately, I think the Governor and his forces have the initiative. After hundreds of testifiers, the Assembly voted for Walker’s bill yesterday. He has more control over Wisconsin media. He controls the budget process and will start laying people off if the 14 Dems don’t come back. The Club for Growth has now started a medial blitz campaign throughout Wisconsin supporting Walker’s bill. They are slowly, gradually, taking back control of the Capitol building. The Tea Party and other conservatives are also threatening recall petitions and primary challenges against any senator who wavers. Time may be more on their side.
But as I said above, HOWEVER THIS ROUND COMES OUT, the common folk of Wisconsin who have risen up in defense of workers’ rights and civility and decency will carry on this fight in the electoral arena, and they have already started.
The global power of the Internet and Facebook comes through in the very simple story of Ian’s Pizza. You probably heard about Ian’s Pizza. They are located right off Capitol square. They and other stores began supplying free food to the Capitol occupiers, so these organizations in turn thanked them on their web sites. So people throughout the U.S. and the world began emailing and calling Ian’s and giving money for pizza—$10, $25, $50, $100, so Ian’s could supply more pizza. There are literally piles of pizza in boxes stacked up inside the Capitol and on the sidewalks outside, along with cases of soda. Other stores had the same response. The building trades guys cooked free brats and hot dogs FOR EVERYONE—hundreds of thousands of brats! People kept stopping by to get a brat and them and asked “How much?” and just looked with joy when guys said, “If you’re marching, they’re free.” I don’t think I caught the guy at the end of the line with a catsup jar in one hand and a mustard jar in the other who just kept pouring it out, like he was hamming in nails, as the marchers came down the line. There is more food for the occupiers than they can eat.
I had a conversation with a guy in a suit at the Capitol Brewery, around the corner from Ian’s. I asked why he was there. He said he was a small businessman from Stoughton and Walker was “vilifying” the public workers: “Those are my friends and neighbors, and if he is vilifying them, he is vilifying me, and I won’t let him do that.”
As a final note I want to reprint what I wrote in an earlier dispatch about my experience on a radio talk show:
I spoke on a radio talk show yesterday with David Newby, an old friend and President of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Mark Miller, one of the “WIS 14” senators, and a Madison teacher, Anita Simansky, who read the following letter she received from the parent of one of her students:
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“I have been a parent of at least one MMSD student continuously since September of 1985. My youngest son will graduate in June. While I have always had great respect for our teachers, I have NEVER been prouder of them then I have been this past week. They are rising up much to defend their access to collective bargaining in the face of outrageous behavior on the part of our governor. This is a fabulous opportunity for my son Adrian to learn what it means to act with integrity, to be a responsible worker and citizen. And thank YOU for your patience and forbearance in this difficult situation. We all need to keep our wits about us, and remember that we are neighbors and friends."