In the state Capitol buildings and streets of the Midwest, unionists, other workers, and students are heroically resisting the attempt by politicians and employers to resolve the economic crisis at a deadly cost to working people.
Protesters lit the flame in Wisconsin, where they have continuously occupied the Capitol since February 14 in a fight to preserve the bargaining rights of public workers. At times, teachers, firefighters, nurses, childcare workers, university students, and unemployed and private sector workers have swelled the number to 100,000. Teacher sick-outs have closed school districts in Madison and Milwaukee. The Wisconsin South Central Labor Federation has even announced they are considering a general strike!
Volunteers, donations, and support statements are flooding in from all over the world — including Indiana and Ohio, whose workers are in the middle of their own similar battles. Solidarity rallies are blooming across the country.
At stake: workers’ rights and living standards for generations to come
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boasted about the broad aims of his assault in a phone conversation with a caller pretending to be notorious libertarian billionaire David Koch. Walker declared that his goal is to emulate Ronald Reagan’s destruction of the 11,000-member air traffic controllers’ union, PATCO, in 1981.
Walker wants to eliminate collective bargaining for benefits and working conditions, make paying union dues optional, force unions to be voted in again each year, increase employees’ share of healthcare and pension costs, and cap negotiated wage increases at no higher than official inflation. His proposed bill would also privatize public utilities and give the governor sole authority to sell them — without competitive bidding.
That would be music to the ears of Walker allies David and Charles Koch, energy industry capitalists and top funders of efforts to gut social services, resist government regulation, and slash taxes. Huge promoters of misinformation about climate change, the Koch brothers bankroll the Tea Party, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and rightwing electoral candidates.
Democratic legislators left Wisconsin in a bold move to forestall Walker’s union-busting attack. The Democrats depend on unions as a crucial base of popular support, and they can’t afford to see them destroyed.
But this does not mean that Democratic politicians can be relied upon to halt the anti-worker tide. Like the Republicans, they refuse to lay the responsibility for the budget crisis where it belongs, at the door of corporate rip-off artists and warmongers. In states where Democrats dominate politically, they too are pushing hard for massive cuts in jobs, working conditions, and services. The program of austerity for workers is bipartisan.
Workers need militant leadership and their own independent labor party
In a terribly misguided attempt at compromise (which Walker soundly rejected), some Wisconsin union leaders offered to make concessions on pay and benefits in exchange for keeping the right to bargain collectively. But other union leaders and rank-and-filers are organizing for a policy of “no concessions,” thanks to workers’ increasing awareness of their own power. Nurses and others are discussing the need to reach out to nonunion workers, educate about the real corporate causes of budget gaps, and put forward an alternative budget that closes those gaps by taxing big business and the rich.
It’s no surprise that nurses are in the forefront of pointing out that Walker and his crowd are not just union-busters, but enemies of the poorest and most vulnerable. These include women, people of color, immigrants, the very old and the very young, and the sick and the homeless, who are suffering the most financially and who desperately need the safety nets that public workers provide.
Labor’s strongest weapon is the general strike. Now is the time to use it, not after Walker’s bill passes. The labor movement can defeat his anti-humane legislation. But for the battles ahead — and to get off the defensive and fight to regain lost ground — workers need their own political party, completely independent of the Democrats and Republicans, a serious vehicle for running candidates on a program that advances thoroughly working-class solutions.
The Wisconsin mobilization could be the opening act of a long-awaited resurgence of the U.S. labor movement. For that resurgence to take hold, the movement needs a powerful strategy and bold demands:
- No concessions on pay, benefits or collective bargaining! Wage a general strike!
- Increase taxes on corporations, close loopholes, and redirect war spending to human needs.
- Demand job creation through a shorter workweek with no cut in pay and a public works program at union wages.
- For a national union summit to plan strategy for protecting workers’ rights and securing education, jobs, pensions, and healthcare for all.
- For an independent workers’ party — unbought and unbossed!
Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. Section
4710 University Way N.E. #100
Seattle WA 98105
For a PDF version of this statement, click here.
Rally in Olympia, WA in solidarity with Wisconsin public workers. Feb. 26, 2011.