Indecent Proposals: Class War in Wisconsin
“So there you have it kids. Government isn't for the people. It's for the people with money. You want to be heard? Too fucking bad. You want to collectively bargain? You can't afford a seat at the table. You may have built the table. But it's not yours.” Ian Murphy, after successfully impersonating David Koch in a prank call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (1)
Koch (Murphy): Well, I'll tell you what Scott once you crush these bastards I'll fly you to Cali and really show you a good time...
Walker: All right. That would be outstanding!
“We have two and a half million people in jail in this country – more than a million who are in jail for non-violent crimes. And yet, we couldn't find a single person on Wall St. to do even a day in jail for losing 40% of the world's wealth in a criminal fraud scheme.” Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi - “Why isn't Wall St. in Jail?” - interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now (2).
“All public sector workers are under attack. Faculty and staff are under attack. The UW (University of Wisconsin system) as a whole is under attack – with these extreme acts, Scott Walker is seeking to undermine the labor peace of 50 years...” statement from the Wisconsin Teachers Assistance Association, who jump started the Wisconsin protests
DO NOT RETREAT! DO NOT RETREAT!
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's Anti-Union Bill, was signed into law on March 1, despite the objections and actions of the masses who took over Madison, staging the largest continual protest in Wisconsin history. Starting in mid-February, teaching assistants, teachers, nurses, other public sector workers and their supporters flooded the city, took over the capitol building, and rallied around the clock, in a resistance that grew and grew, garnering support in solidarity demos across the country. A report in The Guardian “US left finds its voice over Wisconsin attacks on union rights”(3) described “the atmosphere [as] part Glastonbury, part commune, part polite midwest. Drummers beat out rhythms all day long to chants of Union Power...there are sleeping bags piled in corners for the hundreds staying overnight, and piles of pizza cartons and water bottles donated by local businesses or paid for by supporters round the US and the world.” The demonstrations of people power and worker solidarity were no doubt inspired by a global torrent of uprisings, street demonstrations, protests, occupations, expelling of dictators, etc. in countries around the globe, from Greece to Spain to England and France, to Tunisia and Egypt, in response to the tyranny of governments and austerity measures effectuated by the economic crises and disaster capitalism of out-of-control banks, Wall St. speculators, mortgage lenders and global corporations, who were bailed out, via complicit governments, by the people, to the tune of trillions of dollars and who did, for said behaviors, not suffer at all. In fact...
While everyone else has had to do some serious belt-tightening, while billions globally have lost homes, jobs, rights, access to food, education, a decent life, dignity - yes, we want bread and roses too - corporate profits in the 3rd quarter of 2010 were up 28% (the biggest 1-year leap in history). While average wages significantly dropped, in Wisconsin and many other states, two-thirds of corporations don't pay taxes. Public sector workers, despite claims otherwise, make less than private employees. Millions of non-union workers have accepted pay and pension cuts. Newly hired auto workers in Detroit (for a good, inspiring read check out Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin's Detroit, I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution)(4)receive about half of previous pay scales. Airline workers take home 30-50% less pay. Millions of private sector workers have been fired and rehired as contractors, making 30% less, without benefits or job security. It's called job precarity – in which workers are supposed to feel grateful to even have a job and fear losing it. In which workers are supposed to bow down before the oligarchic/master class.
The Walker Bill strips collective bargaining rights from public sector workers, rights to form a union, includes attacks on healthcare, encourages the privatization of hospitals and schools and will eliminate Medicaid for 1.1 million Wisconsinites. Concessions will equal an 8% pay cut for workers who will have to contribute more to healthcare and pensions. Other states have already stripped rights to worker voice and others have pending legislation. In Michigan Governor -R- Rick Snyder is set to impose “financial martial law,” on struggling communities in the form of “financial managers” who will have the power to declare financial emergencies, fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets and eliminate public services. Similar to global trade policies which obliterated public accountability and representation and devastated economies around the world through “free trade” and the privatization of resources, the Conservative Right seeks to put all of the power in the hands of big business and take any agency out of the hands of everyday people. While Walker opined the lack of “democratic process” in critiquing the missing Wisconsin democrats, he happily stripped away any semblance of democratic voice in the workplace, after threatening to call in the National Guard to rid the capitol building of “insurgents.” In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett is gutting funds for public schools by more than $1 billion and calling for concessions from state workers and wage freezes for teachers. His proposed budget will reduce spending by 50%, devastating students and educators.
Of course, it must be asked: Who voted, and why, for the Republicans who swept last November's elections, putting in corporate yes-men like Scott Walker, who, among other lackeys like Jersey's Chris Christie and Pa.'s scum-bucket governor Tom Corbett, are attacking unions, the environment, women and basic rights? What the hell were voters thinking? What corporate media valium did they swallow? Of course, the Democrats aren't much better, so perhaps unions should reconsider their oft-unreturned financial support, the meager pickings from tweedle-dee, and focus instead on establishing worker's councils and worker-owned, run work places in which all worker voices are heard. Both sides of the U.S. political equation are beholden to Wall St. “The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward,” writes journalist Chris Hedges in “A Recipe for Fascism,” “Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.”
In Philly, for example, Mayor Nutter hasn't exactly been a friend to unions (who, as we speak, are raising money for democratic candidates) calling out SEPTA workers in 2009 for their “outrageous” and “greedy” demands, when they were using fairly standard union tactics to maintain fairly basic worker's rights. (I have yet to meet a greedy SEPTA worker who makes millions – salaries top out at around 50 thousand). Clinton signed NAFTA, embracing free trade and globalization, screwing workers in the US and devastating workers in Mexico. Obama, whose election was funded, largely, by Wall Street folks like Goldman Sachs, has consistently attacked unionized teachers and showed little support for Wisconsites protesting Walker's bill. “The Obama administration's economic policy,” notes Taibbi (DN interview – see above), “represents absolute continuity with the policy of the previous administration.” Yes We Can? What – bailout a bunch of rich people and take it in the teeth? Wisconsin announced “no, we won't.”
The complexity of forces representing BIG MONEY that foster the ideologies influencing the average American are overwhelming. “The work that our government did in the 60's to destroy the [grassroots] organizations of that era, I don't think that work ever stopped,” long-time Civil Rights, SNCC radical organizer and Curtis Muhammed stated in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, before abandoning the U.S. out of frustration with its Left, post Hurricane Katrina, to organize in South America (check out his open “Letter to the Left and Progressive Forces Inside the U.S.”). We have to know the enemy and its corporate foot soldiers – the Scott Walkers – but it's not easy.
People in the US work more hours and suffer from more stress than anyone else in the industrialized world – we're a demoralized/alienated people - it's hard to find time for enemy investigation. And the corporate world works hard to influence US attitudes towards big issues. As an example of dollar power, consider the impact the billions of dollars the Koch brothers and Koch Industries (Walker funders) have had – funding the idiocy of the Tea Party (a grass-roots citizen's movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires), right-wing think-tanks like the Cato Institute, and heavy-handed promotion of the notion that Climate Change is not a problem. Named one of the top ten air polluters in the U.S., their company is a “kingpin of climate science denial.” According to a New Yorker expose by Jane Mayer on the brothers (5) a “Greenpeace report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks and political front groups.” The dumbing down of the American public has been costly, but obviously well worth it, to the deranged goals of people like the Kochs who seek elimination of any and all barriers to profit.
It is more than important to recall that “the recession was caused by Wall Street hyper-speculation, not the pay scales of elementary school teachers or public hospital nurses” (“The Betrayal of Public Workers,” Robert Pollin/Jeffrey Thompson, 16 February 2011). It's also key to remember that they teach our children and take care of us when we're sick. There are ethical components to their work.
They are not greed-driven. I am in a teacher's union. It's a good union that organized and fought hard battles in the 70's and 80's for decent pay, participation and benefits, but my starting salary as a full-time instructor at Community College of Philadelphia in 2001 was $29, 000. Co-workers and I are not flying to the Bahamas in private jets to party. David Koch, according to Mayer's report, has enjoyed “the life of a wealthy bachelor. He rented a yacht in the South of France and bought a waterfront home in Southampton, where he threw parties that the Web site New York Social Diary likened to an 'East Coast version of Hugh Hefner's soirees.'” Maybe the kind of party Scott Walker is now enjoying, after pushing through a tyrannical agenda and completely ignoring the voice of the hundred thousand and more who put up a good fight. Amidst all the fun, Koch and his brother have somehow found time to systematically, and to the tune of millions of dollars, fight the class war of the rich against the poor.
“Something catastrophic has to happen inside of America,” Muhammed told Goodman,“that affects the entire mass, to wake up our humanity.” Wisconsin suggests a wake-up call, a reigniting of the lost flames of the IWW and labor power, a joining with the Global Class War. They lost, were smacked in the face and told to go home. But, like the British kids kettled by London police (6) in freezing temps for hours for protesting university tuition increases (their future), they took huge steps out of the alienation that works so well for the powerful, into the world of solidarity and the joy of collective resistance. They have seen the enemy.
1. Murphy, Ian. "Koch Whore." Phone Call Transcript. Buffalo Beast. 23 February 2011. Web.
2. Taibbi, Matt. "Why Isn't Wall St. in Jail?" Interviewed by Amy Goodman. Democracy Now. Web.
3. MacAskill. "U.S. finds its voice over Wisconsin on union rights." The Guardian. 24 February 2011. Web.
4. Georgakas, Dan and Marvin Sorkin. Detroit, I Do Mind Dying. Brooklyn: South End Press. 1975. 1998.
5. Mayer, Jane. "Covert Operations." The New Yorker. 30 August 2011.
6. See defenestrator issue 50 "Elsewhere on Planet Earth, The Multitudes Continue to Strike Back Agaimst the Empire"