Mar 7, 2011
When faced with losing their ability to collectively bargain for Wisconsin public workers, union officials called a protest three weeks ago.
The protest still continues!
Workers and students occupied the Capitol rotunda for days and nights on end, refusing to leave even when ordered to by security. Workers from all over the state flocked to the capital for massive protests, especially on the weekends – 60,000 one Saturday and 100,000 the next, in a city of only 50,000 residents!
Governor Walker and others try to characterize these as protests carried out by “outside agitators.” But overwhelmingly, these protestors ARE workers, especially public workers, including police and firefighters, teachers, students and their parents. Overwhelmingly, they come from Wisconsin – all over the state of Wisconsin. And if they are not, they tend to be other public workers from other states, offering their support – because they see the same attacks being prepared in their own states.
In the midst of this massive fight, who can the workers trust to support them?
The Democrats? No way. The Wisconsin legislators may have disappeared from the state – for a time – in order to halt a vote on the anti-union legislation; but in other states, like Ohio, Democratic Party legislators made sure to stick around, letting an anti-worker vote be taken – and passed.
The Democrats are using these issues as propaganda for their next election campaign, while doing nothing, really, to stop the attacks.
In states like California, Illinois and Maryland, with Democratic governors, it’s even more obvious – the Democrats themselves are the ones carrying out the attacks. Big city Democratic mayors do the same thing. Chicago’s new mayor, Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, has already announced his list of attacks on city workers.
And in Wisconsin, the Democrats have emphasized that they already agree with the cuts Walker is demanding. They’ve been working behind the scenes to craft that kind of “compromise” with the Republicans. The only part they refuse to pass is the attack on collective bargaining and dues check-offs.
Of course Democrats want union leaders to hold on to collective bargaining, especially dues check off. Union members make up the ground troops in many Democratic election campaigns, and union dues help pay for those campaigns. Democrats are not going to shoot their election chances in the foot by allowing their supporters to disappear. But that’s very different from truly supporting workers under attack, which none of these Democrats has been willing to do.
What about the union officials? Wisconsin union officials have already said they will agree on cuts to workers’ wages and benefits; what they don’t want to lose is their ability to bargain for all the workers, that is to collect dues from them – directly from the workers’ paychecks. What is this but an admission that it’s all about their positions and their money?
Yes, workers should defend their unions when they are under attack. To lose the unions they have built would mean a step backward. But it can’t be the only thing to defend in this fight. The whole purpose of a union is to give workers the organized strength to defend themselves against attacks from their employers. What good is a union if it doesn’t do that?
No one knows today how this fight will turn out, or when it may end, whether next week, next month, or later. But the workers have already taken a first important step forward. They have seen that an injury to one is an injury to all. They’ve seen what forces they truly have, and what the possibilities are. And, if they can reflect on this fight and who they can – and can’t – trust and depend on as their allies, they’ll be that much more prepared for the next fight when it comes.