Statement on Events in Wisconsin
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
February 27, 2011
The CCDS supports the Wisconsin public workers, now locked in battle to defend their right to collective bargaining against a legislative effort led by Governor Walker to deny those rights. We also support the workers in Indiana and Ohio who are battling similar attacks.
Though it may seem too obvious for comment after the last two weeks of electrifying news reports, the events at the Madison statehouse demonstrate the tremendous power of organized workers to attract popular solidarity and to shake up the world of government. Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators continue their boycott of the legislative session in an effort to block Walker’s union-busting “Budget Repair Bill.”
The grassroots wave passed to Indiana, leading Democratic state representatives to successfully kill a “right-to-work” bill by boycotting the legislative session in their state. On February 23rd, ten thousand Indiana workers and their allies packed the Indiana Statehouse, filling the ground floor and all three floors of the atrium. Thousands have picketed the Ohio Capitol.
The following day, teachers at the LaCrosse campus of the University of Wisconsin, galvanized by the actions of their co-workers, voted in overwhelming numbers to form a union. Even if today’s battles are defensive, given this show of power, it is an opportunity for labor to commence a concerted and unified effort to organize the unorganized among both public and private sector workers. Forward ever, backward never!
Those who may be misled into thinking that unionized public workers are overpaid need to think about the South. They need to be reminded of the 1968 struggle by African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee to lift themselves from poverty by forming a union. They need to be reminded of the Charleston, South Carolina hospital workers who, in 1969, braved mass arrests and virtual martial law in a 100-day strike. They need to know that in North Carolina, where public employee collective bargaining has been prohibited by law since 1959, the annual wages of a significant number of full-time public workers are low enough to qualify for poverty programs – in the year 2011. It is a situation shared by masses of unorganized private sector workers in the fields, packing houses, and factories throughout the right-to-work South. If collective bargaining really were the problem, the Southern states would not be facing the same budgetary crisis faced by other states.
That Southern reality is the essence of Martin Luther King’s proposed Poor People’s Campaign, and the meaning of his statement to the 1961 Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO,
“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community….The duality of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you a crisis from which we bleed. As we stand on the threshold of the second half of the twentieth century, a crisis confronts us both.”
Dr. King’s message was reiterated by Julian Bond, then chair of the NAACP, to the 25th Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO in 2005.
On February 12, 2011, for the fifth year in a row, thousands marched on the North Carolina General Assembly building on Jones Street in Raleigh. The Historic Thousands on Jones Street coalition brings together the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the NC Council of Churches and others behind a 14-point agenda, from workers rights, immigrant rights and ending the re-segregation of schools, to bringing the troops home. Ending the war in Afghanistan would save Wisconsin taxpayers alone $1.7 billion this year, ten times more than the measures proposed by Governor Walker.
We not only have a goal and allies in this struggle for democracy, but we also have an enemy, and it must be named: finance capital, that segment of the capitalist class which controls the nation’s brokerage houses, investment banks, insurance firms and hedge funds. A September 3, 2010 report by PBS estimates that since 2008, the total cost to the U.S. public for bailing out the deregulated financial institutions which caused the present economic crisis is $12.8 trillion in outlays and guarantees. This sum was never re-invested in creating decent jobs. And ordinary folk are asked to bear the pain.
Today, the set of public policies that define the crisis of which Dr. King spoke goes by the name “neo-liberalism,” which can be understood, simply, as the program of finance capital to achieve dominance by turning back popular reforms won, not only in the New Deal era, but during the Reconstruction era as well. Neo-liberalism is a program of deregulation, privatization, austerity and war.
Indeed, a careful reading of Governor Walker’s complex, 144 page long “Budget Repair Bill” reveals it to be a prime example of the neo-liberal agenda of austerity and war. It is certainly an attack on collective bargaining, but its negative significance goes well beyond. It is an attack on public services: Kaiser Health News reported that the bill “would also allow the Walker administration to make potentially drastic changes in health programs with little legislative oversight.” The story cited Wisconsin Senator Vinehout’s prediction that “large numbers of people will lose BadgerCare," a component of Wisconsin’s Medicaid program. By assaulting retirement benefits, health benefits, and public services, the bill is the cutting edge of an assault on all workers’ social wages. And it is an attack on publicly-owned enterprises: Section 44 of the bill contains a provision to “sell any state-owned heating, cooling and power plant or [to] contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount the department determines to be in the best interest of the state.” And the clincher: the bill contains a provision to refinance $165 million in state bonds. Governor Walker’s warning to legislators is to pass the bill now or face the wrath of the bankers as payments come due.
What we face in February’s battle over state budgets we will face in a battle over the federal budget in March, with Republicans threatening a government shutdown if they do not get $4 billion in cuts to non-military government spending. Our answer is: cut wars, not people, revitalize the progressive income tax structure that has been gutted by 30 years of neo-liberalism, enact a financial transaction tax on Wall Street, create jobs by passing the Full Employment bill soon to be reintroduced by Rep. John Conyers, defend public services upon which we all depend, fight to save collective bargaining and all our hard-won human rights.
State-level movements need national coordination for this nation-wide battle. Reactivate the One Nation Working Together coalition!
And to the workers of Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio: our heartfelt thanks – may your occupation of the statehouses foretell the day when you become the governors.
PBS report on “The true cost of the bank bailout:”
Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill:”
Julian Bond’s 2005 speech to the AFL-CIO:
Kaiser Health News article:
Bringing home 150 Troops From Afghanistan Would Fix Wisconsin’s Budget "Crisis"
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism