Home > political-economy > Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Part two)

Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Part two)

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Call me unnecessarily skeptical about these things, but when I run into a narrative that fits neatly into my assumptions I immediately begin to question my assumptions.

The cartoonish battle unfolding in Madison just does not hold up to scrutiny: we have unions that are not unions and only exist because the state of Wisconsin granted them the right to organize the labor force. These unions have no protection under the law and were expressly excluded from the Wagner and Taft-Hartley slave labor acts.

We also have two-bit players in the oil industry, who, despite resounding rejection in an election contest, have managed to rise to the position of the cutting edge of the capitalist onslaught against labor — setting the agenda of the fascist State.

Excuse me, but, as a jury member, I am not buying the circumstantial evidence.

I often like to surf Marxist sites and tweak their noses by crapping on their archaic analysis of the world around them. Despite years of painful self-examination these Marxists insist on donning the blinders worn by generations of predecessors regarding the State.

In a recent foray, I visited the Kasama site to see how they were covering the events in Madison and was greeted with pretty much the same insipid analysis as that presented by labor historian and author Peter Rachleff in the first section of this piece. One writer, Felix Dzerzhinsky, has called for, “Two, three, many Wisconsins”; a play on Che Guevara’s call for revolutionaries to emulate Vietnam in its resistance to American imperial aggression in the 1960s. Of the prospect for a successful outcome in Wisconsin, Dzerzhinsky dutifully writes:

All of this could change for the better or worse tomorrow. Everything depends on the ability of workers to maximize the disruption of business as usual in the state: keep the Capitol shut down, keep as many schools as possible closed and teachers and sympathetic students at the Capitol or in the streets, etc. The rest of the country is watching, and the activists among us are wondering if we’ll be able to reproduce this level of constructive anger in response to the attacks that we face.

Predictable Marxist pap, but what is interesting about Felix’s analysis — why I am fascinated by it — and what escapes most of the idiots on the Left, with their knee-jerk support for the Potemkin village unions currently battling Walker’s assault, is that Felix alone seems to have an inkling that defense of these worthless company unions was precisely the wrong place to begin the fight against austerity.

Why has Wisconsin risen up? I’m happy to report that they were able to start in a place where I suggested we not start: with a militant defense of the rights of public-sector workers. Economic hard times, I wrote, mean that this is a bad place to start, because so much of the public resents public-sector workers who have benefits that they do not have. Better to defend public-sector workers only in the context of a broader fight against service cuts, I said, and then we need to put the demand to make the rich pay at front-and-center, lest we lose too many people to capital’s mystifications about taxes. I still think a lot of this holds true going forward, but I also think I underestimated the catalytic potential of public-sector workers. After all, their unions are still the big battalions of the fight to defend public services. And perhaps more crucially, no matter where you are, everyone knows a teacher. Everyone knows a city trash collector or state worker. Everyone knows a firefighter; they were exempt from Walker’s direct attack, but they know the meaning of solidarity, and are aware that their own bargaining positions will be weakened if other unions are weakened, so they showed up at the Capitol in some strength. And yes, everyone knows a cop: they were also exempt from Walker’s attacks, but reports indicate that plenty of them showed up to support the other unions as well — out of uniform, of course, but thereby marking the first time you were ever grateful to see a plainclothes policeman at a demonstration.

Despite his insight regarding the danger of letting the battle against austerity turn into a battle for the defense of the public unions, Felix welcomes this disastrous turn of events. The reason why this is a disaster still holds, he acknowledges, but, blinded by the apparent numerical strength of these fictitious unions, and their enthusiasm, he gets swept up in the unfolding events.

Moreover, it never seems to occur to Felix that this was the entire motive of Walker’s unnecessary, and wholly gratuitous, attempt to remove the bargaining rights that, as I have already shown, the public unions never really had in the first place. The attack on bargaining rights was an ambush; a deliberate provocation designed to bring the unions into the streets. Walker wanted to goad the public unions into a fight they could not win so he could paint them as the face of the public sector. The public unions are to serve as the black welfare queen of the 21st Century — the racist stereotype of the single mother introduced by the Reagan administration — and which stereotype was confirmed by President William Clinton when he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act into law — with the strategic placement of smiling black women on either side of him.

The union leaders — instead of warning their members, and admitting the reality of the unions’ cardboard existence — led them into a fight in which they are outclassed and have already lost.

Is it possible to recover from this disaster? Frankly, it doesn’t look good.

According to Kasama, “The 97-union South Central Federation of Labor voted Monday night to prepare for a general strike that would take place if Gov. Scott Walker succeeds in enacting his budget repair bill, which would strip most bargaining rights from most public employee unions.” Only about 15% of workers in Wisconsin are covered by unions — a percentage that is higher than the average for the United States, but down from the more than 20% union membership rate in 1989. Moreover, a spokesman for the Federation was unclear on how many of its 385,000 members would actually take action, nor did he give an estimate of how many of the more than 2.2 million non-union labor force could be expected to join.

Finally the spokesman provided little information on what strike action would take place or its target:

“It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to stop working on a particular moment or day,” Aniel said. “It means that we are preparing so that the decisions are made in a very significantly different way so that it protects the people of Wisconsin.”

But some services would be shut down, he said. The labor group would still have to determine which services would be shut down, he added.

“If it was decided the governor’s mansion really wasn’t that important and it wasn’t that important to heat it or give it electricity or to guard it, then those things wouldn’t happen,” Aniel said.

Two or three more disasters like this? We can only hope not.

To be continued

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