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March 02, 2011

Mad Town Solidarity and the Employee Free Choice Act

By: Aaron Datesman

It’s a few days old, but I found this to be hopeful:

Wausau Fire Department Lt. Steve Bahr, 54, said he came to Madison even though his benefits and bargaining rights aren't threatened.

"We have to keep trying to kill the bill and support the teachers," Bahr said, adding that many of his department's 50 union members had been coming Madison to demonstrate over the last week or so. "This is just the beginning. I know we're next."

I don’t remember how it goes, but first they came for the….came for….the….stayed for the cheese curds? Anyway. This post from Gin & Tacos says it really well, and I encourage you to read it.

For the most part, I don’t read the mainstream media, so I’m sure I just missed this speech on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times.

I’m Jeff Skiles. And two years ago I was being honored in this very Capitol building as a hero for being one of the pilots in the Miracle on the Hudson. But I’m here to tell you that on that day there were many, many heroes: pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, firemen, policemen, crews of the ferry boats, EMTs. We didn’t abandon those passengers to save themselves; we all worked together to save everybody. That’s a lesson that people in this Capitol building need to learn. All those trained professionals put aside the fear for their own personal safety to get the job done. And every one of them was a union member. Unions help their people do their jobs better.

And I’d like to talk to you today about one group that has touched my family’s lives. I’d like to talk about the educators in my home town of Oregon, Wisconsin, these professional men and women who have devoted their lives to develop and nurture our future, our children, and they have given my children and myself a priceless gift: I have watched my kids grow into responsible, intelligent and caring adults due to their contributions. Just yesterday, my youngest son, J.J., got his ACT college entrance exam scores in the mail. He got a 26. What do you suppose Scott Walker got? That’s a good enough score to get into Wisconsin’s flagship campus, here, the UW-Madison. But J.J. won’t be going to college next year, because J.J. is only in the eighth grade. That didn’t happen because of Scott Walker. That happened because of the educators in the Oregon School District, and that happened because of all of you.

But teachers are only one small collection of voices among the hundreds of thousands of nurses, public employees, state and local workers who will be impacted by this bill. Our federal government has acknowledged our basic right to join together and make our collective voices heard by union membership. The Supreme Court has defended that right. But this budget bill will strip Wisconsin public workers of the protections and rights enjoyed by other Americans. This bill will regulate public workers to second-class status in America. Are we going to let that happen?

Let’s not forget how this budget crisis came about, and let’s not let this governor and this Republican legislature shift the blame for what’s wrong with America from corporate profiteers and instead demonize our teachers, our nurses and our public-sector employees.

If you missed that episode of Democracy Now!, listen to it. It’s inspiring.

I honestly don’t know how the Wisconsin uprising will play out. At the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic that the protestors will accomplish their goals at the state level, for this year, or even for a few years into the future. The benefits in terms of education about labor issues, even on the national level, are undeniable. But I fear that the sacrifices which have been made in Madison will just represent a local victory in a war that has slowly been lost, all over the nation, for nearly my entire lifetime.

In the meantime, I suspect that it gets old sleeping on a cold stone floor, putting your life on hold for weeks, and submerging the self-doubt over whether the tough road is worth it. How to turn this around? I think that posting “Solidarity with the protestors in Madison” as my FaceBook profile update on Saturday probably does not have the man quaking in his boots, and is not truly inspiring even to friends I have in Madison. Is that all that Solidarity really means? What would tell the Madison protestors in a meaningful way that “WE ARE WITH YOU”?

In my opinion, the best approach is to expand the scope of the problem so that it touches all of us. That’s a useful meaning for the concept of Solidarity. Because Madison has given the labor movement some energy, we should make Madison about more than just Wisconsin.

We should use Madison to rally nationwide support for the Employee Free Choice Act. The attempt would probably not succeed (on the other hand, I wouldn’t mind coupling a government shutdown with a general strike), but I look into the future in this country and don’t see a better pro-labor teachable moment coming up anytime in my lifetime. Obama can hedge and not really do very much about the Madison protests because he's not the president of Wisconsin. EFCA would be a different matter for him.

(An added bonus is the positive gloss even the mainstream press has given to recent revolutions in the Middle East, which were powered in part by the labor movement. That's an advantageous confluence of events.)

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at March 2, 2011 09:17 PM

Great idea! A better moment to make that fight is not going to arrive.

Speaking of Wisconsin, our genial host got a shout-out for picking up on Scott Walker's NYT love in the call with "David Koch" from Jason Linkins in a scathing roundup of the NYT's egregiously wretched approach to the story. It ends this way:

The New York Times thinks the best use of their resources is to have their labor reporter on the pizza delivery beat while the publisher's son learns on the job, to the lasting delight of Scott Walker.
Posted by: Nell at March 2, 2011 10:17 PM

And wrt the Egyptian connection, anyone who's interested in keeping up with Egyptian workers will want to read Hossam el-Halamawy. He's an excellent photographer as well as an activist journalist, and regularly posts links to his flickr images. He's documenting the strikes and labor actions all over Egypt. Probably easier for non-Arabic speakers to follow him by way of his twitter stream (3arabawy), which regularly links to his blog posts.

Here's a new, longer piece of his writing: Egypt's Revolution Has Been Ten Years in the Making

Posted by: Nell at March 2, 2011 10:49 PM

Also with respect to North Frica and the Middle East - Wadah Khanfar, the head of Al Jazeera talks about the global and crucial momentousness of what is happening in that part of the world. So rarely I feel do we have a chance to be cautiously optimistic, let alone celebrate current affairs.

Posted by: Anthony Durity at March 3, 2011 03:45 AM