It was, paradoxically, at once a significant loss for the protest movement in Wisconsin and a measure of its extraordinary success that Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies had to resort to legislative legerdemain to pass their unpopular unionbusting measure on March 10. By separating the attack on collective bargaining from the budget bill, they ensured its passage, but they also stripped the veneer off their own agenda: this was never about budgets, and always about class war. As Michael Moore put it in his rousing speech to the crowd of tens of thousands who had assembled a few days before in Madison, “America is not broke…. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and portfolios of the über-rich.”
To be frank, this is a war working people have been losing for decades without much of a fight. But the pro-worker movement seems at last to have something resembling a battle plan. Next up for Wisconsin activists is a crucial state Supreme Court election on April 5, in which Walker’s favored anti-worker candidate, David Prosser, faces a strong challenge from the Democratic assistant attorney general, JoAnne Kloppenburg. Then there’s the recall effort against eight Republican senators who voted for the bill, with Joint Committee on Finance co-chair Alberta Darling, Walker’s point person on budget issues, as the choicest target. These drives may prepare the way to recall Walker himself early next year. Meanwhile, a shrewd Move Your Money union campaign is targeting one of Walker’s big bank backers, Wisconsin’s M&I Bank.
Progressives everywhere will be watching these developments keenly, offering solidarity and support. But the question on everyone’s mind is, How can the pro-worker movement born in Wisconsin be nurtured into a national force? This won’t come easy—the state, with its storied progressive past, is in a class by itself—but the action there has offered an inspiring spectacle and a practical model. With that in mind, Communications Workers of America, together with Jobs With Justice and other progressive groups, is spearheading a week of action focused around April 4—the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.—with rallies and teach-ins in hundreds of cities. JWJ has been active for months in many states, including Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Maine and Indiana, confronting the array of legislative threats facing not only unions but women, gays, immigrants and all working people. By making these links—and focusing protesters’ ire on specific political and corporate targets—the organizers aim to build the diverse movement needed to fend off the multipronged right-wing assault.
On April 5 dozens of college campuses—perhaps hundreds—will hold teach-ins on “Debt, Austerity and How People Are Fighting Back,” with a national teach-in led by Frances Fox Piven and Cornel West live-streamed from Judson Memorial Church in New York City (go here for an organizing guide).
The mobilization will unfold nationally but take different shapes, depending on local dynamics. Elsewhere, the partisan lines on these issues aren’t drawn as sharply as in Wisconsin, where Democrats were emboldened by popular protest and pressure. It’s heartening that these events have boosted progressive enthusiasm for the 2012 election, but this movement is not just about electing Democrats—it’s about making them deliver for the people they claim to represent.