Wisconsin Important Crucible for Worker Rights
I had the pleasure of attending the workers’ rights rally in Hudson, WI yesterday. As I drove up to the Carmichael overpass, it was a genuine thrill to see large numbers of people crowded on the bridge, holding signs. In all, about 1200 people participated in the rally on the bridge and march to the government building.
Despite the brisk weather, the crowd was diverse in age including many school children, parents, and old-line union members. Several of the speakers were teachers from area schools, with a few of their students mixed in and it was nice to see younger people involved. There was also a significant presence from Minnesota.
Several people carried signs drawing parallels to the uprising in Egypt. The battle in Wisconsin is certainly shaping up to be a crucible on worker’s rights, with the right using budget woes (which they and their buddy Dems created) as the excuse to crush workers and unions. A win in this battle will be essential to the future of organized labor, especially since these attacks are cropping up in other places like Ohio and Indiana. Judging from the number of people driving by and honking horns as we marched, most people are on the side of the workers. The much parroted appearance of the teabag heads, as reported in the media, was pretty minimal in Hudson with less than 20 wingnuts present.
Despite the importance of this movement to workers rights, it doesn’t really parallel the uprising in Egypt for a number of reasons. First, this movement is focused on rights for one sector of the community—unionized workers. While I realize that strong unions raise all workers’ wages, this ignores the fact that people of color are severely underrepresented in unions and are much more likely to be among the unemployed. The demographics of the rally in Hudson and the ongoing demonstrations in Madison reflect that reality with very few people of color present. Secondly, the union reps at the rally spoke about workers having a seat at the table and while there was talk of a recall of the governor, there was no talk about the system itself being the problem and certainly no consideration of the people themselves taking over the government. In fact, at least one speaker said that Walker’s attack on unions was an attack on the Democratic party since unions largely support Democrats. That dynamic is seen in the Dem legislators heading for Illinois to deny the Wisconsin legislature a quorum.
So while the struggle in Wisconsin is rightly seen as a key battleground in workers’ rights, the movement would have to significantly broaden its demands and strategy to even come close to “walking like an Egyptian.” Nonetheless, I was proud to have the opportunity to support these workers.