fragments of an attempted writing.


On the one hand:

Walker has introduced a bill that would strip public employees across the board — from teachers to snowplow drivers — of their right to collectively bargain for sick leave, vacation, even the hours they work. But absolutely nothing would change for local police, fire departments and the State Patrol.
The bill smacks of political favoritism for public safety unions that supported Walker's election bid last year and sets up new haves and have-nots in Wisconsin government, said Paul Secunda, a Marquette University professor who specializes in labor law.
- from here.
It seems WI has traded one megalomaniac governor (justifiably hated Democrat Jim Doyle) for another.
While on the subject of WI political darknesses one might also mention U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the tea-partier who beat Feingold.  From Wiki:
Johnson opposed a Wisconsin bill that would have made it easier for child sex abuse victims to sue their abusers. The bill would have eliminated the time limit for future victims to bring a lawsuit, and would have opened a three year window to sue for past victims whose time limit had already expired.[1][2] Johnson testified before the Wisconsin Senate in January 2010 on the financial aspects of the bill, and questioned whether it would be just for employers of perpetrators to be severely financially damaged or destroyed by such lawsuits.[1] He added that the bill, if enacted, might have the undesirable effect of reducing the reporting of these crimes and increasing the number of child victims.[1][2] At the time of his testimony he was on the Finance Council of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay and his argument supported the position of the Catholic Church.[1][2]
Aside from protecting pedophile priests and the institutions that sheltered them, Johnson is also known for having donated $10k to Walker's campaign and paying the employees of his family business so little that most of them qualify for Badgercare.
One might also mention WI U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who wants to raise taxes on the bottom 95% of the U.S. population, but we can leave him to Paul Krugman.

On the other hand:

I am reminded of a point I heard Žižek make in an interview (it was also on Democracy Now as I recall).  Žižek noted that real Leftists should not see all of the demonstrations taking place throughout Europe as a rise in class consciousness.    He pointed out that from Greece to Great Britain, most of the people doing the protesting were lower middle class folks (or the student children of middle class folks), many of them civil servants, who were fighting to protect their middle class interests.  He then went on the mention several "typical" examples of low paid workers in Europe, particularly immigrants and the displaced (such as Eastern Europeans going to Ireland and Spain, etc.), and he noted that they were not in the streets.  

I could not help but think of this when watching the above interview with the WI school "teacher" (why on earth a third grade gym class needs to be taught by someone with a masters degree is beyond me) whose family of four will go from 100k to 90k if Walker's dirty work goes through.  

Sure, in principle, strong public unions make more space for strong unions in the private sector.  And yes, singling out the police and firefighters unions for exemptions is a classic example of turning labor against itself.  But there is a much bigger unspoken "division" of labor also going on here.  

Most of the working class people I know, were they to watch that clip with the kindergarten gym teacher who makes 50k a year complaining about having to pay for things the working class folks I know already have to pay for (health care, pension), are really not going to sympathize with him much.  They are going to think he has a cush job which he got with some cush degrees and it's about time he paid a little bit more for health and retirement as they have to pay a lot more for health insurance and get little in the way of matching funds if they bother to invest in that ridiculous company 401k fund someone with an aspartame addicted smile comes around once a year to tell them about - you know - the song and dance about how they are going to be able to retire in comfort if they put 15% of their 9 bucks an hour into the plan.  

Grant you, this is the South, which is decidedly anti-union in ethos, but even among private sector non-union working class friends in WI and MN I have seen something of this sentiment (and most working class people in MN and WI are now non-union, private sector workers), albeit less pronounced.  

Listening to this bit on NPR I think that as with Žižek's European Left, American liberalism, despite residual claims to represent the interests of "the worker," for the most part really only functions as a movement acting in the interests of mostly urban middle class folks in blue states.  As we all know, it lost Kansas and it will not be getting it back anytime soon.  Hedges notes that American liberalism purged itself of its radicals (something it did before, or at least no later than the 60s - notwithstanding the Right's successful attempts at portraying liberalism as still having radical connections by calling Obama a socialist or pointing to his sometime associations with Bill Ayers -- Obama is clearly committed to capitalism and Bill Ayers hasn't been a radical for decades).  I think more damning than loosing Kansas or radicals (the associations between the Democratic Party and actual radicals have always been, at "best," loose) is that American liberalism has lost any strong connection to what Hedges calls the permanent underclass.  Sure, the folks from Memphis ghettos who do vote will vote for a Democrat 19 out of 20 times, but most of them don't vote most of the time, and the ones that do lack a coordinated and coherent sense of class motivated political action - such as we saw with populist political movements in the late 19th century, the labor movements in the early 20th century, and important segments of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century.

Thus liberalism has no rank and file to put on the streets, well, at least no rank and file that is either large in size or for whom something akin to the "traditional" motivations for mass mobilization are relevant.  When American liberalism does go to the streets (or in this case, the WI state capital building in Madison), instead of having a bunch of people show up in WalMart vests, CNA scrubs, and fast food uniforms demanding living wages and health care and paid holidays, it instead offers a bunch of folks wearing L.L. Bean (or, I suppose Land's End in WI) who are pissed that the state is going to cut their household from 100 to 90k a year by making them pay $200 a month for health and 12% of their pension.  That's not exactly a devastating narrative (there will no doubt be a small minority of token real working class people in Madison as there always is at these things, and some of them will be up front for "narrative" purposes, but you get my point).   

My mother-in-law is an employee of the state of WI.  She makes a few dollars less an hour than she would with her credentials and experience in the private sector (and she would have little problem moving to the private sector), which amounts to a significant percentage difference in potential pay, a lack which she believes the state benefits make up for.   Depending on what happens to those benefits, she may stay, she may go.  But she had an interesting observation about the folks at the facility she works with.  She noted that the cooks and the lower end techs and the cleaning ladies who make barely more than minimum wage (perhaps half of the people who work at her facility) will also have to pay $200 a month for insurance if Walker gets his way, which will hurt them a whole lot more than it does the teacher interviewed on Democracy Now.  I'm willing to bet that very, very few of the cooks at my mother-in-law's facility will make it to any of the protests .   Many people think of contemporary political protest in America as imaged by the children of accountants who parade hipster chic alternative fashions to protest WTO meetings, but I think that may be the exception to the rule.  From the recent One Nation march in DC to this week's activities in Madison, protesting in America these days is pretty much for people who wear clothes from Land's End, and not clothes from WalMart.  Or if they do wear clothes from WalMart, that is usually of choice and not necessity.  Protesting is largely the affair of middle class folks, and what remains of the labor aristocracy.  Perhaps that is why liberalism in America is dead.  

But then again, the liberal political project has always rested on the notion that they could have their capitalist cake and eat their social consciousness too.   Not the best horse to bet on.


  1. Given the stuff I've seen from UW grad student friends in my Facebook feed, I almost sympathize with Walker, since, as you note, these protesters are the Land's End crowd. Still, I remember when Walker was the Milwaukee County Executive and further damaged the county bus system because white people in the suburbs didn't give enough of a shit about black people (as they think of the bus system's users - notwithstanding the fact that the system is largely used by poor white and Hispanic people from the South Side as well). Because he didn't even want to raise the county sales tax 1/4% to help out the city he hated (that economically supported his beloved suburbs in the meantime), I honestly don't care what horrible fate befalls him in this life or the next.

  2. This is sick and evil… what they are trying to do is divide and conquer, they pick and chose what unions to work with so that they can pull other apart. Any union that goes along is foolish, in time they will turn against you as well. This is just another attack against the common worker, the common people by the government, by the over powered rich trying to pull down the middle class.

  3. Good points. I heard Democracy Now on my commute this morning, and couldn't help but hear how comfortable the gym-teacher couple featured in Amy's interview were.

    Dissent and serious discussion are unpatriotic these days apart from pet PC areas, like the linguist in Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the Earth" that I recently watched who was lamenting the rapid loss of human languages and cultures that are slipping into complete oblivion unnoticed, while great fanfare and energy of the land's end & LL bean crowd is directed toward baby seals or some other similar cause.

    Chris Hedges writes " The indifference to the plight of others and the cult of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. That State appeals to pleasure, as well as fear, to crush compassion. We will have to continue to fight the mechanisms of that dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve, through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We have to resist the temptation to fold in on ourselves and to ignore the injustices visited on others, especially those we do not know. As distinct and moral beings we will endure only through these small, sometimes imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what mass culture and mass propaganda seeks to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces, we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces, we remain alive. And for now, this is the only victory possible."

    At my workplace I'm being threatened with firing not on reasonable grounds but rather for not being a member of the pack mentality. The boss has made me into a threat she's seeking to rid herself of. She can't quite see my back yet because the older population I work with would ferment revolution if she acted on her dislike. I try to keep things in perspective. Your blogs, including some wonderful music, Chris Hedges, Zizec and all helps.

  4. Stephen,

    I agree with you 100%.


    I heard that hundreds of firefighters showed up today in solidarity with the other public workers. I'm sure there were some cops there too. Hopefully a significant number of WI firefighters and cops press their unions (they have actual unions there, unlike here) to refuse to capitulate to Walker's strategy. But union leadership, as we know, sometimes prefers nice dinners at the gov's mansion to what their members want.

  5. It's often hard to sympathize with people making 90-100 k, when they get screwed, since these people tend to be the most faithful lackeys of corporate interests, in many other circumstances. I work as a handyman (paid almost 14 bucks an hour), yet the asshole in the office (that makes 70-80k) always works against me and my colleagues so that he can stay in the good graces of those higher up the corporate ladder.
    I would have little sympathy for him if he were to get screwed by the higher powers.

  6. I don't feel a lot of sympathy for teachers and many government workers. Listening to a lot of these folks, particularly the teachers, pains my ears. This union busting I find astounding though. Were I not with the plumber on Monday, I would have joined the protest in Milwaukee.

    On the ground, very few people care. Walker's proposed concessions are basically reasonable. His union busting though is deplorable.

  7. I live in Madison. Today was quite a day. Over ten thousand people came to the capitol building to protest. Hundreds of people signed up to get two minutes each to testify before the Joint Finance Committee in a public hearing on Walker's budget bill. I just heard on the 10 pm news that after 12 hours of public testimony, there were still 300 people waiting to speak. The committee was discussing whether to stay there all night.

    I am somewhat dismayed by dismissals of these protesters as "the LL Bean and Lands End crowd." People who work all kinds of jobs were out there today, lots of them of "the WalMart crowd," if we must use those descriptors. (And many people who aren't public employees were there in support.)

    A lot of these public employees are willing to make some concessions in pay and benefits, but Walker's dictatorial pronouncement that he will end their collective bargaining rights, and the way he's trying to rush this through the state legislature, is what is really pissing people off. As well it should.

    Schools will be very understaffed tomorrow, because teachers and staff are going to the capitol to protest. Almost 800 students of East High walked out today and walked 2.5 miles to the capitol to join the protest. More students will probably join the teachers tomorrow. There's a lot going on here.

    Walker's union busting is deplorable, contemptible, and, I'm afraid, probably irresistably attractive to Republican governors across the country, who are salivating over the possibilities as they watch to see what happens in Wisconsin.

  8. Dianne,

    I hope that I did not in any way convey in this post that I don't share your wishes that Walker be crushed and that labor have a victory here. I hope for those things. I hope the bastard gets recalled, and I hope Feingold runs for gov in a special election.

    I would be very, very surprised to learn (not that anyone is gathering this sort of data) if even a significant minority (say 20%) of those non-student and non-retired protesters were persons making less than the U.S. personal median income (I think it is projected to be 29k+ for 2010). But, to be sure, I hope there were a lot of $9 an hour folks there, I hope they are mad (in the constructive sense) as hell, and they carry that fervor on toward further political action.

    Everything I have read, and what I have seen (on FB) and heard from family and friends in WI puts the focus of the protests on teachers (as you do) and other professionals and semi-professionals. I don't think many truly working class individuals are going to be inspired by the story of the guy with a master's degree in kickball complaining that he is going to go from a 100k household to a 90k household, and his 'face' seems to be the typical 'face' being spun in the media story of what is going on here.

    Of course the kickball instructor's story is not the only actual story to be told here, as I make clear in the post. The people most hurt by what Walker would bring about are those cooks and cleaning persons and low wage earners who will have to come up with $200 a month for health insurance. Their story isn't the focus because in America, the horror of horrors narrative that gets the most air time is the middle class being pushed towards the margins of their middle class status.

    Žižek's point, which I tried (and perhaps failed) to make my point, is that so long as such is the case, the labor movement will continue to be brutalized by the Walkers of the world.

  9. Owen,

    Thanks for your reply. I understand and appreciate your points, and the thought of Feingold running for governor in a special election is the greatest idea I've heard all day. Would that it could be so. I don't think it's realistically very likely, but what a delightful scenario to contemplate.

    I suppose I focused on the teachers because of the Democracy Now piece under discussion. Also because my son is a high school student, and many of his teachers are protesting Walker's bill. And, well, teachers: there are lots of them, they're organized, and they're speaking up. Busloads of them came in from around the state for an evening rally that is probably going on as I type. By the way, shortly after I posted my comment last night noting that schools would be understaffed today, the superintendent announced that all Madison schools would in fact be closed, because by 10:30 last night, 40% of teachers has already called in sick and more certainly would do so. So, my son and many other kids from his school, plus many kids from other area high schools, went down to the capitol today to stand with their teachers.

    Some pretty good local media coverage of the protests has been available from both mainstream and "alternative" sources. There's been live streaming video on one local TV station's site most of the day, there's live blogging from the capitol, etc. There have been good interviews with protesters, organizers, and legislators. I would like you to know that I saw and heard a fair amount, in this coverage, from people other than teachers. Nurses and nursing assistants, home health care aides, office workers, and child care workers come to mind. The cooks and cleaning persons you mentioned, not so much, though I haven't monitored ALL the media coverage. So, it's not totally a professional and semi-professional festival of agitation, but you're right, it's not bringing a wave of the lowest-wage public employees to the fore, either.

    I want to reiterate for anyone who may not know this yet: many of the activists have readily acknowledged that if this were only about money, pay and benefits, they would certainly be willing to have talks and to make some concessions. But the main reason people are coming out by the thousands to protest this bill is that it strips public workers of their rights to collective bargaining. Not just teachers, not just state workers, but all public employees, down to county and municipal levels (with exceptions mentioned yesterday of certain police and firefighter unions that supported Walker's campaign). Walker introduced this bill and is rushing it through the state legislature without inviting any discussion whatsoever with the people whom it would affect. He is ramming this thing through, because he can, while cutting off and disrespecting the workers, trashing 50-60 years of venerable labor rights history in Wisconsin.

  10. (cont'd)

    Not to mention, there's a strong body of evidence that the whole premise of Walker's action is false. That his "budget-fixing bill" is demonstrably about political payback and breaking the unions only, and that this punishment of public employees won't even address our deficits, anyway. And then there's the interesting similarity between the figure named for the deficit and the figure that represents the gifts that Walker distributed to pals and cronies in his first weeks in office . . . And doesn't it go without saying that none of the proposals for fixing the budget include closing tax loopholes for the rich and for corporations?

    I could go on. Protests will go on, too. Back to the teachers: I just saw that the school super is not sure whether he can open schools again tomorrow. Their unions are calling teachers to keep the job action going for Thurs. and Fri., too. We'll see. Believe me, I've had harsh criticism for teachers' unions at times. (We were homeschoolers/unschoolers for 12 years, and teachers' unions can promote some really pernicious lies about homeschooling. The teachers we know haven't repeated such garbage to us, at least.) But at the moment, I'm glad those unions are as powerful as they are for purpose of driving their big share of the protest against this damned bill.

    But I do hear you, Owen, when you say that there is a certain level of futility that won't be overcome as long as the truly lowest-wage workers remain mostly invisible in the public narrative of this struggle.

    What's happening in Wisconsin is just prologue. More governors will be employing the same tactics in other states. It's not going away, so I guess we have to hope that it will energize organized labor.

  11. Dianne,

    Thanks so much for those thoughts. I agree with you in every detail. Out of love for my wife's home state I hope it goes well there and decency prevails.

    Here in TN the rights for collective bargaining are being stripped from public employees as we speak. My brother is a Memphis cop who will soon be having less benefits, including a loss of a pension (only those who have been cops for 10 years will remain vested), which was probably the main financial incentive he had. The unions here are completely impotent. If nothing else, Wisconsin is providing other states an image of what union push back looks like.

    What you suggest is absolutely correct, if the unions can't hold in WI, then where in the U.S. can they hold firm?

  12. I was going to comment on your post, but as I was gathering my thoughts I realized everything I was going to say had already been said close to 50 years ago when Phil Ochs wrote, "Love Me I'm A Liberal."

  13. Owen,

    The strikes in Wisconsin made the Canadian Broadcasting Centre News report this past hour. They were preceded by reports on the strikes in Bahrain. How do we begin, to borrow Dianne's phrase, "to energize organized labour," an issue important here in Hamilton, historically a "labour" town?

  14. Listening to this bit on NPR I think that as with Žižek's European Left, American liberalism, despite residual claims to represent the interests of "the worker," for the most part really only functions as a movement acting in the interests of mostly urban middle class folks in blue states.


  15. Owen,

    Returning to your point about how the narrative of those who earn low wages gets suppressed, I think it's worth noting here that buried in Walker's bill is a provision that would give him power to make any changes he wants to the state's BadgerCare/Medicaid program without requiring votes from the legislature or a public hearing.

    It's the potential dismantling of the collective bargaining that's getting all the attention now, of course (and I'm all for the protests and am in complete agreement with what you and Dianne have said here in the comments in regards to that).

    Here's an article that gives more details:

    Salient points from the article:

    "Unions are well-organized with a big war chest and workers ready to mobilize. The same isn't true for the one out of five Wisconsin residents who relies on Medicaid programs, and that makes it hard to, say, bring thousands of them to the Capitol. 'Part of the that Medicaid recipients are recipients by virtue of being very, very poor," says Paula Buege, a patient advocate. 'Awful hard to arrange a rally, organize a bus and be prepared when you have no money to do it.'"


    "There remains some stigma about receiving Medicaid (some farmers Pasch asked to speak out on the issue were too embarrassed) and even resentment toward recipients, advocates say. 'When I walked into the Capitol and went into the Rotunda, and saw it jam-packed at all levels,' Davis recalls, 'the first thing that went through my mind was wouldn't it be great if one day we could get this kind of response and support for children with mental health problems?'

    ...The delay over the measure caused by the senators who fled town to avoid a vote will also give them much needed extra time to spread the word about this overlooked aspect of the bill, they say."

    I hate how this is called a "budget repair bill."

    The unions have agreed to Walker's financial concessions but Walker won't talk to them because they refuse to give up collective bargaining.

    I also can't help but note that 2/3 of the corporations in Wisconsin don't pay taxes. So there are options other than busting the unions and possibly messing with BadgerCare.

    OK, I'll try to stop ranting for now...

  16. Anita,

    Thanks so much for that link (again). Truly despicable.


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