University of Wisconsin-Madison Cuts: We're not all in this together!

About 7,000 or more workers in the Wisconsin university system, with 1.085 in the university are likely to be laid off in the latest round of austerity measures. The defeat four years ago carries its price. Of course, submitting to this without a fight simply invites more and greater ill treatment. University workers been assured that the layoffs will be spread evenly, so everyone's going to get hit. Chancellor of the UW Becky Blank assures us that "we are all in this together". Some divisions of the workforce have been convinced that somehow this won’t hit them personally. Thousands of workers stand to be laid off, clearly some are more "in it together" than others.

There was a protest February 14th of 700 people or so, (remarkable considering that it was -10 below zero and windy). The protests marked the four-year anniversary of the start of the protests in 2011. There were similar protests around the state. The university workers were not well represented at the protest. Plenty of space was given to the faculty and the students. A student involved with the #blacklivesmatter campaign spoke. There was an official from the union local who read a statement as the sole representative of university staff, the workers.

Since the defeat of 2011 the university has been pushing for greater autonomy to control its own individual workforce.[1] In declaring the university in Madison a "public authority" they would be able to run the institution top-down as a private capitalist corporation would be run. In exchange for this "freedom" the state bosses of the UW Madison would be that they would have to make cuts of about $300 million dollars worth. That is to say $150 million in cuts for the next two years. Layoffs and privatization have already been happening at the UW Superior.

The state workers union AFSCME is represented on campus by several different union locals alongside other various union organizations. The workforce is completely divided and the only argument is how to divide it up further and who gets the spoils. AFSCME is combining the union regional councils in the southern part of Wisconsin, since the huge collapse in dues paying members. The national union leaders of AFSCME are considering asking for a $10 dues increase per month, per member. A single dues increase of $10 a month will cause what is left of the membership to collapse. No worker wants to pay a single cent more out of their checks for anything. A union doesn't stand a chance. So not only are the unions unable to fight they appear set on committing organizational suicide as a final duty to a capitalist class that no longer needs them.

Workers can shut the state down. They've done it before as the anniversary date suggests. If they unite, agree to step out and link their struggle with others. If they seek to extend it to all state employees, seek to extend it even into the private sector they can even win. The sentiment in favor of a strike actually does exist. All that is required is its organization.

The standard objections are the same excuses heard over and over, that taking a strike action is illegal therefore it can't be done, that workers aren't conscious enough of their interests to be ready to take action, that the state, the bourgeoisie, the National Guard and the police are too powerful to oppose. The message of the opponents of strike action is that all resistance is futile. Once four years ago, the state legislature sneaked out of a tunnel out of the Capitol building, out to a waiting bus because they feared the anger of workers after they voted to slash their pay. The capitalists in their Capitol know what fear is.

Today workers are faced with even harder cuts. The electoral route was a road to nowhere. We've done things the legal and peaceful way and it was a failure. While it is illegal for workers to take strike action in this situation not fighting back would the real crime.

Aaron Smeaton

February 16, 2015

[1] For a previous article on a similar theme see

Monday, February 23, 2015