Wisconsin: Workers Protests Get Stuck in the Electoral Swamp

Class War in Wisconsin

On February 14 our US comrades of the Internationalist Workers’ Group first reported that the Wisconsin State Governor Scott Walker had “dropped the anvil” on state workers. Like so many other states Wisconsin is bearing the brunt of Federal budget cuts and like so many others it is facing bankruptcy. Cue massive cuts to state workers wages and pensions. The fight in Wisconsin has been watched by both workers and exploiters across the world. Banners of support to the Wisconsin workers have been raised across the globe in many cities, including London and Cairo. Our comrades have reported regularly on the unfolding events and their previous articles can be found on our website at the following links (in chronological order): 14 feb ; 21 feb ; 11 mar . We print below the latest update on the situation.

Since the evening of Wednesday, March 9 the popular protests that erupted in Wisconsin against the austerity measures presented by Governor Walker have slowly diminished, while at the same time the propaganda barrage has intensified. All the energy shown by workers has now been channeled successfully into electoral politics and the Democratic Party. Particularly strong are the campaigns to have recall elections against the governor and members of the state legislature. Currently, however the law has stalled in the courts and is being temporarily held up by Dane County District Court Judge Maryann Sumi until it can be determined whether or not it was passed in violation of the state’s open meetings laws.

The Unions Show Whose Side They Are On

The unions were committed from the start not to strike. This was the word from the start from the top level of the unions down to the locals themselves. Those teachers who participated in the sickout strike will be docked pay for the time they were out and their union is cooperating with this as well as having called it off in the first place. Without collective bargaining the unions are no longer partners in management. This has become their primary role and many state sector unions will lose funding to the point where they will cease to exist in anything but name only and subject to mandatory regular de-certification votes. Likely what will occur is that locals will get merged and the unions will be a diminished shell dedicated as they are to aiding the Democratic Party in getting out the vote in the elections and witnessing the firing of workers. There could not be a clearer illustration either of the relationship the unions have to the ruling class, or the nature of electoral politics.

On the evening of March 9, the bill was passed in a special session of the state senate and the State Capitol building was taken over by demonstrators. An open forum was set up in the rotunda of the building and the calls for a statewide general strike were so loud that Democratic Party supporters unsuccessfully floated the idea of having the “socialists” removed from the building. The next day the Mayor, Paul Soglin, wrote an editorial against the idea of having general strike. The calls were strong enough to cause the functionaries to speak against it.

Having successfully absorbed sentiment into support for Democratic Party election politics, the opposition wing of the bourgeoisie has maneuvered to stall the bill in the courts and everything is now up in the air. For the Governor to scrap the bill and reintroduce it would be to admit that he had not legally passed the bill in the first place so the Governor relented and allowed the bill to be stalled out in the courts. Concessions are already being enacted by the municipalities around the state to lock in contracts ahead of the enactment of the austerity measures. The Middleton-Cross Plains school district just west of Madison, has now passed a contract which eliminates “just cause” firing (having to have a reason for firing an employee) and enacts many other harsh measures against workers.

The Left act as Democratic Party Auxiliaries

The left acted as an auxiliary for the Democratic Party led protests. Often a carnival style of protesting and cleverly worded attacks on the governor took the place of putting forward serious demands or a program of action. For groups like the International Socialist Organization and the Students for a Democratic Society, their support for the Democrats was much more overt. For other leftist organizations their support was much less overt and direct. An organized core of people outside the power structure of the Democrats could’ve moved forward with working class demands, against the cuts and concessions. If they had been present and organized beforehand they could’ve put forward class based demands rather than allowing the loyal bourgeois opposition to run the protests into the ground in a bid to elect more Democrats into state office and recall up to 8 Republican state legislators.

Workers have internalized the many of the lies that have been put forward about the necessity of “shared” sacrifice, as though the crisis of capitalism were a natural disaster that required equal sacrifices for the “good” of the country. The capitalists explicitly bankrupted the states to create a budget crisis for the purpose of making the austerity measures appear unavoidable thus allowing the capitalist politicians the ability to avoid being seen as having done this on purpose in order to lower living standards of workers.

The Future?

Whether workers in the US will manage to break free of the Democratic Party and the unions to start organizing themselves to wage their own struggles on their own terrain is the question. This break will not happen as long as workers are too afraid of the consequences to engage in any activity other than electoral politics and empty protests against a regime that will not listen or compromise. It will not happen as long as workers have to show their patriotism by supporting the belief that they are the “citizens” of a state that is somehow neutral or capable of defending their interests. It will not happen as long as they are suckered into the political trap of defending a democracy that exists only for the bourgeoisie. The workers, had they wished, could’ve taken over the entire Capitol building and kicked out the politicians, they could have declared a strike. Instead they waited patiently and peacefully for the “democratic process” to cut their living standards, and then they went home and waited to vote. Now the hostile propaganda against the state workers in the press has intensified in the wake of the protests. The protests have spread across the country. It is not likely that workers in the U.S. will simply go back to sleep this time.


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