A small group of us LGBT activists went to Madison today to join the tens of thousands of people from there and around the region standing up for union rights against the vicious union-busting campaign of Republican Governor Scott Walker. Just 48 hours before, Walker rammed a bill through the Wisconsin legislature stripping most state public unions of bargaining rights.
Despite this severe attack, the spirit on the ground was still upbeat, and the vast bulk of attendees were rank-and-file union supporters with apparently deep roots in their communities. Many non-unionists who support worker rights sported signs indicating their support as did many small businesses around the capitol building, some even advertising free coffee - no purchase necessary - to the throngs of cold attendees.
The most disturbing aspect of today's events was the lack of adequate "next steps" being proposed in the face of this frontal attack by Walker & Co. By far the most common demand was "Recall Walker," which due to Wisconsin law can't become a fact until more than a year-and-a-half from now - well after his damage to the unions and working class living standards would be done. This dovetailed neatly with the other main ex-post-facto "solution" being proposed - vote the Republicans out of office. Oh yes, and both solutions were plugged most enthusiastically by Democratic Party politicians and union leaders.
Oh, and for those who point out the apparent illegality of Walker's actions in passing the anti-union law - his violation of Wisconsin's Open Meetings Act - it's important to note that any legal "remedy" to this is at best probably months, if not years down the pike. Again, well after the damage will have been done.
It is a tragedy that the Left has been relatively unsuccessful in broadcasting to more working class people in the U.S. one of the most important lessons from the recent, widely-heralded overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak - the role of labor in ending Mubarak's three-decades-long rule.
Despots like Mubarek and Walker don't particularly like large public displays of disapproval - people sitting in at Cairo's Tahrir Square or the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. But they are prepared to wait out such displays if necessary.
Demonstrations like today's, while useful in promoting public awareness of our issues, are generally far from enough by themselves to win large-scale gains. In Egypt what tipped the balance was a rapidly emerging wave of strikes.
A few weeks after the demonstrations began at Cairo's Tahrir Square, Mubarak appeared on state television to say that he would serve out his term of office. The next morning a powerful wave of strikes began sweeping the country's poorly-organized workforce with such force that Egypt's military - itself a major business owner - unceremoniously tossed Mubarak out that evening.
Tragically, union leaders in Wisconsin, facing nothing near the "legal" and state terror impediments of Egypt, have thus far largely avoided any discussion of strike action. Unless this situation is turned around very rapidly, I fear that the Walker will get his way.
Yes, the widely-despised Walker probably does not stand a chance of reelection, but he'll have already done such a service to wealthy fat-cats that the Koch brothers or some other similarly situated parasites will make sure he's set for life. The Democrats will probably reap an electoral bonanza in Wisconsin next time out, but the rest of us will already have been screwed.