Madison: Birthplace of A Labor Movement
It’s been called the Pearl Harbor of workers rights. And the sleeping giant that has been the American middle class is now awake.
Democracy is supposed to be slow. It’s supposed to be deliberate. It’s supposed to be a process of compromise where neither side gets everything they want nor gives too much.
But what happened on March 9th, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin was anything but democratic. In a move that is very likely violative of Wisconsin’s open records law, Senate Republicans forced a vote to bust the public unions.
The people are not going to stand for it.
Thousands have already taken over the capitol, vowing to shut down the state in response to a last-minute vote that undid over fifty years of civil rights. Solidarity rallies have already been planned for tomorrow all over the state. Expect the same nationwide.
Governor Scott Walker, the college drop-out should have paid more attention in history class. If he did, he would have known that Wisconsin is not the place to pick this fight.
It should come as no surprise that a movement in resistance to corporate excess and outright theft from the American middle-class should bubble up in Madison, Wisconsin. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was founded in Wisconsin in the 1930′s and the state has a long history in battling for middle-class livelihoods.
The movement to bust the unions is not confined to Wisconsin. Ohio, Florida, and now most recently Tennessee all have lawmakers with one goal in mind: permanently dismantle the American middle-class.
Our country has been here before. Wisconsin has been here before.
As our country suffered through the Great Depression, Wisconsin state employees fought politicians who were attacking the very public services that citizens counted on to survive the depression. Thousands of workers faced losing their jobs. So in 1932 group of state workers gathered in Madison, Wisconsin, with the common goal of defending the civil service system. These workers formed what would later become the Wisconsin State Employees Union, and then AFSCME. The workers organized together through marches, demonstrations, and direct action to save the civil service system.
In 1958, a series of strikes and demonstrations by public workers, forced the mayor of New York City to grant collective bargaining rights to unions representing city employees.
In the 1960′s organized workers linked hand in hand with those of the civil rights movement. Workers took to the streets to protest economic and racial oppression. As any union member will tell you, worker’s rights are human rights. This new alliance with civil rights activists climaxed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 when sanitation workers went on strike to fight for union recognition after two African-American workers were crushed to death in a garbage truck. It was only after the assassination of Dr. King as he was supporting these workers, that the city agreed to recognize the workers’ union.
In 1981, in San Jose, California, it was public workers that staged the first strike in the nation’s history over the issue of pay equity. The action helped spark the pay equity movement.
It was because of organized workers that we gained substantial breakthroughs in living standards such as living wages, pay equity, and workplace safety. And as we see today in Madison, it is again public workers that are on the front lines fighting for fairness and economic justice.
Wendell Phillips said it best… “The labor movement means just this: It is the last noble protest of the American people against the power of incorporated wealth.”
Take Action: Sign the petition against Governer Walker’s attack on Wisconsin unions.
photo courtesy of marctasman via Flickr
Laura Akelin, President, SE MN Area Labor Council, Political Organizer, AFSCME Council 5