Just as the people of the world owe a debt of gratitude to the masses in the Arab World who have stood up against tyranny, we in the USA owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of people in Wisconsin who stood up against the domestic tyranny of the Scott Walker administration.
The courage and determination of those who occupied Madison for day after day in protest against the anti-worker, anti-union attacks by the Republican throw-backs has few precedents – at least in the USA – for years.
Despite that courage and determination, the Republican juggernaut has continued forward and, in the case of Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court has permitted the administration to go forward with its attacks on workers.
The union movement and its allies in Wisconsin are not asleep and quickly began moving a counter-attack, focusing on recall elections against Republicans. This is an excellent tactic which will hopefully disrupt the Republicans’ plans.
Yet nationally, the Republicans are advancing their ‘final offensive’ against unions and, in the words of noted columnist, Harold Meyerson, seek to repeal the 20th century, that is, to move against all the progressive legislation that improved conditions for working people from the end of the first decade of the 20th century forward.
Rather than throwing our hands into the air and falling into despair, it is worth considering the outlines of a response. I would like to offer a few suggestions.
First, the ‘uprising’ in Madison, Wisconsin pointed out some critical lessons. Among these lessons was that it was not just the unions that were fighting against the attacks. The unions were able to demonstrate that there was an assault on democratic rights underway and that other sectors of society needed to respond. There was a ‘big tent’ and others joined in, whether students or farmers. Nationally, we need just such a big tent. The attacks on Medicaid and Medicare, the Ryan budget proposals, the playing around with the debt ceiling by the Republicans, etc., all demonstrate that the attacks are not against one particular segment of society; for all intents and purposes, these are attacks on society itself.
Second, resistance demands persistence. Wisconsin was not one big rally, but it was the fact that people stayed in the streets. The Walker administration was not anticipating that and indications seem to exist that their offensive might have collapsed.
Third, combining electoral and non-electoral activism increases the pressure on our opponents by several magnitudes.
Fourth, even with what was done in Wisconsin, much more is needed. At the time of the Madison ‘uprising,’ there were calls for a general strike, that is, workers across craft, trade and industry to cease work. In the context of Wisconsin, this was not an unreasonable tactic and I believe could very well have succeeded. In the USA as a whole, we are not ready to pull it off. But this is a tactic that can and should be considered in various locales. We have to keep something in mind, however: it is one thing to make the call for such a strike; it is another thing to pull it off. To have any chance of success, workers need to be won to the idea as making sense, having a chance of success, and tied in with their desire to fight back. They also have to understand the risks.
The idea of a general strike must be thought of as part of a larger question of raising the tempo of the fight back. When the Tea Party movement emerged in 2009, they actively disrupted healthcare hearings and suffered, as a result, no negative consequences. If anything, they built their profile. It is time to flip the script. This can mean anything from counter-rallies, to picketing the offices of reactionary politicians, to selective boycotts of products tied to reactionary sponsors of the Tea Party and white nationalist movements. One excellent tactic carried out in Wisconsin by fire fighters was removing their funds from a bank associated with supporting the political Right.
Finally, and to reiterate, combining this mass activity with electoral action is essential. The Democratic legislators in Wisconsin who left the state would probably never have done that had it not been for the mass action, but their actions also helped to inspire further mass actions. We need elected officials who have that courage, but more importantly, have a vision that puts working people at the forefront.
To pull off any of this, we need that ‘big tent’ referenced in the beginning of this essay. No one social movement can pull this off, but it is also the case that we cannot sit around and wait for every social movement to agree to each detail. This is a time to fight back and to hit our opponents very hard.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
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