Class struggle in Wisconsin since 2011

Protesters inside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Feb. 28, 2015.Photo: Ben Herrenbruck

Protesters inside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Feb. 28, 2015.
Photo: Ben Herrenbruck

On Feb. 10, 2011, students and workers began to lead the historic occupation of the state Capitol building in Madison, Wis., to oppose the racist, union busting, Act 10 legislation.

Ushering in one of the largest uprisings in the U.S. since the 1930’s, for weeks tens of thousands of workers and oppressed peoples occupied buildings and marched in Madison in efforts to kill Act 10. Dozens of solidarity actions took place worldwide, including a one-day shutdown of the West Coast docks by International Longshore and Warehouse Union members.

Ultimately, moderate or reactionary union leaders tied to the Democratic and Republican parties maneuvered to steer the state Capitol occupation into the electoral arena. They launched a failed recall campaign against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to counter various sectors of the working class who wanted direct actions, including shutting down various capitalist industries or engaging in a full-blown general strike. Act 10 was ultimately rammed through the racist, right-wing, Wisconsin legislature and signed into law by Walker.

Since this major defeat for working-class and oppressed peoples, over the past five years Wall Street’s political servants in the Legislature and Walker himself have engaged in vicious Jim Crow capitalist austerity, overturning or eviscerating numerous laws benefiting workers and communities, laws that were won as concessions to the masses through direct class struggle in the 1960’s, the 1930’s and before.

These included the biggest cuts to K-12 and higher education in Wisconsin history and the expansion of charter schools statewide. Numerous forms of deregulation and privatization were implemented. Environmental protections were reduced.

Most provisions of prevailing wage were reduced, “right-to-work” for less was implemented, tenure for faculty in the University of Wisconsin system was eliminated and civil service protections were gutted. Unemployment benefits were reduced while drug testing for welfare recipients was implemented. Planned Parenthood was defunded.

Capitalist austerity creating gravediggers

But because they’ve fought back, the masses in Wisconsin are learning.

In his “Lecture On The 1905 Revolution” to a gathering of working-class youth in Zurich, Switzerland, V.I. Lenin wrote: “The real education of the masses can never be separated from the independent, the political and particularly from the revolutionary struggle of the masses themselves. Only the struggle educates the exploited class. Only the struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will; and therefore, even reactionaries had to admit that the year 1905, the year of the struggle, the ‘mad year,’ definitely buried patriarchal Russia.” (“The Revolution of 1905,” Jan. 1917)

The austerity in Wisconsin has been fought by the masses every step of the way, in particular by those who were youth and students in 2011 but are now militant and class conscious workers. Many are becoming leaders, identify with socialism or are growing into communists.

These emerging leaders have known nothing but austerity and war, and have no future under capitalism. They are beginning to move to offensive battles as they learn that for the working class to achieve any victory and in particular to achieve socialism, the masses must not be locked into a series of unending defensive battles.

This is bolstered by a new wave of militant, oppressed youth and students in Black Lives Matter formations such as Young, Gifted and Black in Madison and the Coalition For Justice in Milwaukee, immigrant rights organizations such as Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) and Indigenous youth fighting for their sacred lands and artifacts. Other highlights of class struggle include the successful Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 and United Auto Workers Local 833 strikes in 2015.

These developments since 2011 are part of an uneven but ongoing process of longtime workers and oppressed peoples across the state becoming increasingly more skeptical of the Democratic Party’s ability to deliver any relief for the masses. They are looking for alternatives to the absolute misery and destruction inflicted on them by the banks, corporations and their political servants. Any illusions that the capitalist system can be reformed have been shattered.

In the “Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx wrote: “What the bourgeoisie produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

It’s in this spirit that, despite the unrelenting austerity in Wisconsin at the present time, during the first week of the five-year anniversary of the 2011 state Capitol occupation, numerous class battles were raging and erupting, including the 50,000-strong “Day Without Latinos” on Feb. 18 in Madison.