Escalate mass action to
Kill Wisconsin anti-union bill!
Published Mar 16, 2011 4:17 PM
Photo: Sue Ruggles, AFT Local 212
The passage of right-wing Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting bill should
not be the end of the story in Wisconsin. It should be the beginning of a new
phase of escalated struggle by the unions, the community and students to
overturn this illegal denial of workers’ rights.
Walker and the right-wing Republican state legislative group are outright tools
of the banks, the bondholders and corporations that are rolling in money and
still putting their profits before union rights and people’s needs.
There are many grounds on which to base a mass fightback to overturn this bill:
It is illegal under international law; it was passed illegally; it denies
fundamental rights of unions and all workers, and it attacks communities and
There are many ways to fight back and time to prepare. But the most important
and decisive ways to fight back involve the collective united action of the
unions in alliance with communities and students and youth. It will take direct
action to stop “business as usual” until the law is repealed
—whether by some kind of general strike, mass direct action or another
form of struggle. The politicians and their corporate backers must be made to
pay a high enough price that they will withdraw this reactionary, anti-worker,
Collective bargaining is a civil right and a workers’ right. Without
collective bargaining rights, a union is defenseless and will soon perish. The
states in the South, where collective bargaining rights are denied, have the
lowest union density in the country and are also the poorest.
Collective bargaining rights ultimately boil down to the right to food,
housing, medical care, education and a decent retirement — that is, the
right to live a decent life. No right-wing legislator, acting on behalf of
millionaires and billionaires, has the right to deny union rights.
The great outpouring of unions and workers all over the state and coming from
other states, as well as strong student support for over four weeks, has
electrified union members, communities and students all over the country. This
has created very favorable conditions in which to launch a further struggle to
overturn the law.
Walker has said he wants his “PATCO moment.” When Ronald Reagan
crushed the 18,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association in
1981 by firing all of them and barring them from federal employment for life,
that union and its cause were little known to the public. Breaking the union at
that time evoked no mass support or resistance.
The opposite is true today. The Wisconsin public employee unions have ignited a
firestorm of union support that has spread to every city and town in the state
and across the country, from coast to coast. The unions can count on widespread
support and solidarity if they decide on a general strike or some other form of
There are many forms of a general strike. In 1934, in classic, full-scale
municipal general strikes, the longshore workers won the right to organize in
San Francisco, the Teamsters won the right to organize in Minneapolis, and the
Auto-Lite workers won the right to organize in Toledo, Ohio.
The Wisconsin’s South Central Federation of Labor has given out
information about a state-wide rolling general strike in Ontario from 1995 to
1998. It provides a recent model that lays out in detail the necessary
preparations for and execution of this type of strike. During that period there
were 11 “Days of Action,” which ultimately pushed back the Ontario
government’s proposed anti-labor, austerity program.
Whatever actions are decided on going forward, the most important aspect is
that the workers and the broader masses supporting them stay mobilized in one
way or another. A general strike, even a one-day strike or a series of short
strikes, takes the greatest preparation. But as long as the unions, the
communities and the students stay engaged and work toward the closest unity and
organization, taking the necessary time to plan their campaigns, they can
In the meantime, demonstrations around the state and the country can lay the
groundwork for a much bigger struggle.
Right now all public service workers are under attack. They have suffered a
setback in Ohio, where anti-union legislation has passed the state Senate, but
this can be reversed through struggle. There are battles coming up in Indiana
and Michigan. Dozens of state governments are waiting to see the outcome in
Wisconsin. The bankers are rooting for Walker. Right-wing politicians are
sharpening their legislative knives, hoping to cut the throats of the public
Wisconsin is where unions and their supporters have made the strongest
challenge. Union rights have been under attack in the U.S. for 30 years. But
because Walker has made such a vicious attack, Wisconsin is both the flashpoint
of the struggle and the place where the workers are the
When Walker tried to mobilize popular support for his program, only a few
hundred Tea Party types showed up for a day or two. They soon disappeared under
the pressure of the tens of thousands of pro-union demonstrators who showed up
day after day, week after week.
Walker has a right-wing legislative majority, but he and his cause are
overwhelmingly in the minority among the active masses of the population. And
in a real struggle, this is what counts.
Legality and class struggle
As a moment of decision on struggle approaches, there are many who will point
out the great legal difficulties that public employees face regarding strikes
and mass action. It is important to note, though, that it was once illegal for
public employees to form a union at all. Only strikes and struggles overturned
the laws barring public employees from organizing in the first place.
The legal right to form a union was once denied to all workers. But the
struggle, mass action, sit-down strikes, general strikes and industrial strikes
won those rights on the ground. The laws then changed based on what the workers
were able to wrest from the bosses or the government.
Union-busting bill illegal under int’l law
Walker took office under false pretenses. He hid his plans from the people: to
break the unions, take away Wisconsin’s low-income health insurance known
as BadgerCare and make draconian cuts in services. He hid his connection with
the infamous right-wing billionaires — the Koch brothers — and with
the banks. He and his corporate backers carried out a sneak attack, a secret
conspiracy behind the backs of the people of Wisconsin. Walker’s election
was a virtual anti-union coup d’état.
Walker’s law itself is illegal. Not just because of the way it was
railroaded through by a tiny group of right-wing Republicans. Not just because
the police denied thousands entrance to the Capitol. Not just because the
people were denied the right of assembly and the right to hearings. And not
just because the legislature had no right to split the bill on the false
grounds that the union-busting part was “non-fiscal.”
It is illegal because the right to collective bargaining is regarded all over
the world, and under international law, as a fundamental human right. The right
to collective bargaining is denied only under the most authoritarian and
reactionary regimes — and in the racist, anti-labor states of the U.S.
South and Southwest.
In 2005 the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America Local 150
and the North Carolina Public Service Union filed a complaint with the
International Labor Organization against their right-to-work state for denying
collective bargaining rights to public employees. The suit was joined by the
Public Service International, a world-wide federation representing more than 20
million public sector workers in 160 countries. (Huffington Post, March 15)
In 2007 the ILO issued a ruling calling on the U.S. government to
“promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the
public sector in North Carolina” and called specifically for the repeal
of North Carolina General Statute #95-98, the law denying collective bargaining
rights to public employees.
More generally, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948
by the United Nations, the right to collective bargaining is part of the right
to freedom of association and the right to organize trade unions (articles 20
and 23). The U.S. has signed and ratified this declaration.
Thus the state of North Carolina and all the so-called right-to-work states are
in violation of international law and of human rights. What Walker and the
bankers want is to make Wisconsin as anti-union as North Carolina. If denial of
collective bargaining is illegal under international law in North Carolina,
then it is illegal in Wisconsin. Workers and unions have every right to insist
on their rights under universally recognized international law.
Wisconsin unions can enforce their rights
Now the time has come to compel Walker and the millionaires and billionaires
behind him to step back from union-busting. The unions and the workers can take
advantage of their favorable position of popular support. The unions can become
the defenders, not just of their own rights, but of the rights of the
communities and the poor who will suffer under Walker’s vicious bill, and
also of the students and youth who will suffer from cutbacks in education.
The stage is set for a massive fightback. It is time to overturn the bill and
turn the situation around for public workers and all workers in this country in
their struggle against the capitalist bosses and their governments and
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