|Wisconsin and the Awakening of the American Working Class|
|Written by La Voz de los Trabajadores – EEUU|
|Wednesday, 11 May 2011 04:14|
|The mobilizations of workers and students in Wisconsin and its subsequent mobilizations in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere this Spring have showed that the American working-class is able to organize for a fight-back and won’t let the right-wing take away its legal right to function as a union and to make the workers pay for the economic crisis.
These significant mobilizations need to be read as a shift in the political consciousness of the working-class in the USA that was preceded and influenced by revolutions in North Africa (Egypt and Tunisia mainly). One thing appeared clear: mass action can stop the ruling class attacks and even put down governments.
This massive mobilization defeated both the entrenched skepticism about the uselessness of mass popular mobilization and actions, as well as the crystallized top-down forms of “organization” and “campaigning” of the union leadership and “professional”: it was mostly a mass and popular movement emerging freely from below, organized by working people and students.
Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attack on unions is indicative of the ruling class attempts to remove the potential spaces where workers have historically been centered in: the public sector unions. They should be read as a preemptive attack to limit the worker’s ability’s’ to counter-act the attacks the Obama’s administration and the US bourgeoisie in this crisis.
But this is not only an attack on bargaining rights, but also a new round of massive cuts to wages, workers benefits and social services the working class relies on. Union leaderships have not contested these cuts and for the moment have no serious national plan to fight it. Other states, like California and the state of New York, are continuing their attacks on workers benefits, public education and other social services. This is why we are likely to see a response by the workers and students.
An Injury to one is an Injury to All
The bourgesise are consciously carrying out an expansion of the attacks and the subsequent resistance by workers show that they are also conscious of what’s going on. The scope of the Wisconsin mobilizations earlier this year spread far beyond the limits of the state of Wisconsin and mobilizations occurred nationwide with the message that the attack to Wisconsin workers was an attack to all of the American working class.
On March 11, Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill that planned to strip collective bargaining rights and reduce, among other things, public workers’ pay by 8 percent. The law is in limbo as of this writing, as a judge issued a restraining order preventing the bill from going into effect. The indefinite halt to the Wisconsin law was done thanks to the most massive and sustained fightback of any state. Some 185,000 protesters took to the streets around the state capitol on March 12, the largest protest in the state’s history.
What the main stream media does not say is that the social uprising in Wisconsin went far beyond what the labor leaders of the AFSCME union and the Democratic Party had expected and “prepared” to pressure the Republicans with: the protest was not only massive in numbers, but also in the quality and deepness of the mobilization. From February 16th to March 12th not only did the numbers of people in the streets multiply by six, but there were almost daily protests (ranging from local rallies to mass actions) in almost all the cities of the state that involved almost all sectors of the population. An example of that is that by the third week of February the buses of the state were all rented to go to Madison, the capital, and so people protested at their local towns against the Governor, the union bill and the cuts.
The strategic attack of unions in Wisconsin is a step forward of America’s ruling-class attempt to make the workers pay for the economic crisis that its financial elite caused. With no other viable alternative in mind, the government pushed the banks’ astronomic bailout and the indebtment of the Federal government in order to make the profits they were making earlier in the decade.
Similar attacks on bargaining rights have since occurred in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and other states and have caused some of the largest protests in years by workers, though they have been smaller in scale. In Ohio, an anti-labor bill similar to Wisconsin compelled weeks of protest by workers against it; it bans public worker strikes, eliminates binding arbitration, and restricts bargaining for the 350,000 public workers in Michigan. The Ohio protests at one point reached more than 15,000 people. In Indiana, more then 8,000 people gathered outside Indiana’s Statehouse for a huge rally March 10th against several education and labor bills. In Michigan, the not only is the Republican Governor trying to cut the state’s K-12 fund to support $1.8 billion in business-friendly tax cuts, and to cut teachers’ health and tenure benefits, he’s also trying to remove k-12th collective bargaining and make teacher’s strikes illegal. Florida, Arkansas, Washington and other states are considering similar attacks on workers.
Union Leaders Demobilize the Protests so Democrats Can Co-opt Them.
The attacks are pushing workers to organize mass mobilizations while the ruling elite and the bureaucratic leaders are pushing workers to the polls to elect Democrats, even though Democrats have not used their legislative power to stop the attacks on workers. In some cases, like the recent anti-unionization bill that passed the state house in Massachusetts, Democrats are the ones spearheading the attacks.
Rather than striking to protect their workers’ rights and pay, union leaders in these mobilizations are backing Democrat-led attempts to put the laws and proposals before voter referendum instead of channeling the mobilizations for more massive mobilizations. There were possibilities of a general strike in Wisconsin but Democrats and Union bureaucratic leaders instead demobilized the protests, and the power that mass direct action represents is being allowed to dissipate.
A broad call for mobilization on April 4 initiated by the AFL-CIO labor federation, dubbed, “We Are One,” was the answer by the labor tops. Though it did draw out thousands (in total numbers) throughout cities in the nation, it was a mix of short symbolic pickets and phone-banks that pushed slogans to of recalling Republic legislators and pushing for Democrats instead. It served its purpose to let workers blow off steam and send them back to work as if Wisconsin hadn’t happen. What we needed was a mass mobilization like on May Day, 2006 – “the Day without Immigrants” — where labor, immigrants, Blacks and other oppressed communities could have demonstrated the power of a united working class to stop the ruling elite offense.
Obama’s budget cuts and attacks on the workers and oppressed sectors
Obama’s cuts for the last months of this fiscal year, which were agreed to by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, total almost $38 billion, 17.8 billion of which involve cuts to social and education programs. Education, labor and health programs faced more than half (52%) of the cuts, though some of these programs are only a small part of the federal budget (28%). These programs serve the poorest workers and communities of colors the most. Recent public polls have shown that a majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs.  Nevertheless, defense spending was increased by $5 billion, bringing it to a total of $513 billion with an additional $157.8 billion to fund the current missions to impede the Arab Revolutions happening abroad.
At the same time, Obama’s administration has extended the Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans for two years. This tax deal means $42 billion in less tax money to the federal budget this fiscal year.
The U.S. is still going through its worst economic downturn since the 1930s Great Depression and the economic recovery has been uneven: the financial sector, which employs some of the country’s wealthiest citizens as its executives, has seen profits rebound and pay at top financial firms has multiplied, while wages for most Americans have stagnated. 
Obama and his bourgeoisie economists are arguing that the combo of cuts to the poor and reducing tax to the rich is “bitter medicine, but we’ve got to take it”. The U.S. Labor department’s own figures show that nearly 16% of the labor force was either unemployed or underemployed in March (i.e. one out of every six people). At the same time, America’s biggest multinational companies (GE, Ford, Apple, PepsiCo, etc. ) and oil companies are bragging about some of the biggest profits they’ve had in years.
Obama is not done though. Though he’s covered himself by proclaiming the need to start taxing the rich, his recent speeches outline his plan to cut $4 trillion over the next 12 years, and he’s targeting public education, transportation, infrastructure, federal pensions, housing, Pell grants and aid to states and cities that are already slashing their budgets. His proposals also include a “debt fail-safe trigger” that would cut spending across the board if lawmakers did not approve policies that would set the debt on a downward path by 2014. 
Now Obama and the ruling class are trying to use their recent assassination of Osama Bin Laden to hide the economic crisis at home and will use it to fuel their wars at home and abroad.
In the end, Obama and his Democrats are all talk, and brag about their attempts on “compromising” with Republicans on the same right-wing cuts to working-class services and refusing to tax the rich and their corporations.
Our role as revolutionary socialists is in these times is to recognize the incoming attacks and be embedded in the forthcoming struggles where will be able to push and advance the labor and student mobilizations to their revolutionary potentials.
 Huffingtonpost.com; May 2011
 Reuters.com; May 2011
 Huffingtonpost.com; May 2011
 Huffingtonpost.com; Andrew Lo, MIT economist, May 2011
 Grant money for higher education that primarily serves working-class students
 Washingtonpost.com; April 13, 2011.