It is not clear yet, but at the moment Walker, the extreme right wing Governor of Wisconsin is ahead in most polls for the coming recall election. How can this be given the tens of thousands of people who collected signatures and mobilized in the bitter cold Wisconsin winter? There is of course the money. Walker's big corporation backers have poured over $30 million dollars into his campaign compared to the less than $4 million raised by his opponent. This is no doubt a factor. And it is the one the union leaders will focus on if the recall is defeated. It also shows the corporations and the state know the importance of this recall. They are prepared to try and buy it.
But if the recall is defeated money will not be the main or only factor. The main reason the extreme right have a chance of winning is because of the policies and strategy of the union leaders. Before the struggle even started the union leaders agreed to the concessions on wages and conditions demanded from the public sector workers by Walker. All they wanted they said was a seat at the table. That is they wanted a seat at the table to give away the workers wages and conditions. Their role and perks and privileges flowing from that role would be protected but the workers wages and conditions and rights would be reduced. This was not a strategy for victory. It was a strategy for demoralization and the leaders self preservation at least in the short term.
Look at what happened to one AFSCME member written about in today's Wall Street Journal. (May 31st). Walker demanded the public sector workers pay more into their pension and health care coverage. These concessions were agreed to by the union leaders. In the case of this one worker they ate up an additional $300 of her monthly salary. This is no small amount. She and her husband had to cut back on a number of fronts. Meanwhile she was paying $18.50 every two weeks to her union dues. For this, as she saw it, she was getting her wages and benefits cut and conditions worsened.
So what did she conclude? She did not like it but she did it. She quit the union and therefore saved $18.50 every two weeks. She said she was paying the union dues and "getting nothing in return." In fact she was being polite. She was getting less than nothing, she was having her wages and conditions worsened. We do not in any way advocate that people should leave their unions but we have to understand why people do and counter these reasons by fighting to improve workers' lives.
Since the law passed by Walker almost 15 months ago AFSCME Council 24 saw its membership plunge by two thirds to 7,100 from 23,300 last year. The National Education Association saw its membership fall to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011. This is exactly what we said would be in danger of happening when this battle started. We said that it was madness to give concessions and expect to mobilize the workers movement in a serious way.
The Wisconsin Walker recall fight has some similarities to the PATCO fight where Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers as a way of opening up his corporate offensive against the working class. When the union leaders instead of calling a general or at least a transport general strike and let Reagan get away with this the road was opened to the offensive against the US working class that has lasted over the decades since. This is what the corporations want to repeat with a victory in Wisconsin.
However things are different now. Due to the mood of anger amongst the working class in spite of the union leaders abysmal strategy the recall might still win. Anti union laws were defeated recently in a referendum in Ohio. However even if Walker wins there will be no decades long period where the working class will on the defensive.
On every front, wages, conditions, the right to vote, the war against women and minorities, the corporations and their parties and state are moving aggressively. But they are making a bad mistake. They are overestimating their own power, they are misjudging the balance of power in society. The Occupy movement, mobilizations in Wisconscin and Ohio, the movement to fight the war against women, the movements on housing, the movement in defence of Trayvon Martin and against racism, these all show that a mood of anger is developing. The extreme right of the corporations are trying to deny millions their vote in the coming elections, at the same time they keep two million people in jail and counting. An explosive movement is being prepared in this country.
The great changes came in the USA when the masses took to the streets and the workplaces and in great mass direct action movements forced the corporations and the state to retreat. The 1930's, the 1960's, these are examples of how changes for the better were won. This is what will happen again. The corporations and their state will keep pushing on until the working class will not take it any more and then a new offensive of the working class will explode on to the streets and workplaces. The timing of this cannot be predicted but such a movement is certain to develop.
This is what lies ahead. Such an offensive and changes for the better could have been won long ago if the union leaders had given a lead. But they will not until their own positions are threatened from a movement from below. While always pointing out the false policies of the union leaders, while explaining that it is their refusal to lead that is the problem, steps must be taken to build opposition united fronts of mass direct action in the workplaces, communities, schools and colleges. These should be built around the demands that not a single concession must be given on wages or conditions. In fact that all of these and all aspects of life for working class peoples' lives must be improved. This is the way to mobilize and build. Not like the union leaders did in Wisconsin, give away the store before the fight had even begun.
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