Feb 21, 2011

On Wisconsin

I've been inspired by what's going on in Wisconsin over the past week. It's exciting to see some serious labor and progressive activism, for once, and also to see that some Democrats have the spine to stand up to horrendous Republican proposals. It's clear that governor's proposal is just an attempt to decimate one of the last strongholds of organized labor in the country - the public sector - and I'm glad to see how many people all over the country have responded with horror. Did you hear about the pizza place in Madison that's delivered 1,000 pizza orders to the protestors at the state capitol, paid for by supporters all over the country?

Wisconsin has a long history of progressivism so it makes sense to me that this fight is happening there, but it's also why it's incredibly infuriating that the governor is such a rabid conservative. Wisconsin was the home of Victor Berger, the first socialist elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (in 1910),  as well as leading Progressive politician Robert La Follette and many of the other major voices of the Progressive movement in the early twentieth century. It was the birthplace of many labor laws and other reforms that we take for granted today, including the nation's first worker's compensation law. La Follette and the other Progressives fought the political power of railroads and other big corporations by breaking up monopolies and taxing corporate profits, helped create one of the nation's strongest public university systems, and regulated factory safety and work hours. Milwaukee had socialist mayors from 1910 until 1941.

I hope that the current effort to erode the collective bargaining power of Wisconsin's public employee unions doesn't set the kind of precedent that the 20th century progressive reforms did. What has upset me most about the whole situation was seeing pictures of the counter-demonstrators who came out yesterday to yell at the union activists. I hate that we have a political climate right now that pits "taxpayers" against "workers," failing to recognize that they are often the same people, and that those "workers" provide services that the "taxpayers" need, want, and appreciate. It is in all of our interests to make sure that public workers are well-compensated, not least because they help set a model of compensation that includes full benefits and retirement packages. I recognize that most American workers don't get those things anymore, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't all get them. The answer is not to demand the destruction of the few remaining jobs that provide a real safety net, but to demand that ALL of us get that kind of a safety net.

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