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The Battle for Wisconsin: Round Two

“Right to Work” and the Budget Cuts: More for the Rich and Less for the Poor!

Governor Scott Walker has begun the second round of aggressive attacks on Wisconsin’s workers. The proposed budget cuts affect public education, the University system, workers’ compensation, elder care, and the environment, to name a few. It is no coincidence that while they work to pass one of the largest budgets cuts in history, they also introduced legislation to undermine the power of organized labor. Despite the efforts of the capitalist media to portray unions as obsolete, the ruling class knows that unions signify one of the last lines of defense for working class families. Only in this context is it possible to understand why Scott Walker and his cronies chose to introduce this legislation, when only a few months ago he described it as a “distraction” and not part of his agenda.

The mass media and the capitalists call this recent legislative proposal “right to work.” They present this as a way to “liberate” Wisconsin workers from the “obligation” to join a union to get a job. What these hypocrites fail to explain is that the bill is designed so that unions are obligated to spend thousands of dollars representing all workers in the workplace even if they opt out of paying dues: effectively cutting the unions to the bone so that they become ineffective vehicles for workers to actually negotiate and fight collectively for better conditions.

This bill doesn’t come from the workers themselves but from the lobbyists for big business, who do not have the interests of workers in mind. In fact, the Wisconsin bill is a near exact copy of the legislation created by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC writes model legislation for its members to use in their home states to promote the privatization of all parts of public life. 98% of its revenue comes from large corporations and trade groups.

wisconsin gov scott walker459This is part of a broader effort by the capitalist class to increase their profits through decreasing the cost of labor, increasing productivity, and slashing the budget for the social safety net. In Wisconsin, this agenda doesn’t stop with “right-to-work” legislation. The Republicans plan to introduce bills eliminating the prevailing wage and Project Labor Agreements that help workers in the building trades guarantee minimum conditions on construction sites. In addition, Governor Walker is championing the big business agenda and has publicly expressed that the minimum (!) wage is “unnecessary” and is joining the effort to eliminate it at the federal level. This illustrates the attacks he would launch if elected to the highest office in the land.

It is important to remember that the rights under attack today were won by our brothers and sisters in 1930s during one of the largest recessions and waves of struggle in history. The Wagner Act (establishing union rights), Social Security, FEMA, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and more were all cemented by the New Deal as concessions by the bosses in order to save the entire capitalist system, which was being called into question by the massive strike movement. In the current crisis of capitalism, the bosses have resorted once again to demanding major concessions from the working class.

The leadership of the unions will not be able to defend these rights nor improve the working conditions of our class if they do not challenge the capitalist system. For decades most of the leaders in the union movement have embraced the logic of capitalism. Typically, during an economic boom, such as the 50s and 60s, the capitalists can afford to give some concessions in order to keep the peace and, more importantly, to keep the factories in full production. However, during an economic crisis, the capitalists demand greater concessions from the working class. The leadership of the unions should declare an uncompromising war against the ruling class with a socialist program to protect the livelihoods of our families. Only when the capitalists believe that the entire system is in jeopardy will they take our demands seriously. Furthermore, the capitalists have shown us that even when we are able to improve our conditions, they decimate them again in the next economic downturn. This is why a struggle must be waged, not only to pressure capitalism, but to end it altogether.

The timing of this coordinated assault perfectly illustrates the relationship between austerity and the attacks on the unions. Each prong of their strategy aims to destroy our living standards and our ability to fight back. However, if there is no money for public education, the capitalists still have the money to pay for quality private education for their children; if there is no money for senior care, the capitalists will still have the money to pay for quality senior care for their parents; if there is no funding for food stamps, their families will still eat.

In the last several years, we have seen massive uprisings from more and wider layers of society looking for solutions to the crisis: from the 1999 Battle in Seattle against the WTO, to the huge mobilizations by immigrant workers in 2006, and the #Occupy movement in 2011. As attacks on the working class intensify in every corner of the globe, so too does the heroic response of our class: youth and workers from to Spain to Greece, from India to China are fighting back against the austerity measures with massive struggles and, in some cases, the creation of new massive left parties like SYRIZA in Greece and Podemos in Spain.

In the summer of 2009, Democrats failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to form a union, despite having control of both chambers of the US Congress. As a big business party, the Democratic Party will not defend our class, despite the countless effort, hours, and money that workers and the union leadership has wasted on them. We confirmed this in 2011 when the energy and sacrifices of our union brothers and sisters were redirected into a recall election that swept our demands under the rug. To stop the austerity measures, the labor movement must break with the Democrats and form a real working class party based on the unions, that is not tied to big money and corporate interests.

We need a program to defend against these attacks, and the battlefield is three-fold: ideological, political, and economic. We must rebuild our class organizations! The unions can and must use their resources to launch the political vehicle to counter these attacks and that is why we need a labor party. We need clear demands to defend and improve our living conditions based on a class program: for a real living wage, protections at work including freedom to organize, free health care, education, and affordable housing.

We know that the attacks won’t stop here. “Right to work” has been rammed through Michigan, and now Wisconsin, with Illinois possibly on the horizon. These defeats, which, due to the conservative and timid outlook of the labor leaders, took place without waging a serious struggle, have demoralized many in the labor movement, especially in America’s industrial heartland. But all is not lost. Nothing has been solved, and the crisis and exploitation of capitalism continue.

wisconsin capitol protestThe workers have the power to stop these attacks—we have the power to paralyze the state and the economy. Let us never forget that, as the saying goes, “not a light shines, not a wheel turns, without the permission of the working class!” All workers, with or without a union, must stand strong against these attacks and their plans to destroy our standard of living. Just because a battle over “right to work” has been lost in Wisconsin does not mean the war is over. All workers’ rights were won in struggle and will have to be won back in the same way. As the militant Italian auto workers have proclaimed, “those who struggle may lose, but those who do not struggle have already lost!”

After a long ebb, many workers around the country are beginning to enter into struggle, from the dockworkers on the West Coast, to the oil workers at over a dozen refineries, to the teachers’ assistants at prestigious universities. We must strengthen our forces by linking up with them—this is not only about Wisconsin workers.

As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the masses around the world are descending rapidly into poverty and misery. It is not enough to fight back and build our class organizations; we must also fight for the transformation of society to put an end to capitalism’s endless horror. As we have seen, all of the gains of the past can be lost if we are not vigilant. This time we need a permanent solution. We need a socialist revolution!

Join the Worker’s International League to defend a class program to stop Scott Walker and to build the forces of Marxism in the USA!

These attacks are far from over; the labor leaders need to begin preparations for statewide and national general strikes!

For a labor party based on the unions!

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