Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Wisconsin and beyond

Later today we'll know whether the local and national labour movement in the US has been able to displace Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker through what's known as a recall - essentially a local referendum. This is the man who last year sought to take a hammer to the basic human right to belong to a trade union and to allow for free collective bargaining.

If Walker wins the referendum then all other Republican governors across the States will have a green light to attack trade union membership and bargaining rights just as we witnessed in Wisconsin last year. The battle in Wisconsin was one however, where the labour movement in the States clearlty pulled out the stops and, as on many occasion, they were able to show the trade union movement internationally that despite low union membership levels, there is still plenty of fight in the movement.

As Gary Younge wrote in yesterday's Guardian this battle tells us much about the state of the working class in the US and the price it is continuing to pay for the economic crisis. In effect, and with no attempt at grandstanding, Younge reports on the clash between this Tea Party Republican and the Wisconsin labour movement, as nothing short of class war.
Walker's record speaks for itself. In his first year in office Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state, and was one from last in private sector job growth. He has cut tax relief to low-income families and the state's Medicaid program. He has introduced a voter ID bill that will limit minority and low-income electoral participation, reproductive rights legislation that has forced Planned Parenthood to suspend providing basic services to women and repealed the law that protects equal pay for women. In short, he has hammered working people, undermined the capacity of those who represent them and marginalised many of those who might vote for their interests while effecting a massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich: a more balanced budget for a more unequal society.

Allied to the situation in Wisconsin is the backing by US multinationals of Walker's campaign and, as Rachel Maddow, amongst others, has shown, what we are witnessing is an assault on workers' right backed principally by corporate interests. This clip of Maddow was shown at last Saturday's TUC Grassroots event and underlines the real concern about democratic accountability broadly, but more specifically the outcome of the Wisconsin recall for trade unionism across the US: http://tinyurl.com/cnwu6ng.

A key theme of Younge's piece, and of much coverage of the labour matters globally, is the extent to which workers, their families and communites are paying a high price for an economic crisis not of their making.

Whilst I wouldn't suggest that UK trade unions face the same local onslaught as sisters and brothers in Wisconsin, the national threat overall is very similar. Clearly the thrust of the Beecroft and Lofstedt reviews of employment and health and safety law, for example, are posited in the same oxymoronic tone by the Coalition as their acolytes in the Republican right - you can create new jobs by destroying existing ones, and if trade unions are the defence of workers and those jobs, well, we'll get rid of them too.

Obviously, we send a strong message of solidarity to US trade unionists today, and hope the that the Wisconsin recall goes the right way. If it does, then let us spend some time understanding how and why, and using this experience to defend workers' rights in states with Republican governors as rabid as Walker.

If not, then the battle in Wisconsin gets repeated across the US and our support in this fight will be required more than ever, not least because, their fight is ours.

In Solidarity


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