The Workers' Paradise A Discussion of Workers Cooperatives and Building the New Economy

February 13, 2017

Our Worker Co-ops Have a Unique Roll to Play

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 11:14 am

We are living in very interesting times.

It can be difficult to figure out a coherent strategy with which to negotiate the 1,436 days (or more). We almost need an individualized strategic plan to manage all of the areas of resistance and to understand when it is vital to be on the streets or in the workplace or with friends and family.

Worker Co-operatives have a key role to play during this era, but it will only be meaningful if they embrace their identity as worker-owned and operated enterprises. False co-ops, those who use the co-op label more for marketing while ignoring the principles, really aren’t needed and do damage to the rest of us. I am talking about employer co-ops masquerading as worker co-ops or solidarity co-ops. Some of these, like Yellow Cab Co-op in Milwaukee, have only 3-4 owners and hundreds of workers. They use the co-op model to escape double-taxation and should really be  Liability Corp. They don’t engage in the principles or values of co-operation.

The rest of us, the worker co-ops who strive everyday to live their principles and values, to engrain the co-op ethics into the operations, to demonstrate the resiliency and power of worker control need to step up and do more. This is not the time to be insular and withdraw behind the doors of your meeting room. The nation needs to learn about worker co-ops, and more importantly, worker co-ops need to expand and build the movement.

Mondragon provides many lessons for how to develop and succeed in a hostile political climate. The first is that when the co-op needs something that it doesn’t produce, and can’t find a decent affordable source, it creates a co-op to meet its need. It relies on the intellectual capital and capacity of its membership. Further, larger co-ops may have people working for them because it is a co-op, not because they want to drive a taxi, provide homecare, or engage in bike delivery. These members provide a great expansion opportunity for the co-op and the movement.

The second lesson of Mondragon is to help expand the movement by investing in new co-ops and incubating them if necessary. Mondragon recognized early on that more worker co-ops would make their lives easier. With enough worker co-ops, the supply lines and financial support could keep the money in the co-operative sector and economies of scale could be reached in ways that kept the democracy alive in the workplace.

This might be a state by state, city by city effort with each community finding its own path. Some cities, such as New York, Cleveland, and Madison, are able to use taxpayer dollars to support and build a co-operative solution to meet city needs. Others cannot and need to find other methods. IN either case, it is important for existing co-ops to step up and help create strong co-operative economic ecosystems.

Creating nodes of economic democratic organizations throughout the US over the next four years might not be the most showy or strongest form of resistance, but it will build stronger communities that will allow more people to engage in other forms of resistance since they will have free themselves of wage slavery. If we could quadruple the worker co-ops in terms of number and employees over the next four years and develop them into real economic democracies through strong governance strategies that overcome gatekeepers and philanthropic saviors, we would create not just an answer to Trumpism, but also to neoliberalism.

As we train our members to engage within our co-ops, we are also training them to engage within their communities. This will create leadership on neighborhood councils, city committees, county committees and even State boards and commissions. We can create a new form of community leadership to fill the current vacuum that only sees a dichotomy between the conservative and liberal factions of Wall Street. Some co-ops, of course, are already doing this and there efforts have paid off substantially (see New York City and Madison), but we need to make this a bigger and broader movement that reaches beyond traditional liberal strongholds an into “rural” cities such as Boise, Helena, Salt Lake City, etc.

October 14, 2013

How Exceptional is “America”?

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , , , — John McNamara @ 7:00 am

The discussion over the last two weeks centered on the challenges of growing a worker cooperative movement in Anglo-Saxon dominated cultures. I split a bit further by focusing on the specific problems in the United States that further hinder the worker cooperative movment. At the same time, I have started reading Employment Relations in the United States: Law, Policy and Practice by Raymond Hogler. He offers a unique take on American Exceptionalism, a term coined in some sense by Alex de Toqueville in his still relevant work Democracy in America.

Too often, the concept of American Exceptionalism implies an attitude of superiority of the United States in comparison to the other 195 nations on the earth. That isn’t always the sense, but the rise of Reaganism and its attendant neoconservatism (as opposed to neoliberalism which seems more focused on economics than politics) proclaiming the US a “City upon a hill” as the beacon of all good things and leader of the world (free or otherwise). However, there is something different about the United States. Perhaps it is the combination of fifty unique states, the legacy of the Civil War in which the rights of those states to govern themselves remains in dispute or maybe it is the disposition of a country made up entirely of immigrants displacing indigenous populations (themselves often migrating with the seasons).

The concept of the “working class” has never fully taken hold in the United States as it has in other countries. While disputed, John Steinbeck, the great working class author, reportedly dispaired that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor never saw themselves as the proletariat as much as embarrased millionaires.”  Hogler uses the term American Exceptionalism to discuss the unique nature of the US labor system. This sytem, he argues, does not define people (workers)as a group united by class sentiment and common goals. It is a group that identifies as “American”. Hogler refers to Selig Perlman’s work of the early 1920’s that saw an American workers with the opporutnities that workers in other countries didn’t have. With the exception of women, non-slave workers had the right to vote in the United States and did not have to fight for suffrage. In addition, the abudnance of land that continued to expand throughout the 19th and into the 20th century meant opportunity for workers to stake out a claim on their own. This was simply not allowable in Europe and even England. Horace Greely’s exhortation, “Go West, Young Man!” was the mandate for young workers that if they didn’t like their job, they could move and create a new life becoming their own boss. The workers never coalesced into a finite social group because they always had other options.

This American Dream persists today. By the 1940’s the ideal of the American Dream and American Exceptionalism went hand-in-hand. Many of us, in today’s state of perpetual war, jobless economic recoveries, and shock doctrine capitalism may feel that the American Dream has become part of our past or a propaganda that never really existed. However, it has, over the years amassed a lot of power. It is the power of that dream that worker cooperatives can and should harness to further our movement in this country.

The Knights of Labor, for all of their faults, believed in the idea of workers managing themselves. They saw collective ownership as a form of the American Dream and won that would be attainable to workers. It would allow them better wages and give them the control over their lives that, as Americans, was their birthright.

One of the problems facing the worker coop movement is the same as that facing the labor union movement. Workers in the United States lack a class consciousness. There is a belief that through hard work and luck, we can all escape having to work for someone, hang our own shingle  and maybe even have people work for us. The lack of this class consciouness fuels an already dangerous sense of individualism that ignores the benefits of being part of a society or a community. However, worker cooperation can tap this energy. We can create a concept of achieivng that dream through collective ownership and decision making through the values of mutual self-help, solidarity and democracy. In doing this, we need to speak in the language of the American Dream, recognizing that in some way worker ownership is part of that dream.

April 4, 2011

Wisconsin Co-operators Need to Vote on April 5th

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 4:28 pm

Tomorrow, people who live in Dane County and believe in co-operatives have 3 great reasons to vote tomorrow.

The first is JoAnne Kluppenburg who is running for Supreme Court–she will provide a better balance on the court by being an independent judge who considers the law, not the politics. File this vote under the Co-operative Principle of Autonomy and Independence.

The second is Joe Parisi for County Executive. I haven’t said much about Joe because I consider his race a slam dunk. However, he is known for being an effective manager and has committed himself to defending Dane County against the onslaught of the Corporatist attack. He also was a drummer for what I consider to be Madison’s best band in the 1980’s Honor Among Thieves.

The third is a county-wide referendum seeking to amend the US Constitution to correct the mistake of Citizens United. Corporations, like Co-operatives, are not people. Our government must be based on the rule of humans, not capital.

For those of us in Madison, we have two more reasons to vote tomorrow.

Paul Soglin is running for Mayor. He has promised to rebuild Madison’s economy with co-operatives as part of the mix. He has even proposed a City-wide Co-operative conference to assist the City planners and administrators to engage with the area co-operatives.

A city referendum to seek an amendment to the US Constitution similar to the County referendum.

For those of us in the 6th District, we have the opportunity to re-elect Marsha Rummel. In addition to her ability to facilitate the discussion in a very vocal (and somewhat contrarian district), she is also the manager of Rainbow Bookstore Co-operative. She is the only member of the Common Council who truly understands co-operatives inside and out.

Regardless of the outcome, however, we have to continue to push our agenda. Electoral politics only goes so far. Elected officials exist to ratify the consensus of the community, we need to build that consensus. Co-operators need to vote tomorrow and then stay engaged. Make co-operation a force. Demand that our economy mirror our values. Vote, then agitate!

March 31, 2011

Paul Soglin for Mayor of Madison

Filed under: Movement — Tags: , , , — John McNamara @ 7:47 pm

I don’t come by this decision lightly. Madison is fortunate to have two incredibly able people running for the office of Mayor. Paul Soglin has served as Mayor for 14 years in two separate stints. Dave Cieslewicz is the incumbent has eight years of service—most of which has been good. I personally like both men and in normal circumstances might have simply flipped a coin in the voting booth. This is a very, very tough decision for me.

It is important for co-operators, for people who believe in co-operation, to cast their vote for Paul Soglin.

In this election, I am a single-issue candidate. We need a new economy. There are so many minor little  issues that might separate the candidates, but there is only one major difference. Regardless of how the Battle of Wisconsin plays out, we cannot and should not revert to the status quo of 2010. I want the economy to be as democratic, equitable and fair as our democratic values.

I want a Mayor who understands that Madison can be the model for the United States. We can create a new economy here. We can show the world that we don’t need multi-nationals to prosper, we don’t need big developers coming in. We don’t need billionaires bestowing their kindness on us. We need us. We need to invest in ourselves. We need co-operatives. We need small businesses. Imagine if the City of Madison invested $16 million dollars in creating worker co-operatives (like it did with the Edgewater hotel)? We could create permanent living wage jobs in humane and democratic workplaces.

We won’t be breaking new ground. The Trento and Emiliano-Romagnolo provinces of Italy have economies that are based on co-operation. Most communities in Trento only have credit unions (no banks) and only have grocery co-ops. The Co-operative in Trento is the dominant economic model, not capitalism.

I think that US co-ops need to quit hiding their light under a bushel. We need to push our economic model forward and we need to make our economic model a campaign issue. Part of that effort means that we need to insert our movement into the mainstream political campaigns. Amazingly, we did that in Madison in 2011!

This is needed for our growth. Madison, as a community, should be the “low hanging fruit” for worker co-operatives. If we can’t build our movement here (and in like-minded communities such as Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Western Mass. and Berkeley) then we will never make this a national movement. The fact is that as much as Madison looks to Portland, other midwest cities (such as my hometown, Toledo, Ohio) look to Madison.

Both Mayoral candidates spoke of worker co-ops during the early days of the campaign, which I can guarantee is a first for Madison (if not every US city). However, it was Paul Soglin who kept talking about co-ops. When Paul appeared on Brenda Konkel’s A Public Affair program*, she asked for questions. Enough of us in the co-op community asked about co-ops that it surprised Brenda and was the second question on her show. This created a really rare call-and-response dynamic in the campaign. The more Paul started talking about co-ops, the more electors started asking about co-ops.

Paul made a promise: if he is elected Mayor, he will call a City-Wide Conference of Co-operatives. This conference of all of the City’s co-operatives will discuss how to re-shape Madison’s economy.

This is incredible! He said this  at the Barrymore theater debate and repeated it at the Co-ops for Labor rally on March 26th. Paul Soglin is willing to at least put co-operatives on the table. Having the Mayor bring us to conference with City staff, managers and planners in attendance could be the initial spark to true paradigm shift in the manner and the method of economic development in Madison. Rather than focusing on attracting multi-nationals or keeping large corporations, we can build a sustainable economy. We can become the Trento, the Emiliano-Romagnolo the Mondragon of the United States. This will take more work than simply electing Paul Soglin, however, Soglin at least is open to it. Having a Mayor who gets worker co-ops and co-ops in general will help us build the foundation of a new, revolutionary economy. We can and will hold him accountable to this because he has proposed it.

If you live in the City of Madison, please join me in voting FOR Paul Soglin for Mayor of Madison and then work like hell to keep him accountable. If he loses, work like hell to make Dave realize co-ops are a good idea.

And also remember to vote for JoAnne Kloppenburg for Supreme Court, Joe Parisi for County Executive and those of you in the 6th District for Marsha Rummel for Alder.
*you can access this episode on iTunes: search for the WORT A Public Affair Tuesday 3/8/11 edition.

March 29, 2011

No Business As Usual–Allen Ruff on the Battle of Wisconsin

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 2:44 pm

The following speech was delivered by Allen Ruff on the steps of the Capitol Building in Madison WI, on March 26, 2011 at the Co-operatives for Labor Rally. In addition to being a student of mass movements, he writes at Ruff Talk and has published several books including a history of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing House, We Called Each Other Comrade and a memoir of New Haven, Save Me, Julie Kogon. Please contact Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative for ordering.

A video of this transcript can be viewed on youtube: Allen Ruff (UNCUT)

Allen Ruff Speaking at Co-operatives for Labor Rally 3/26/2011

Why do I believe in coops? Because coops are the self-generating defensive organizations of people placed under siege by capital and that has always been the case. In the heart of the 19th century, in every country of the world where capital had it its claws, its talons, worker co-ops, consumer co-ops and producer coops rose up to defend the living conditions of people living under the monster.

Coops were not a gift from some benevolent middle-class reformers, handed down from on high, but self-generated from the bottom up, created by people determined to take charge of what they ate, what they consumed, what they bought and what they produced-a creation of the working class, and not some middle class movement.

Now, we have to understand. I am going to ask you a question here. What was Scott Walker’s campaign slogan? “Open for Business” They are saying to their corporate backers and investors that this state is open to maximize profits off of the backs, the sweat and labor of the entire state, of every working person, whether employed or underemployed, the unemployed and poor and disabled. All of us.

{People yell Shame! Shame!}

It’s not a question of moralistic guilt. I don’t want to hear “shame”! I say “out with the bastards!” We cannot shame them. They know no shame. So I don’t want to hear shame, shame from you–to hell with that.

Now—when they say “open for business,” they are saying “we will privatize schools and make them for profit”. That is why this has nothing to do with how much teacher’s make. It’s a fact that public education as a right and a guarantee can not be exploited and raped in the fashion that these bastards want to do.

When they say decertify and destroy unions, they are saying they want to get rid of unions because they are the one organized force of the working class in this state that has the capacity to collectively resist.

I said I am a historian. My entire adult life I have studied the history of mass movements from below. We have a lot to learn, to relearn to re-take, to regain, to re-educate ourselves on. On what generations ago people in this state, this nation and the world taught us about how to fight these bastards.

{Someone in the crowd yells something about the Robber Barons}

That’s right—they want to take it back to the 19th century to the age of the Robber Barons. We have to re-discover and re-learn the tactics of the popular movement that fought the robber barons. What are the tactics? The Strike, the Recall, Direct Action.

{someone yelled something about “recall”}

Somebody said recall. Understand that there is a direct relationship between the mass movement and initiative within the parliamentary electoral system for recall [of the Republican senators] It is the mass movement, this popular movement, that energizes that recall initiative. In the State of Wisconsin, what became known as La Follete Progressivism,  had it origins as a “push from below”. It wasn’t born of the geniuses sitting on top of Bascom Hill, but initially was one of the demands, a part of the platform of Socialist movement of Milwaukee. Wisconsin had the first recall legislation in the entire country.

What became known as the “Wisconsin Idea” that they are currently trying to dismantle not only had meaning in this state, but it set an example to the rest of the country. “Ah, the people of Wisconsin have a good idea!”

At a time when every legislature and statehouse in the country was run by boss political machines, bought and paid for by corporate interests, the good state of Wisconsin, the people of Wisconsin said “Hell, No! We are going to actualize, we are going to revitalize, we are going to give real meaning to “democracy”!

I said before that I been a student of popular mass movements. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life and I am so fucking happy!

Now listen very carefully because we are right on the cusp. These movements start at the level of protest. “Protest” means petitioning your government, your leaders for redress, for reform. We could cover this building with a million people, right, sort of like a swarm of ants a popsicle dropped on a sidewalk on a summer day and they, walker and his backers would say, “We’re not concerned. They’re not exerting power.”

Every serious movement that we know of that has called for redress and reform through the system, a change of the status quo, has been thwarted by the arrogant, the rich, and those who don’t give a damn. Every movement that we know of has called for redress and reform, for substantive change has had to move to a different higher level. That of “resistance.”

Resistance means actualizing the mass boycott of companies through direct action, through pickets. We must identity and get to know every corporate sponsor of Walker and his clique. And we tell them: “We not only say that we aren’t buying your crap, but we are going to shut you down.” The mass action, the pickets, the be-ins, the sit-ins, the occupations of corporate officers, of corporate headquarters of rapacious banks must go on. It will push and energizes the recall movement. It pushes the electoral movement. Remember that the good Democrats who did good  and honest and moral things in the past month and a half would not have done so without the movement, the push from below.

Now those you who are going to focus on recall-do what you must. Do what you must—we are all part of the same movement. Those of you who are serious about exerting real social and political power must move to a level of resistance. When they say “Wisconsin is open for business” we must say “No Business as usual.”

No Business as usual.

No business as usual.

Brothers and sisters, this not just about Madison, not just Dane County, nor just the State of Wisconsin. The entire nation and good part of the world is looking to see what we do here. And we say, “To Hell with you. To hell with you Scott Walker! To hell with you Scott Walker’s Darling, the Alberta Clipper! To hell with you the Boss Tweed Ring revived as the Fitzgeralds, poppa cop and his corrupt sons. To hell with Glen Grothman that pre-Enlightenment man. To hell with you and your corporate backers who will take everything, every last dime out of our hides and all those of who have a dime that they can rip off…

Let’s talk about those tax privileges…

How is it that at the same time that they give unimaginable tax breaks to the utmost pinnacles of privilege, those that already suck us dry, tax breaks to the very wealthy in this country, that they can blame all of us for the deficit.

Again, we must organize. We have to organize ourselves. One final thing and then I’ll shut up.

Big Bill Haywood, that great leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, the most militant working class organization of the pre-WWI era said two connected things: 1. “The brains of the boss are under the worker’s cap.” What he meant is that those who would exploit, and own and beat and jail and kill us if we resist—they don’t know crap. That everything that they know — not only do they render their wealth from our hides but they also extract the knowledge of the working class and expropriate it as their own. There are hundreds of thousands of public service employees in this state who hold the brains, the knowledge of the operations of this state under their caps. Haywood said a second thing that is real important for service sector, public service workers and those unions under siege the public sector — the teachers, technicians, the administrators of those offices that they aren’t currently dismantling. Haywood said that the most effective method of resistance for workers assailed by the boss and the supervisor or foreman is to fold your arms. Put your hands in your pockets. They think that they can pass regulations threatening that if you miss a day and don’t have some doctor’s legitimate excuse that you could get your ass fired. We say, hell no. We say, “Slow the shit down.”

No business as usual!

No business as usual!

No business as usual!

Thank you brothers and sisters.

March 28, 2011

Battle of Wisconsin

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , — John McNamara @ 11:43 am

There hasn’t been a lot of mainstream news out of Madison lately which might lead some to think that this battle is over–far from it. On Saturday, Union Cab led a rally calling on Co-operatives in the region to stand in solidarity with labor.

Here is a great speech by historian Allen Ruff. He was a member of Union Cab for 20 + years and a member/worker at Rainbow Bookstore Co-operative for 14 years. He has recently releisured to focus on his writing.

Allen Ruff on the Battle of Wisconsin

The Government of Fitzwalkerstan (as we have come to call it) has chosen to believe its own hype.

This gets a bit complicated. The Fitzgerald brothers called a special meeting in violation of the State’s Open Records Law and passed only the parts of the Budget Repair Bill that strip collective bargaining rights. However, laws can’t be effective until published by the Secretary of State. The District Attorney of Dane County went to court and won a temporary restraining order against the Secretary. Last Friday, the leaders of Fitzwalkerstan ordered the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish the law. It is unclear if this has any legal meaning but it is clear that the Fitzgerald’s purposely violated a TRO! Now the Secretary of the Department of Administration is claiming that the law is in effect regardless of what the court says.

Tomorrow, Judge Sumi will hear the case on whether the law is void due to the failure to fallow the law in its drafting.

Meanwhile, the Capitol has been on an essential lockdown with prostesting limited to a small space. The Sargent kids violate the Administrative Code (not a law, mind you, but a code) that prohibits signs. Their mother is an elected representative in Dane County.

Sargent Boys Stand Up for 1st Amendment

There is now a call for a Free Speech Fight to begin on March 29 inside the Capitol.

Most dramatically, Matthew Shauenburg has entered his fourth week of a hunger strike in protest:

Hunger Strike

If the despots of Fitzwalkerstan think that they have won because the Capitol isn’t flooded with protesters every day, then they are sadly mistaken. As Allen Ruff says, Wisconsin is not “Open for Business”, Wisconsin is “No Business as Usual.”

What can those of you outside Wisconsin do? Send letters of support to those organizations in the fight: Wisconsin Wave, Wisconsin Action, etc. Send letters to the Governor, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and let them know you won’t be spending your money in Fitzwalkerstan. Let the  Wisconsin companies that support Fitzwalkerstan (Sargento Cheese, Johnsonville Brats, Miller Brewing) that they need to explain why they support these actions. Let them know that this isn’t a private fight–it is every worker’s fight.

March 14, 2011

A Wisconsin General Strike?

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 10:57 am

The following is a report of sorts on the energy that I am seeing towards a General Strike. However, I need to say, that the most important thing that Wisconsin can do will be to elect JoAnne Kloppenburg to the WI Supreme Court on April 5th. If we can’t organize to remove a justice to has already stated he will defend Walker, then what hope do we really have to manage or win a General Strike?

The energy for a General Strike in response to the attack on working men and women committed by the corporatist controlled government (as well as the attacks on their children and the environment that are being proposed in the budget). It isn’t just the radicals letting some really well made beer do the talking. Organizations are actively preparing for a complete shut-down.

The UW-Madison recently sent out a message to students regarding a general strike. This was aimed at a group that volunteers at area schools. Students were told that the program may shut down; however, if it didn’t that they should be aware that no one can force them to cross a picket line (i.e. threaten with a bad review of their work). Further, the volunteers were also instructed that they may not act in the place of a certified or licensed teacher (i.e., they can’t scab). I don’t know about you, but that sort of letter coming from the major institution in Madison says something more that just talk is in the air. Both Mayoral candidates have pooh-poohed the idea of the General Strike, but that it is even part of the campaign issues is remarkable. Last weekend, the IWW and a committee of the South Central Federation of Labor held a community meeting to discuss a General Strike (which SCFL has already endorsed).

Part of the reason that the General Strike has received so much support is that the bill Walker signed into law would prohibit municipalities and school boards from entering into contracts. This makes a strike against the school board or the city useless. A strike, if it takes place, has to be against the state government. The only way to do that is to shut down the entire state. Walker threatened to call out the National Guard on the day that he announced this bill, so we know that he is ready.

A month ago, I would have doubted that even 20% of the people at the protests understood the full impact of a general strike. However, the benefit of the protests has been that people have been educated and had their sense of class consciousness heightened. A lot of people who saw themselves as “professionals” a month ago, now call themselves workers. The knowledge of what a general strike is has increased along with the talk of calling one.

What should worker co-ops do in a general strike?

We own our capital and democratically control our labor. However, we are also part of our community and the labor movement. Unlike many of the labor unions, we don’t have strike funds (not that those provide for a lot). In some cases, we may not be able to get supplies to operate anyway (if gas deliveries can’t be made for instance).

It is an important debate for worker co-ops to have. Each membership will need to make its own decision (as will the membership of each union and every worker). However, they can’t have this discussion internally. They need to have this discussion with the rest of the labor movement. There might be good reasons to keep Union Cab running to assist with striker logistics. Nature’s Bakery might keep operating, but supply bread to the strikers (who might not have a lot of money for food). Lakeside Press will also be vital during a strike. So will many of our other worker co-operatives. It will be important for each co-operative to explain its action to the community.

My personal preference would be for our co-ops to put down our tools and join our fellow workers. However, I would follow our membership consensus.

Part of the difficulty in this discussion is that no one knows how the “strike” will happen or when it will happen. I would imagine that it will start with small stoppages of 1-2 hours a day in order to build momentum. Perhaps a Statewide “sick day” might get called. In all of this, there might be a proviso that if someone needs to go to work (nurses, emts, or people who simply need to feed their family and fear the risk), that the engage in “work-to-rule”. Work-to-rule (known as an “Italian Strike” in Europe) is a great strategy because it allows workers to continue to earn their income while shutting down the system. As you might guess, it means following every federal, state and local law regarding your job as well as every internal rule. It prevents workers from being fired, but slows the machinery of profit down (sometimes to a trickle).

I think that the talk of a General Strike is real–at least as real as I have ever heard it. It isn’t coming from wild-eyed youngsters anymore, but from the establishment. How it gets prosecuted will still need to be decided. However, as I started this piece, I need to reiterate:

Vote JoAnne Kloppenburg for WI Supreme Court Justice on April 5th. If we can pull together to do this, then what has the last 5 weeks at the Capitol really been about?

March 9, 2011

Sun Setting on Democracy in Wisconsin

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , — John McNamara @ 7:35 pm

Today is a truly horrible day in Wisconsin. Without proper, legal notice, the Republican members of the Assembly and Senate convened a special committee to separate the union-busting aspects of the Budget Repair Bill into its own bill. This “nuclear option” was then rushed through the Senate with the Democratic Senators still absent and passed on an 18-1 vote. It is now in the Assembly where the minority party hopes to at least convince enough Republicans who care more about their state and our democracy than party. I have little hope.

One of the absent Senators, Julie Lassa, posted this statement to her Facebook Page:

“This is truly a sad night for Wisconsin democracy.  In the dark of night, in blatant violation of open meeting laws, and without even having a bill in front of them, the Republican leaders of the Assembly and Senate used a shady procedural move to end fifty years of workers’ rights in Wisconsin.  Deaf to the pleas of the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin citizens, Governor Walker and Republican legislators have demonstrated absolute contempt for the democratic process.  They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Ashamed is “Wisconsin Nice”, this act will be challenged in the courts, but currently, the GOP holds a 4-3 majority in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In addition to attacking labor unions, denying collective bargaining rights, this bill will also allow the Governor and his henchmen to amend legislation through administrative rule. It doesn’t just end 50 years of worker rights, it ends 163 years of honest government in Wisconsin.

This may end up being a ploy to force the Democrats to return–but what will they return to? If the Democrats do return, the only honorable act in this dishonorable institution will be to resign and join the people outside.

The sun hasn’t set yet, but it is getting quite dark in Wisconsin.

As I write this, thousands of workers descended upon the Capitol. The police refused to let people despite a court order. They even had the audacity to accuse the prostestors of violating a court order. The crowd started finding their way in through open windows and any other means while thousands chanted and pounded on the doors of the People’s House. I read reports that reporters on the second floor could feel the vibrations of the pounding. A veritable human earthquake of righteous anger.

Eventually, the police gave way and the Capitol is now filled “to the rafters” with people. Madison High School students will be leading a walk-out tomorrow. I can only hope that every worker in Wisconsin will follow them.

 

March 6, 2011

Keeping the Discussion Going

Filed under: Worker Rights — Tags: , , — John McNamara @ 8:00 am

The last three weeks have seen a revolution brewing. As the corporatists, who have seized control of the Republican Party, attempted to launch their most audacious attempt at Disaster Capitalism, the Shock Doctrine, the people didn’t flinch. They didn’t get scared. Instead they came out in the thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. They came out in Madison and then Hudson and then all across the United States. They found allies across the world. The revolution against the Chicago School of Economics and Milton Friedman has begun and not a moment too soon.

However, it would be foolish to think that a victory in the Battle of Wisconsin will be the end of the war. It will not. While every effort must be made to stop the Budget Repair Bill which strips public sector workers of their right to collectively bargain while creating an impossible mandate of annual certification on the labor unions, it is only the beginning of the war The corporatists and their henchmen in the halls of political power will not stop with a failure to seize our democracy in Wisconsin. They have already opened other fronts in Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and Michigan.

While we work to stop this bill, stop the biennial budget bill (which is amazing in its heartlessness) that includes: electing a Supreme Court justice who supports people over corporations (Judy Kloppenberg), recalling the GOP Senators, and getting “people-first” candidates in the three special elections, we also need to start planning. We need to develop models for taking our economy back from the corporations. We need to create mechanisms that place the political parties in their proper place: expressing the will of the people, not the corporations. The parties and elected leaders should not be leading the people, but reflecting the people’s will.

What will all of this look like? I wrote about this last fall in my discussion of Distributism. My friend and comrade, Rebecca Kemble, brought the current protest into this focus with her excellent essay, Normalizing Control. We need to start having a national (if not an international) discussion. We need plans to change our world to one that is in alignment with human dignity and our values.

I’ll start with a discussion of how we might meet basic services given the worst case scenario of the Walker Corporatist Agenda. I hope that some of you will join in and offer your ideas on these pages.

March 5, 2011

Normalizing Control

Filed under: Human Relations,Worker Rights — Tags: , — John McNamara @ 12:18 am

After police, Union reps and Democrats convinced the 50 or so people remaining in the Capitol to end their occupation last night, the most highly visible and sustained direct action against the Walker/Fitzgerald/Koch regime came to an end.  As it turned out, those occupying the Capitol since February 14 were there with the tacit consent of the Department of Administration and the Capitol Police.  Until Judge Albert’s decision came down yesterday, not a single order was issued to remove people from the building.  Those who left did so of their own free will.

The “no arrest” policy was confirmed today by Mike Huebsch, Secretary of the Department of Administration, in a joint press conference with Capitol Police Chief Tubbs.  When asked why the Department of Administration did not move to evict protesters before yesterday, Huebsch replied that “the organic expansion of people, organization and settlement” took them by surprise, as did “the spontaneity and size of the crowds.” Decisions about how to control the movement of such large crowds of people were complicated by the ongoing business of the Joint Finance Committee Hearing, the Assembly Democrat-sponsored, “quasi, though not officially sanctioned hearings” which lasted for several more days through the wee hours, followed by the three-day long session of the Assembly during which AB 11 was being debated.  Huebsch said that the DoA respected the constitutional provision which states the the building must be open when there is business being conducted, and did not order people out of the building for that reason.

Secretary Huebsch thanked Judge Albert a number of times for the court order issued yesterday.  He said it allows the DoA to require people to vacate the Capitol during non-business hours, and gives them the authority to implement a “capacity management plan” in accordance with Administrative Code 2.  This plan currently involves the continued presence of a large number out-of-jurisdiction police officers, public access restricted to two doors only (either the North and South entrances, or the East and West entrances), security pat-downs, loss of electronic key access to Capitol employees until the DoA is satisfied they can “gain compliance from all employees” with rules of use, and a long list of sanctioned and unsanctioned items and behaviors allowed in various parts of the building.  The plan is subject to minor changes at any moment depending upon conditions, but will not be substantially re-evaluated until all protests have come to an end.

Both Tubbs and Huebsch reiterated that their role was to “enforce the laws and protect the lives and property of people.”  Their methods for doing so involve “gaining control of the building” as well as depending upon “the cooperation and deferential attitude toward law enforcement” of protesters.  Huebsch highlighted his appreciation of protesters’ cooperation a number of times, saying how much he appreciated the fact that the people of Wisconsin can “disagree without being disagreeable.” In an eerie summation of the events of the past few weeks, Huebsch said, “the occupation of the Capitol was an historic event.  I’m not sure we’ll see it again for some time.”

After witnessing the intense pressure that was brought to bear upon the protesters by members of the Democratic Party, AFL-CIO and the Police to voluntarily leave the building last night, and the way in which many of them succumbed to it, it was probably for the best that the protesters left.  A dozen or so understood that this was the moment to make the choice to enact the civil disobedience they had been training for over the previous two weeks precisely because there was finally an order that they could disobey. However, they realized that unless a critical mass of the group decided to do it, the action would not have been effective.  Their numbers had been whittled down by the crackdown earlier in the week, and up until the court order and the announcement by Chief Tubbs that the police were going to enforce it, the protesters were simply pushing their luck.  When push came to court-ordered shove, the majority decided to not be disagreeable, pick up their belongings and leave.

The Democrats’ and Union reps’ line of attack was to tell the protesters that they were hurting “the movement” by continuing their occupation, and that they would damage the peaceful, compliant image of “the movement” by choosing to get arrested.  They argued that arrests would play into the hands of Scott Walker by giving Fox News images of unruly people being dragged out of the the Capitol, and that the Capitol occupation no longer played any significant role in “the movement.”  They also mentioned that the 14 Democratic Senators would not take their abandoning of the Rotunda as a lack of support.

As a way to lift their spirits, a Democratic staffer told protesters that they had achieved something that hasn’t been achieved in decades: the reinvigoration of the progressive wing of the Democratic party.  She additionally explained that “all of this information we’ve been collecting from all of you is to activate you in our upcoming campaigns.”

All of this raises many difficult and personally challenging questions, the foremost among them being the nature and definition of “the movement.”  It is clear the the Democratic Party and national and international Union reps have very particular ideas about this, and are attempting to direct the extremely diffuse, intense and disorganized energy of the grassroots into their programs.  The largest of these programs is the mobilization to recall 8 Republican Senators.  This would enable the Dems to vie for their seats in a matter of months.  If successful, the Dems would hold a majority in the Senate which would serve as a check on Scott Walker’s lust for power, but wouldn’t alter the basic direction of state policy vis-a-vis funding of public sector institutions or material support for vulnerable and needy people.

Another question is our individual relationship to formal power, our needs to be perceived in a particular way, and how those two things inform our actions.  Scott Walker’s use of intimidation tactics and displays of force are consciously targetted at the Wisconsin public’s deferential attitude toward law enforcement and our desire to be perceived as nice, reasonable, civil, law abiding citizens.  We need to study the deeper meanings of civil disobedience and non-violent action against injustice, get over our desire to be liked and approved of by authority figures, and find ways that we can demonstrate our outrage at the Walker/Fitzgerald/Koch regime that don’t involve having to prove we’re patriotic by glorifying militarism singing the Star Spangled Banner, or continually thanking police officers for enforcing unconstitutional orders.

We must step up our efforts to learn about and understand the forces propelling our state, country and planet toward a future in which the vast majority of people work and suffer to support and enrich a few in whose hands material resources and decision-making power is concentrated.  Coming from an informed place, we need to decide how to resist these forces and create more humane conditions in which to live and work.  Now is also the time to begin figuring out how we are going to take care of our friends, relatives and neighbors whose lives will be turned upside-down in the event that this budget and “repair bill” come to pass as policy.

The Capitol Occupation created a space for people to “organically” come together and discuss ideas, strategies, hopes and fears in light of the draconian policies hanging over the heads of the people of Wisconsin.  It also facilitated direct access to our legislative representatives in a way that most people had not imagined they would ever need or want.  I have never had as many meaningful, thought-provoking conversations with strangers as I’ve had inside the Capitol Rotunda over the past 3 weeks.  The killing of the spirit of the “Rotunda Community” by administrative crackdown and control is a tactic calculated by the Walker/Fitzgerald/Koch regime to break up the concentration of energy and the central organizing point of this diffuse yet intense opposition to it’s heartless, cruel and greedy agenda.  That we allowed this to happen is not a victory.  That we can re-establish a similar space for free-spirited civic engagement outside the control of either the right-wing or Democratic party agendas is still an open question.

 

—–

This essay is from Rebecca Kemble.

Rebecca Kemble is a member of Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and serves as the Northern Representative for the US Federation of Worker Co-operatives. She is also a great friend and comrade of mine, and I am proud to have the opportunity to publish her thoughts which are rarely made in print.

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