Workers, farmers and young people organized important mobilizations in the spring of 2011 to protest legislation pushed by Walker to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers, sharply increase their payments for health care and pensions, and eliminate mandatory dues checkoff for public workers’ unions. So what does the failure of the “recall Walker” campaign signify? Is it evidence of a rightward political shift or backward attitudes among working people? Does it represent a defeat for the working class?
On the contrary. There is growing discontent among workers and a desire to resist the assaults by the bosses and their government.
The problem is the decades-long dead-end political course of the top union leadership, subordinating the interests of the working class to finding “common ground” with the bosses, rationalizing and helping the employers impose giveback after giveback to keep “our” industries competitive, and backing the Democratic Party, which has played the leading role in the propertied rulers’ anti-labor assault.
In response to its declining membership, the labor tops did not turn to convincing the ranks that their union was indispensable by organizing a serious fight against the bosses. Instead, they became increasingly reliant on purely administrative methods to maintain their dues base—relying on legislative backing from Democratic Party politicians to which they were beholden—including mandatory dues deduction from workers’ paychecks, “card check” laws supposedly compelling bosses to recognize a union without an election, etc.
When the mandatory checkoff was eliminated by the Wisconsin legislature, more than 33,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees opted out.
The consequences of this course, the weakening of the labor movement, comes into sharper relief as the deepening crisis of capitalism poses the need to fight and fight effectively or be dealt blows by the owners of capital.
There is an anti-democratic aspect to the methods of the pro-Democratic Party, anti-Walker campaign that undoubtedly turned some workers off. For example, the “fab 14” Democratic legislators leaving the city to block a vote they thought they couldn’t win, the thuggish shouting down of Sarah Palin in an effort to prevent her from speaking at a rally in support of the governor’s proposals, and the demagogic referendum itself, whose one goal was to bring in a Democratic governor after failing to get one elected less than a year before.
On the heels of the 2011 mobilizations, some 900,000 people responded to a petition drive seeking to recall the governor, which labor leaders and Democratic political figures presented as a vehicle to fight the anti-labor assault.
This strategy channeled the fight into the bourgeois electoral arena, subordinating it to support for Democrat Barrett, who promised to “right size” state workers—slash jobs, pay and benefits. Barrett went out of his way to distance himself from the fight of government workers, rarely even mentioning it.
After the election, officials at the Labor Temple in Madison put up a sign saying, “We won’t stop fighting for workers rights.” But the union officials have not been carrying out any such fight, and their promises ring hollow to many.
People cast their votes for many different reasons; the election was not a referendum for or against labor. Among some who voted for Walker are probably many with a dislike for “big government,” a healthy attitude gaining ground in the working class as Democratic liberals lead the push for expansion of government powers and interference in workers’ lives to better “take care” of us.
Among workers who voted for either or neither candidate are many who are open to a class struggle perspective. This bodes well for the future. Through working-class struggle our unions will be transformed into instruments of class combat, championing the broad economic and social interest of all working people, and providing schools for revolutionary transformation.
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