Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Madison Wisconsin in great numbers since February 11th when Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker initiated his controversial “budget repair bill”.
Gov. Walker and his Republican supporters argue the cut is needed to help the state balance a $3.6 billion budget deficit. Union workers and Democrats see the law, which strips most public employees of their collective bargaining rights, as an effort to undermine the working class.
Civil Rights Leader Rev. Jesse Jackson has visited Wisconsin on a number of occasions since the demonstrations erupted to show his solidarity and support for the union workers.
During a recent visit to Madison he tells me that Wisconsin’s fight is part of a larger social struggle across the United States.
“The State’s right’s ideology is to deny the right to vote, it is to crush workers and deny unions and therefore deny economic justice,” he says.
“The five major oil companies have made a trillion dollars since 9/11 because they are getting tax subsidies, the Afghanistan Iraq wars, another trillion dollars. So we do have a budget deficit in some instances, but teachers should not be the scapegoats for that, workers should not be the scapegoats for that,” he adds.
Madison Mayor David Cieslewicz believes Governor Walker’s move is “a giant step back”.
“We have had 40 years of labor peace in our state and over much of the United States thanks to collective bargaining, thanks to cooperative working relationships with our unions and for the governor to essentially destroy those unions, to eliminate collective bargaining really puts us back in a place where we might see more municipal labor strikes,” says Cieslewicz .
With so much at stake for both sides Mayor Cieslewicz tells me that even if the governor wins the battle, he may be losing the war of public opinion.
“Because he’s [Walker] pushing this extreme legislation there has been a galvanizing of progressive resistance to that, and what he’s succeeded in doing, I think, is creating a movement in opposition to what he’s trying to accomplish,” says Cieslewicz.
However, Gov. Walkers supporters say Wisconsin voters backed him and his party in November when they ran on a platform of cutting spending and helping businesses create jobs.
No doubt these are difficult and uncertain times for both sides. The stand-off is perhaps best described as the fight of the middle class against big corporations.
It remains to be seen whether the Wisconsin uprising will be the birth of a new and powerful people’s movement across the United States or will it go down in history books as another revolt against capitalism with the middle class as its final victims.
Susan Modaress has recently returned from Madison, Wisconsin, where she was covering the Wisconsin budget bill & demonstrations.
All photos copyright www.susanmodaress.com