Battle for Wisconsin, Part Three: War of Attrition
One thing this week has become infamous for is the spread of rumors, and Friday night ended with a scare that a fleet of Tea Party buses were on their way to counter-protest with Sarah Palin at the head. WEAC members passed out flyers Friday afternoon briefing demonstrators on what to expect and how to conduct themselves, but apart from overworked activists and a few union bureaucrats, the crowd seemed unbothered by the right wing threat. Of course when a little more than a thousand tea party activists got to the capitol (sans Palin), most people seemed to think their presence was laughable and carried on without incident.
That said, the weekend might be likened to digging in the trenches with both sides waging a war of attrition. Friday the Assembly adjourned until Tuesday, and into today the fourteen state senators remain in exile somewhere in Rockford. For those who haven't followed this, there are Republican majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, and the actions of the fourteen senators broke quorum so that the bill can't advance in the Senate until they return. In the Assembly there aren't enough Democrats to pull a similar stunt, so actions were taken Thursday to try and physically stop them from meeting with sit-ins, though those were initially routed. So where we're left is regrouping, trying to hold what we have and biding our time. There isn't an imminent vote, so demonstrations this weekend are somewhat more relaxed, though militant activists are meeting with their fellows to develop whatever course of action they feel appropriate; we're desperately searching for someone to take a step forward and lead the way. The one tension is that at any given moment senators may return to Wisconsin, allowing them to call a vote. So for now the union bureaucrats and Democratic Party are trying to soften up the crowd so that they can cut a deal for some concessions, at which point they'll call back the exiled senators to wrap it up.
Since the frontal attack is on organized labor, the focus has been almost exclusively on collective bargaining rights, with lesser emphasis on dues check and yearly recertification and next to nothing on the serious attacks on working people that comes in the form of cuts to Badger Care (state health program) and restricting access to state services for immigrants. In the last few days, union heads have rolled out their concessions without regard to the uncompromising demands of the membership, giving up much of the ground gained by the movement--why concede more benefits when we know that this deficit is a fraud? What we expect is that the union leadership is willing to sell out unorganized workers and screw their own members to secure dues check and drop the yearly recertification, and that they probably won't fight too hard for rights to bargain over benefits. Hypothetically, that's a win-win for the Labor Democrats and the Legislature alike--the bureaucracy gets its dues, the Democrats continue getting contributions from organized labor and Walker and the Legislature see the rest of the bill pass, dealing a massive blow to the working class by pushing through most of the bill while dividing us. Oh, and then the unions don't have to spend any more money being here if this wraps up with a quick deal.
Of course, this isn't just going to come out of nowhere. The scene inside the capitol has consistently been more creative and independent than the rallies outside, so today police have been closing down stairwells and hallways, stationing a mix of state troopers, department of natural resources officers and other non-conventional law enforcement since so many police are out in support of the crowd. As that's happening, union staffers are seeking out grassroots activists and giving them grunt tasks like phone banking and passing out bratwursts to snatch them away from their independent activity. Madison Teachers Inc is going back to work Tuesday, and SEIU has charted a plane from California to send a team of staff organizers to take over here and control the rank and file. All this is to say that left to themselves, the rank and file won't consent to the concessions the internationals are making, so they're systematically undermining the grassroots activity and replacing it with officially sanctioned actions. Symbolically, we're seeing more professionally printed signs relative to the creative hand drawn signs that have been the standard this week.
On the other hand, the idea of a strike is one that a lot of workers here seem to think is necessary but they don't want to go out on a limb if the senators return first and trigger a vote, which is the rumor going around now--that they'll be back tomorrow morning. A lot is touch and go right now, but every day more people show up and locals are scrambling to find housing for all of the people coming from out of state to support us since they know that what happens in Wisconsin is going to happen across the US.