Battle for Wisconsin, Part Five: The Advance
Without a doubt, today is going to decide the course of the struggle. The last two and a half days have been a pause, with folks moving into position for Tuesday while guarding their backs in case of any unexpected developments. Rumors of strikes have come and gone depending on what the collective sense is of who's in the lead and what the balance of forces is. The anxiety into Monday was in looking for some maneuvers or developments that would put one side in front of the other, a step forward by some local who to announce an action or a new position on the bill by anyone in the government, but basically everyone has just dug in and stayed the course.
Here are the developments that are going to affect everyone today: The legislature and the police are not waiting around any more and they're making the first moves today. Late last night, police announced that they would be closing the top floors of the capitol "for cleaning", and then closed off the South and West wings of the building--where the Assembly and Senate meet. Police have been meeting with a few "representatives" of people who have been staying in the capitol, so a few TAA members and younger folks started marshaling the crowd staying in last night, telling them to leave those places to preserve the good relationship with the police. Unfortunately, for a lot of folks who have been staying inside the reason they're there has changed from the necessity of testifying and physically stopping a vote to being part of a social scene and preserving the feeling of community that emerged last week. Until a group of us protested and vocalized that we should not be telling people to up and leave because police say so, there was basically no debate about what our role is inside the capitol building. And people are putting the cards on the table: TAA and students close to them are telling people that this vote is going to happen, and its going to go through so we should just let it and its important to preserve our amicable relationship with the police; militants are saying this is the stand we have to make. Obviously no one is advocating confrontations, its just a matter of having our interests remain independent so we can do what we need to do.
They're securing the capitol for a vote tomorrow and they're not letting anything stall out any longer. Police are blocking off a ton of space so that no one gets even close to stopping a vote; they've set up metal detectors and police dogs. They're smart enough to let people stay in the building, they're just keeping them away from vulnerable points and using the cordial relationship they've built with occupiers to let it happen. Police are planning on letting people stay to keep up the feeling like people are participating while stripping them of all the power to actually affect the meeting of the votes.
The political maneuvering itself in the Legislature is nothing short of incredible. The Assembly is going to meet, they have a clear majority and they are going to push it through. The only stall for time are the dozens of proposed amendments by Assembly Democrats. The Senate is furious about being embarrassed like they have been and they're going to start a harassment strategy--they're going to start taking votes on unrelated issues that they know Senate Democrats are against to raise the cost of their absence. More than that, they're proposing to split parts of the bill and move them into non-financial legislature which requires a smaller quorum that they do have. Its unclear if they can do this or if they even want to--putting union-busing legislation in non-financial bills is an admission that this has nothing to do with a budget crisis. The outlier here is the rumor that a Senate Republican is going to vote against splitting the bill. The fourteen missing Senators have a hard road ahead, but they know that the only leverage they have is staying away to keep the financial bill from passing; Republicans have clear majority on all the other legislation anyway. Whatever happens, there is an advance coming for the bill today (Tuesday).
Outside of the capitol, the field is incredibly volatile. More and more layers have come out against the bill: the State Street business association issued a statement against the bill, people are carrying signs declaring the support of suburbs ("Verona stands against the bill!"), teachers from across the country are coming in packs. Ian's Pizza, near the capitol at the top of state street, has a map of all the places in the world that have paid for pizzas to be sent to protestors. Unbelievably, Governor Walker went to a trendy restaurant on the capitol square yesterday and was refused service. There are reports of a lot of rallies in towns across Wisconsin, though the AFL-CIO doesn't want to broadcast it for fear of counter-rallies. The South Central Federation of Labor, local AFL-CIO council, voted to endorse a general strike and demands to kill the entire bill yesterday. They have no binding power, but as a symbol it does carry weight to let people know that these things are legitimate. The rank and file here are obviously pissed about the concessions their union leaders have made, and it fuels their fire that Republicans have again rejected the concessions. The compromise strategy the labor bureaucracy has been banking on seems like it might not actually pan out, and if that's the case it boosts the rank and file's sense that they have to fight to win or all is lost.
The UW Hospital system is also investigating doctors who have been writing sick notes for teachers who went on sick-strikes. They're trying to clamp down on them to ensure that we don't see a second wave of sick strikes this week and some students have been collecting signatures telling the hospital board to cease or they'll organize solidarity actions. Walker has also announced that if labor doesn't step down and accept the bill, he's going to start issuing lay-offs next week.
Right now there are too many factors to make a guess on what is going to happen; the police and the legislature have the capitol and the field is very unpredictable--it could explode with everyone so revved up. All we know is that what happens today is going to determine the course of struggle and move one side or the other towards a win.