BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Looking at a Year of Revolt in Wisconsin

Pity the US proletariat? Not author, editor and labor educator Michael D. Yates and fellow scribes in Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (Monthly Review Press). In 16 essays, they lay out forceful portraits of last year’s political conflict in or that relate to the Badger State.

Connor Donegan fleshes out the recent past of anti-union lawmaking in Wisconsin that GOP Gov. Scott Walker personifies, capturing the struggle of (un)organized labor to resist capital’s bid to force working families to bear the brunt of the Great Recession. This trend is national and global, with high stakes for workers.

Andrew Sernatinger links popular consciousness and the 2008 financial crisis (Wall Street bailout and Main Street sell-out) to the Wisconsin protest dynamics. Sounding a theme throughout the book, he addresses the progressive activity in and out of the Democratic Party that sparked that state’s robust resistance.

Lee Sustar dissects working conditions for the Badger State’s private- and public-sector workers. To this end, he discusses new organizing models there via “a labor-student-community alliance.”

For Dan La Botz, the Wisconsin events herald the dawn of a “New American Workers’ Movement,” as unionized public-sector employment rises and factory jobs fall. Further, he questions the Democratic Party’s emphasis on elections, stressing why activists and organizers must build circles of solidarity as a way to forge an independent political process by and for popular power.

Rand Wilson and Steve Early take up labor’s counter-strategies against state lawmakers’ anti-union measures such as banning payroll deductions of dues or fees from members for union representation. This is a practical and useful piece. Jane Slaughter and Mark Brenner outline some lessons of the Wisconsin conflict. One is the urgency of building popular awareness that the political class and their 1 percent paymasters caused the Great Recession and budget deficits of local and state governments, and not public workers. Elly Leary links historic “internal contradictions” of US labor unions with current political conditions as a springboard to discuss confronting the ongoing attack of the top 1%.

She critiques labor unions’ compromise with white supremacy and patriarchy as departure points for broadening a dwindling rank-and-file as America becomes a “minority-majority” nation.

Dave Zirin links Wisconsin politics and pro football. His is the under-reported tale of the Green Bay Packers backing common people battling private wealth and the political power it shapes in the Badger State.

Jon Flanders explains what is at stake and why for chemical plant workers in upstate New York as occupation movements in Wisconsin and across the US expand the range of the political possible for the laboring class. In the goods-producing sector, employers don’t win all the time.

Michael Zweig emphasizes the urgency for working-class people to press for cutting war spending as a domestic priority now. This approach highlights the contradictions between an empire and a republic.

Fernando Gapasin depicts the role of national minorities, foreign-born and native, in building solidarity communities and social justice networks in Bend, Oregon. Like David Bacon, Gapasin explores race and class lines that can unify workers. Yates wraps up with a stirring account of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s fight-back against corporate employers on the docks in Longview, Wash.

In this and his Afterword, Yates argues for the US working class, with the Wisconsin example a shining light, to engage in “more radical thinking and acting” as an alternative to supporting Democrats with dollars and time in elections.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2012

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