Wisconsin: “Return of the Class Struggle” to the US

[The liberal “left” in America, having long defined itself in reformist and middle-class terms and by the defense of the New Deal and Keynesian economics, has in recent times despaired at the loss of social economics by liberal Democratic politicians and their social policy dismantlers.  Now, the attacks  (in Wisconsin and elsewhere) on trade unions for government workers has revived talk of “class struggle” in America–a term which many liberals had long considered archaic and irrelevent. Reprinted here from the London Review of Books, an article which, along with the resistance of the workers, puts the talk of class struggle back into the liberal street. — Frontlines ed.]

by Eric Foner

22 February 2011

Thanks to the public employees of Wisconsin, thousands of whom have occupied the state capitol building for the past several days, the class struggle has returned to the United States. Of course, it never really left, but lately only one side has been fighting. Workers, their unions and liberals more generally have now rejoined the battle.

As many commentators have pointed out, Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees’ unions has nothing to do with Wisconsin’s fiscal problems (which are far less serious than those of many other American states). Instead, it represents the culmination of a long right-wing effort to eliminate the power of unions altogether. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt redefined American politics by forging a majority political coalition that included labour unions, white ethnic minorities (Irish, Italians, Jews), African-Americans in the North, liberal intellectuals, Southern whites and, after the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, the elderly. The New Deal coalition proved powerful enough to enable Democrats to win seven of the nine presidential elections between 1932 and 1964. One of its key achievements was the Wagner Act of 1935, which gave most workers the legal right to form trade unions. Continue reading

Wisconsin Protests Draw More Than 70,000 In Largest Rally Yet

AP/The Huffington Post




Wisconsin Protests

MADISON, Wis. — Chanting pro-union slogans and carrying signs declaring “We are all Wisconsin,” protesters turned out in cities nationwide to support thousands of public workers who’ve set up camp at the Wisconsin Capitol to fight Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.

Union supporters organized rallies from New York to Los Angeles in a show of solidarity Saturday as the demonstration in Madison entered its 12th straight day and attracted its largest crowd yet: more than 70,000 people. Hundreds banged on drums and screamed into bullhorns inside the Capitol as others braved frigid weather and snow during the massive rally that flooded into nearby streets.

“I want to thank you for coming out here today to exercise those pesky First Amendment rights,” actor Bradley Whitford, who starred in television’s “The West Wing,” said as he rallied his hometown crowd. “This governor has to understand Wisconsin is a stubborn constituency. We fish through ice!”

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has introduced a bill that includes stripping almost all public workers of their right to collectively bargain on benefits and work conditions. Walker has said the bill would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget, and argues that freeing local governments from collective bargaining would give them flexibility amid deep budget cuts. Continue reading

US: Attacks on unions spark class struggle

New York Times, February 22, 2011

Thousands March on Capitols as Union Turmoil Spreads


COLUMBUS, Ohio — First Wisconsin. Now Ohio and Indiana.

Battles with public employees’ unions spread on Tuesday, with Republican-dominated Legislatures pressing bills that would weaken collective bargaining and thousands of pro-union protesters marching on Capitol buildings in Columbus and Indianapolis.

After a week of upheaval in Madison, Wis., where the thumping din of protesters has turned almost celebratory, the battle moved to Ohio, where the Legislature held hearings on a bill that would effectively end collective bargaining for state workers and drastically reduce it for local government employees like police officers and firefighters.

Several thousand pro-union protesters filled a main hall of the state courthouse in Columbus and gathered in a large crowd outside, chanting “Kill the bill,” waving signs and playing drums and bagpipes. There were no official estimates, but the numbers appeared to be smaller than those in Madison last week. One Democratic state legislator put the figure at 15,000. Continue reading

Vietnamese authorities charge labor activists with “disrupting security”

Oct 18, 2010

Hanoi – Vietnamese authorities have brought charges against three labour activists for ‘disrupting security,’ an official said Monday.

The indictment said the three often contacted and received money from Tran Ngoc Thanh, chairman of the Warsaw-based Committee to Protect Vietnamese Workers, to print and distribute anti-government leaflets and to foment labour strikes. It said ‘those offenders’ crimes are very serious, operated and organized with the intention to destroy the country’s security, and need punishing.’

The accused are Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, 29, Do Thi Minh Hanh and Doan Huy Chuong, both 25 years old, said Nguyen To Toan, deputy head of security department No 2 of the prosecutor’s office.

In November 2006, Chuong established the United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam (UWFO) to advocate for labour rights. He was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison in December 2007 for ‘abusing democratic freedoms,’ but was released on May 13, 2008 due to poor health. Continue reading

Chinese workers strike at Honda Lock parts supplier

Workers gather outside Honda Lock factory as they go on strike in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, China

(Worsening conditions of work and life have pushed the working class in China into motion.  Many forms of struggle and resistance have emerged:  job actions, protests, suicides driven by despair, independent union organizing efforts, networking of activists in many industries and locales, and open questioning of the post-socialist capitalist state.  Along with this, foreign investors worry about how long cheap labor will be reliable in China).

The Guardian (UK)

11 June 2010

Honda Lock strike and labour unrest suggest era of cheap manufacturing in China coming to end

Chinese workers marched out on strike at a Honda parts supplier today as the swelling wave of labour unrest in the workshop of the world raised the prospect of fairer wages for local employees and an end to cheap products for western consumers. Continue reading