Saturday, March 19, 2011


The daily demonstrations in Wisconsin have, it seems, come to an end. The mobilizations began on Monday, February 14, following the February 8th announcement by Governor Scott Walker of his anti-labor bill, and continued for four weeks to a mass mobilization of 100,000 people (the Wisconsin State Journal’s estimate) to 150,000 people (many participants’ estimate) on Saturday, March 12.

Now the focus in Wisconsin has turned toward getting petitions signed in eight districts to recall Republican senators who voted for the anti-union measure. Once a petition drive begins, the organizers have 60 days to get sufficient signatures; then up to 30 days for the Secretary of State to declare them valid; then an election is set. Wisconsin requires petitioners to gather enough signatures to equal 25% of the votes cast in the most recent race for governor in the district of the targeted legislator. Wisconsin law also dictates that a year must pass after the election of the targeted official before he or she can be recalled. So Republicans that were elected in November 2010, including Governor Walker, can not be recalled for one year.

To get a sense of the immensity of the March 12 protest, view this 360 degree photography.

Click on the play arrow, such as next to "View in HD." The first photo comes up of the protests inside the capitol building during the occupation, February 15-28. The image moves in a circle. At the bottom you'll see icons for 10 photos. The three on the right are from Saturday, March 12 march and rally. The last one on the right really shows the mammoth size of the crowd.

I talked to teachers who had come in three busses to make the 7 hour drive from Michigan to join the protest. I talked with people who had come from all across the state to participate, many driving long hours. Three retired teachers drove the 2 1/2 hours together from Green Bay. Everyone I talked to felt a combination of anger and exhilaration. Anger that the Republicans had pushed through the union-busting bill. But exhilaration at the movement they had created. Kind of in awe and at the same time deeply proud that the whole country was watching what they'd done.

I talked to a Madison teacher who told me she'd taken her union for granted before this year. She supported it, she valued it, but she didn't feel really part of it -- she didn't feel it was necessary she be more than a supporter. All that has changed. She has changed. And her story can be repeated hundreds of thousands of times over.

This is a great time to be a labor educator or labor activist. The Wisconsin workers’ upsurge has received more mass media coverage, and more favorable coverage, than any workers’ protest that I can recall.

Faculty in our Chicago Labor Education Program (and labor educators across the nation) have been repeatedly called for our insights. I was on Chicago’s WBEZ (National Public Radio) on March 2, and here’s the link to that 10 minute interview:

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