From the Front Lines in Madison, WI

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CommonDreams.org

From the Front Lines in Madison, WI

As someone who has been involved in the protests in Madison for the past six days, I find the news media coverage of the momentous events in this town to in no way portray the reality of what is going on here. In their attempts to constantly be balanced, the news media seem to have lost all ability to be accurate.

The mass protests by unions and their allies that have occurred in Madison, WI, resulted after an abrupt announcement by Governor Walker late last Friday, Feb. 11, that he was introducing and fast-tracking a so-called “Budget Repair” bill, which would not only deeply cut benefits to public workers, but effectively strip unions of all of their collective bargaining rights. The response to the Governor’s move was rapid and in no way orchestrated or long-planned – there was absolutely no possible time for that. By late Monday, Feb 14, the WI state legislature announced a hearing of the bill in the Joint Finance Committee which was open for public testimony. It was then that unions and affected public sector workers began to try to organize to fight the bill.

Interestingly, members of the public, including myself, arrived early Tuesday morning to have our positions heard in the committee hearing on the bill. When the public testimony began, numerous media outlets were present to cover the proceedings. The media portrayed the hearing as a chance for “both sides” to have their voices heard, as if this were an even dispute between two viewpoints with equally numbered constituents. That was not the case. The clerk’s office documented testimony against the bill versus for the bill to be roughly 20 to 1, at least. Moreover, I know first hand that many of the bill supporters who spoke before and after I did had not been waiting in line with the rest of us. Where did they come from? They seemed to be placed into the queue somehow, conveniently, very early in the day when the media was present. As the proceeding wore on, few if any supporters of the bill were present at all.

These six days of protests have been completely non-violent and peaceful. There have been rumblings that protesters have “trashed” the capitol. That is completely false. Members of unions, particularly the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants’ Association (MGAA), have been regularly organizing volunteer crews to clean up trash and litter.

As crowds swelled from approximately 13,000 on Tuesday, to around 70,000 (some estimate 100,000) on Saturday, the media finally began to take notice. But curiously, most media outlets only began to show up when the Tea Party announced it plans for a counter-rally on Saturday. Contrary to sources, these Saturday rallies did not consist of a meeting of disputing views in virtually equally numbers, nor were they a “clash.” The Walker supporters numbered roughly 700-1000 at most, while the anti-bill, pro-union activists outnumbered them nearly 100 to 1. Furthermore, there was no violence and no confrontation between opposing sides. (But interestingly, it was the first day that the capitol police posted signs on the capitol building stating “No Firearms Allowed.”) The Tea Party contingent barely made a blip with their paltry turnout.

As far as the actual issue at hand, most media outlets merely mimicked the talking points repeated ad infinitum by Governor Scott Walker, and did no investigating into the veracity of his claims, nor any critical questioning about the situation in Wisconsin. Here are some facts:

1. The state of Wisconsin is not facing a financial crisis. Though specific numbers have been continually disputed and some even claim that the state faces a surplus at the end of the 2009-2011 budget, what is clear is that Wisconsin’s financial woes are moderate at most, and do not constitute a dire situation. The $3.6 billion shortfall that Walker keeps repeating is based on the State Budget Office Analysis which calculated the 2011-2013 biennial figures based on agency requests. These requests always exceed actual monies allocated. The 2011-2013 actual budget has not even come out yet. Walker is misrepresenting these details. Moreover, Governor Walker was unconcerned about budget matters when he offered over $140 million in tax incentives to out-of-state multinational corporations, but now he is suddenly unable to afford to take care of his in-state workforce. The “crisis” is manufactured.

2. The government employee unions bargained for and ratified contracts late last year that provided numerous concessions, including but not limited to freezes in compensation for two years and increased health insurance premiums. Unions are not opposed to “sacrifices”; in fact, they had ALREADY agreed to them.

3. The erosion of collective bargaining rights has nothing at all to do with the contrived “Budget Repair.” Stripping unions of their freedom to negotiate will do nothing to help alleviate deficits.

4. The workers in the private sector have not been voluntarily sacrificing for the public good; pay cuts and loss of benefits have been thrust upon them without any say on their part, precisely because they do not have unions to support them.

5. The rhetoric spewed by the right, such as “I lost my pension, so should you” is akin to saying “My legs were cut off, now yours should be, too.” Unionists would prefer that our legs not be cut off – and we would like to see all non-union workers walking again too. Our battle is for the rights of ALL workers, and our victories are YOUR victories. This is trickle-up economics – and it actually works.

6. Union workers are not lazy slackers; indeed they do some of the most difficult jobs imaginable, such as being home-health care workers, factory laborers, and teachers.

7. The gap between rich and poor started to increase in the 1970s and has reached its widest margin today. Coincidentally, during that same time period, massive tax cuts for corporations and for the wealthy have been mounting.

8. The people who have not sacrificed are the wealthy and corporations. They have the ability to repair these purported budget deficits, yet those who can barely make a decent living are instead called upon to lose what little they have. All the while, Wall Street flourishes and the rich continue to accumulate more and more of the financial wealth of the nation.

9. The struggle in Wisconsin is not about my union or any other union; it is class warfare, plain and simple. It is a battle for decent human rights and against the systematic, concerted and well-orchestrated effort to remove all the rights of workers in this country. Anyone and everyone who makes less than a six-figure income – i.e. the poor and middle class - should be outraged by this immoral and unjust bill and united in our effort to protect our right to a decent living.

Why is it that those who have never had to worry about money, never had to sacrifice, and never had to fight for anything in their lives continually get more and more while working folks get less and less? And why, inexplicably, do other working folks support this race to the bottom?

The corporatization of America has already occurred; now we are well into the third-worldification of America.

We Wisconsin workers are fighting for you and fighting for this country. We must win.

Kristine Mattis

Kristine Mattis is a teacher, writer, scholar, and activist. She is currently a PhD student in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a reporter for the congressional record in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a schoolteacher. She and her partner blog when they can at www.rebelpleb.blogspot.com

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