Where We're All Heading in Scott Walker's Handbasket

Now indeed is the winter of our labor discontent.

Scott Walker, you'll recall, is the Rethuglican who has creatively called his union-busting scheme a "budget repair" bill.  Once we've finished stripping workers of all their rights - collective bargaining is just the first step! there's so much more that can be taken away once the collective bargaining is gone! - we can bring back many useful practices from the good ol' days.  The history of Blair Mountain is instructive in this regard.  Maybe you'll want to go visit Blair Mountain, and see the historical marker, but I'd do it now if I were you, before Mr. Peabody rips it off the face of the earth to get at the coal underneath.

Two years ago, Blair Mountain was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. And then, just a few months later, it was taken off by state officials.

Lawyers hired by West Virginia's largest coal companies came up with a list of landowners who, they said, objected to the designation.

"There's apparently a lot of money to be made by blowing this mountain up and taking all the coal out from it," labor historian Gordon Simmons says, referring to mountaintop removal.

Fuck you, coal companies. Isn't it enough that your predecessors had a hired army of goons and federal troops dispatched by the president to keep coal miners from forming a union?  Now you want to literally erase the history from the face of the earth? Fuck. You.

Well, Scott Walker's not calling in the troops yet on the citizens of Wisconsin. I'm sure that's just crazy to even imagine.  Why, people have the right to collective bargaining!  Oh wait, he's taking that away.  Well, they have the right to be in a union!  Oh wait, he's trying to make it really, really, really hard for there to be a union at all, what with the yearly votes for the union to exist, and the optional dues, and the fact that once your union can't bargain, and pay raises are strictly limited, you're going to wonder why you should pay dues or be in the union at all. You might as well join the Elks and spent your union dues on beer; at least you'll get drunk for your money.

So once the union is gone, and the plutocrats can pay us whatever they deem we are worth, and fire us whenever they feel like it, and take away our benefits on a whim - oh wait, you're saying, that's my life now?  Because you're not in a union.  Have you grumbled about unions in the past?  A union exists to protect you from all that.  But they talked you into thinking that the union was making your life hell, not the top 400 of them who hold more cash, stocks, and land than  the bottom 155 million of us combinedCrabs in a barrel, they wanted to make us, and it mostly worked.

Anyway, as I was saying, once they've taken us back to the point where we have as many rights as those coal miners at Blair Mountain (maybe they'll start paying us in scrip again!), they can imprison us even faster than they do now.    Pennsylvania's prison population has grown 500% in the last 30 years - that's a promising industry!  A caller to Marty Moss-Coane's radio show this morning suggested that prisoners be placed 3 to a cell, but only two of them in the cell at any given time; one would always be out working an eight hour shift.  Put the prisoners to work!  Well, at least they'd have an eight hour day, if not a five-day work week.  But why be limited by the arbitrary eight-hour day? We could pack them four to a cell and take out two at a time for 12-hour shifts.  It's not like they have a union or anything.

Yeah, where did you think your eight-hour day and five-day work week came from?  Oh, you say, not me, I'm a professional, I'm a scientist, I'm a grad student/postdoc/professor, and I work long hours.  I'm k3rntastic!  Science demands no less, I work for the love of it, I work long hours because if I don't someone else will step right into my place and work just as hard and take my job. Oh crap, that last one sounds just exactly like what the coal miners used to say before they got themselves organized and formed a union.  You know what?  Coal miners are professionals too, and take pride in their work, and love what they do, too.  They like having a union that regulates working conditions, and says if you work overtime you get time and a half.  What do policies like that do?  They create more jobs, and make employers think twice about overworking the employees they do have, because it costs more.  Oh, unions won't work for science. Science is so different!  Believe me, baby, if you wanted a union bad enough, you'd find a way to make it work.

Listen up:  Philip Dray, author of There Is Power In A Union: The Epic Story Of Labor In America, will be on Fresh Air this afternoon, to put the Wisconsin union battle in a historical context. Listen live at 3 pm or audio available online after 5 pm.  Read the little blurb about the show - it's fascinating.  Here's the piece that was a real shocker even for me.

[quoting Dray]: Every city in America has these large brick armories in the city. I used to think they were there for soldiers to gather to go abroad but those were built in an era when authorities wanted a place where soldiers could gather to bring down local labor unrest.

Yeah, they didn't teach me any of this history in school.  Certainly not in the coal patch public schools. They did not tell me how the tax dollars of our forebears went to constructing buildings for the express purpose of gathering troops to suppress the formation of unions by those same forebears.  Well, not the tax dollars of the Blair Mountain coal miners, per se.  They were paid in scrip, which could only be spent at the company store.

If you have a few extra dollars in your pocket this month, consider donating to a union to help fund organizing struggles, general strike funds, etc.  You can become an associate member of the United Mine Workers of America for $5 a month.  Write to your congressperson and insist that Blair Mountain be placed on National Register of Historic Places, not ripped apart by coal companies.  Speak up when someone is union bashing and say you wish everyone had the kinds of benefits and job security that a union can negotiate for its members.  Don't be a crab in the barrel that the plutocrats and Rethuglicans are constructing for us all.

My grandparents lived through the union-organizing hell of the past.  Let's not go back there in Governor Walker's handbasket.

9 responses so far

  • Marcus says:

    I don't even know where to begin with Walker. There aren't many politicians I actively loathe, even if I disagree with their positions. He is one of them.

  • Adam B says:

    Down here in Flordia they are doing something similar, the unions who bargain with the state government are going to have to have 50% membership and dues will no longer be able to be removed from the pay check. This will make it very hard to keep members and thus stay recognized.
    The UFF and GAU (united faculty of flordia and graduate assistant union) are both scrambling to get their numbers up so we don't loose our contracts and have to begin again. I'm not sure what the others' contracts contain but the UF GAU's contains basics like health care, tuition wavers, fee payment deferment (otherwise the fees are due before we get paid), max work load, and minimum stipends. Several other grad students who I've talked to are considering leaving if we don't get the numbers we need because all though the department may not want to screw us they may not have a choice if the school cuts their budget more.

    • Zuska says:

      Yep, that's union busting at work.

      It really frustrates me that professors have not been able to band together in a union to protect themselves at least from having their profession destroyed from the inside out by the encroachment of adjuncting. Or, failing that, support adjuncts in their efforts to unionize and be protected against random firings. The piecework of adjuncts, their low wages, lack of benefits, and job insecurity is the death of the professoriate.

    • jm says:

      Let's hope the UFF and GAU do get everything together or they may end up like us postdocs here at UF. We don't have a PostDoc Association, and this year UF stripped away almost all of our benefits while claiming they are "helping" us. We now have a bare bones health care plan instead of the faculty plan we did have and no longer have tuition waivers if we actually want to take a class during our training.

      • Zuska says:

        Well, but you shouldn't have a union, because you aren't employees, you're students getting training, right? Except you can't afford it and they won't pay for it. Ha ha, joke's on us. Shoulda been born rich.

        • Nepenthe says:

          Yes, Zuska, you should have. It is your failing that you were not. If you had worked harder in your pre-birth times you too could have been ensouled in a Rockefeller's womb.

          I apologize a million times over for moving my voting registration to my school address rather than my home address in Wisconsin. And to top it all off, Russ Feingold and my representative were replaced with teabaggers.

  • dsks says:

    Well, the Republicans finally figured it out. Clearly, this is a corporate-led ideological crusade with the ultimate aim of undermining union activity in the private sector ("You gotta Right-To-Work, son!"). By taking aim at the low-hanging fruit of a historically sketchy government-union relationship in the public sector, the Republicans can come out looking like they're on the tax payers side (despite their passion for agricultural and defence pork). The wind is with the GOP on this. Private sector unions will back those in the public sector out of historical solidarity, but the former's enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that they hold the latter responsible for stoking anti-union feeling in the first place.

    As for what side the federal government will fall in this one, it will fall on the side of whoever has the deepest pockets. Corporatism is a bitch, that way. That's why I'm always mystified as to why both the left and the right continue to have such an unshakable faith in the power of the state and its integration with corporate elements, no matter how many experiences they have in which those powers have been arrayed against their own interests.

  • Sara C. says:

    Thanks for writing about this Zuska. I am a grad student in Physics at UW-Milwaukee. For five out of seven years I've been a teaching assistant, and thus represented by the MGAA union (Milwaukee Graduate Assistant Association). I am close to graduating, but am horrified by what this legislation will mean for future grad students in Milwaukee and Madison if it manages to stick. Our contracts actually expire tomorrow, since the Rethuglicans rejected our last contract proposal in December, claiming that it was "too generous for graduate students." So we are going to have to scramble to hold a vote in April now just to remain certified. But since the policy hasn't been written yet, we don't even know what the vote will have to look like.

    I am still in a state of shock over what happened late last week. Scott Walker and friends have been outright lying about everything since this all began. They claimed for weeks that this was all fiscal in nature (LIE) and that they could not possibly separate the collective bargaining from the rest of the bill. And then they did it anyway. And broke multiple procedural rules and violated the state constitution in the process.

    This is not the Wisconsin I've lived in my whole life. And I'll be damned if I sit here and watch Scotty boy destroy it.

  • lijakaca says:

    I used to be young and stupid and accepted the old chestnuts - unions reward mediocrity, unions make it hard to get rid of bad workers. Over the past 10 years of working, I have seen the growing power of corporations and how their propaganda is encouraging people to vote in a way that is squeezing the bottom 95% of the population, at the same time brainwashing them into thinking it's all their own idea and that government/public organizations are inefficient and bad at everything.

    10 years ago the thought of largescale protests and union movements appeared a now unnecessary relic of the past to me; now my thoughts are summed up in this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDOzMvMqb7I
    (This version resonates with me more than the original version, but here it is as well):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iAIM02kv0g

    Your story about Blair Mountain put it in my head.