Notes from the Cheddar Revolution

by J. Burger, IEA, USofCC

I had just started my work helping the USofCC when, Wisconsin Proteston February 11th,  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his plan to take away the union rights of more than 250,000 people. In response, I headed up to Wisconsin to lend a hand to unionized teachers in La Crosse.

Up north, unions are racing to get contract extensions with their employers (city, county, school board). Statewide, they announced they would take concessions, yet Walker rejected this. His budget bill would stifle democracy in the workplace and damage Badgercare (low-income health care assistance) and other widely popular programs. Walker’s rhetoric couched his bill in terms of “fair share” and “budget repair,” but the bill has been revealed as nothing more than a power grab and straight-up union busting.  Unable to pass the budget side of the original bill, in March, Wisconsin legislators maneuvered and — with Walker’s signature — have  removed most collective bargaining rights of many of Wisconsin’s state employees.

Battles are now raging in small towns all over Wisconsin, from Norway and Rhinelander to Superior, Rice Lake, La Crosse, Prairie du Chien, Janesville, Elroy, Black River Falls, Racine and, of course, Madison. Wisconsinites are mobilizing in creative and energetic ways. Senior citizens are forming new Grey Panther chapters and engaging in flash mobs. Parents are organizing support rallies for their kids’ teachers before school. Students are organizing walkouts and teach-ins.

Rallies, street-side bannering, and public forums have become the daily norm. Recall petitions have started in a number of districts (six Democratic and eight Republican, at last count). Walk into most any business and, sure enough, someone is talking about Walker, the budget, worker rights, and, of course, the future of Wisconsin. Polls are showing the 14 Wisconsin Democratic Senators who stalled Walker’s rushed legislative push are viewed as heroes throughout the state.

I’ve been helping employees develop their unions and stand up for their rights for the past 11 years. Yet, never before have I been up-close and personal with a mass movement on the scale I witnessed in Wisconsin.

I’m now back in Chicago, fresh from the overwhelming sight of ordinary working people organizing and speaking out against Walker’s budget and attacks on collective bargaining rights. It is obvious the governor underestimated the fierceness with which everyday citizens would fight back, not just in Madison but across the state and around the nation. I have seen the Cheddar Revolution. This is only the beginning.

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining …”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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