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Right to Work in Wisconsin



I am obviously dismayed by Wisconsin passing a right to work bill and Scott Walker signing it. Of course, Walker had said he wouldn’t sign such a bill last year but there was no reason to believe him since he is governing, if one can call it that, with the sole purpose of appealing to Republican primary voters and caucus participants in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I think I’m even more dismayed that the news was just taken with a giant shrug by most progressives; outside of labor people, hardly anyone gave it more than a notice. That’s sad, not only because of Wisconsin’s great union tradition, but because right to work bills are seen as pretty much so unstoppable now that there’s hardly reason to comment on them. It’s just another step in the inevitable decline of American labor. Even more dismaying is that whereas the original Walker anti-labor actions lead to enormous protests while by 2015, Madison is seeing some protests over yet another unarmed black person murdered by the cops (and I’m glad people are protesting this. Also, see Sarah Jaffe’s essay connecting the two issues.) but there’s barely a whisper of organized protest against Walker signing the bill.

After the original Walker protests, a book came out called Labor Rising: The Past and Future of Working People in America. It was one of these occasional books that come out combining labor historians, journalists, and activists to think about the future of American labor. The essays were written in that sweet spot right after the Madison protests and before Occupy. So they reflected that moment in time. I reviewed it in a long-form, multi-book review you can read here if you have access to a university library. What bothered me about this was all the quite esteemed historians making direct reference to the anti-Walker protests as an example of how Americans were revolting over the treatment of public sector unions and how it was a harbinger of things to come.

Um, no. Those essays were dated as soon as they were written. They look even more dated now as Wisconsin joins the majority of the states that are eviscerating public sector unions through right to work laws. I fully expect a national right to work law to be signed by the next Republican president and moves toward reversing the major provisions of the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act over the next decade or two. That’s a much more realistic projection that thinking every moment of protest is going to lead to something larger. Maybe it happens one day. I’d like to think so too. But I’m not feeling great about that right now.

Also, naturally Walker signs the bill at a firm notorious for outsourcing Wisconsin jobs overseas.

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