Click here to go to the Home Page
 
 

BlackCommentator.com: Farmers Join Workers In Wisconsin - A Good Sign - Solidarity America By John Funiciello, BlackCommentator.com Columnist

   
Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article
 

first pull quote

 
 
 

When the tractors rolled into Madison, Wisconsin, to support workers in fending off the attack by Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies, it was a good sign that there is a sense of solidarity among those who do the work.

Walker, his Tea Party supporters, the billionaire Koch brothers, and others like them are doing their best to destroy the unions of Wisconsin.  And, seeing the opening, Republicans in other states have declared war on workers in their own states, such as Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey.

When he took office in January, Walker announced that part of his effort to balance the state’s budget and chip away at the deficit would be the removal of collective bargaining for most public workers in Wisconsin.  Most analysts of Wisconsin’s fiscal problems conclude that collective bargaining has nothing to do with that state’s money woes, nor do the unions in that state bear responsibility for those problems.

The new governor’s declaration of class war brought out workers by the thousands, who protested and rallied in the Capitol for weeks.  The Democrats who were needed in the State Senate to make a quorum left to Illinois, so that a vote on the destruction of the unions would not be possible.

Using a procedural ploy, Walker, at the end of last week, decided that a vote could be taken without the Democrats’ presence because no money would be spent in eliminating collective bargaining.  The vote was taken and the announcement was made that most Wisconsin public workers were now without the heart of trade unionism, the right to collectively bargain with their employer.

The announcement brought out even more workers and supporters and estimates of rallying workers ranged from 100,000 on up.  Across the country, America’s working women and men responded to the attack on their well-being and held rallies in most state capitals, protesting Walker, the Koch brothers, and the Tea Party efforts to roll back the rights of working people in every state.

It has been pointed out that the right to organize unions and to collectively bargain is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which the U.S. is a signatory nation) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention of 1949, which gives workers of virtually every nation the right to organize and bargain collectively.

At first, it appeared that it was just unionized workers who gathered to protest against Walker’s attack, but hundreds of other workers began to join in and, soon, there were thousands of people of all ages, building up to the biggest gathering of all over the past weekend. 

That’s when the farmers rolled in and their presence showed that the enormity of what the Republicans were trying to do to Wisconsin workers became clear.  The farmers were organized by two groups, the Family Farm Defenders and the Wisconsin Farmers Union.  Many of the members of the two groups are small farmers, often running diversified farms and, like so many farmers around the country, running on the thin edge of survival.  Many, if not most, have members of the family who work off the farm, just to keep the farm going or to get some kind of health insurance (usually not the best of coverage).

The welcome the farmers got from the workers and trade unionists was a sign of appreciation and an acknowledgement that they are all in the same boat.  One farmer said that what Walker was doing struck at the very quality of life in Wisconsin, so that’s why he was there.  The tractor parade, with signs indicating their opposition to Walker, lasted for about an hour on Saturday, and then there was the biggest rally, so far.

It may have been a small sign, but the appearance of the farmers and tractors in Madison was the beginning of something that long has been absent in most of the country, solidarity among those who produce:  factory workers, public workers, retail workers, professionals, cops, fire fighters, and farmers of every description.  It has been a long time coming, but most of them have come to realize that they have more in common with each other than they have with the top 5 percent who seem to have accumulated most of the wealth of the past several decades.

There is such an organization that includes all of them, from nearby Minnesota, where the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has existed for generations and the party sent out the following at the end of February: “The GOP attack on working families in Wisconsin is unconscionable. There is nothing more fundamental than workers' rights to collectively bargain, and it is the work of our brothers and sisters in labor that has helped make our country and our workforce the strongest in the world…The DFL Party is and always will be proud to stand in solidarity with organized labor here in Minnesota and around the country.”

The DFL in Minnesota was created in 1944, after the Democrats merged with the Farmer-Labor Party, which merger is credited in large part to Hubert H. Humphrey, who was elected to the U.S. Senate on a DFL ticket and later became vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson.  A natural heir of a political philosophy that seemed to thrive in the Upper Midwest, Progressivism, the DFL as a political entity followed the lead of the Non-Partisan League, which called for, among other things, public ownership of natural resources, grain elevators, railroads, utilities, and it sought a social security program.

It was created during the heyday of the Progressive Era, from the 1890s to the 1920s, when the progressives were trying to “purify” government, clean up corruption of the political system, and end monopoly rule in business and finance.  They sought progressive agrarian reform and, in particular, they wanted to break the stranglehold that “eastern money” had on every small town in the heartland. 

Today, that stranglehold would be the power of Corporate America over both workers and farmers and the control corporations exert over both small farm agriculture and wage working Americans.  What is happening in Wisconsin is the attempt to eliminate public workers’ rights to form unions and negotiate their wages, benefits, and working conditions. 

Small farmers in Wisconsin went to the heart of the matter when they charged that Walker’s attack on public workers was an attack on all workers and farmers, and that the actions of the Republicans will reduce or destroy the quality of life for everyone.  The message has spread to many other states and workers are responding, but they need the strength provided by the support of the farmers.  They know what the problems are and they know that the best solutions will come from the people, from an educated and motivated electorate.

Right now, what is happening in the Badger State is being called by the Christian Science Monitor “the mother of all recall drives.”  Public workers and their brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and around the country have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to push for the recall of Republicans and some Democrats who voted against union rights and to reduce social programs that benefit the people.

The parade of some rusty tractors and other farm machinery among the tens of thousands of protestors in Madison last Saturday might have appeared to be just a small symbol of support for public workers.  But, there is great power in the joining of farmers and labor waiting to be unleashed.

They know what’s wrong and they know who’s trying to destroy them, so if they follow the lead of the old Non Partisan League and the changes that it aimed to make when the Robber Barons ruled, such a movement of solidarity could bring earth-shaking changes to the country’s political and economic systems. 

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

 
 
 
Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article
 
Click here to go to a menu of the Contents of this Issue
 
 

e-Mail re-print notice
If you send us an emaill message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.

 
 
 
Mar 17, 2011 - Issue 418
is published every Thursday
Est. April 5, 2002
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Publisher:
Peter Gamble
Road Scholar - the world leader in educational travel for adults. Top ten travel destinations for African-Americans. Fascinating history, welcoming locals, astounding sights, hidden gems, mouth-watering food or all of the above - our list of the world’s top ten "must-see" learning destinations for African-Americans has a little something for everyone.