Lessons of Wisconsin
volume 36
issue 2
April 2015

So-called right-to-work laws have made the U.S. South a bastion of low wages and working-class misery for more than 50 years. Now reactionary forces, bankrolled by big business and armed with lies, hope to extend their reach. And they are making progress.

Also dubbed “right to starve,” these laws enable individual employees to enjoy the benefit of a union contract without paying the cost. Where these laws flourish, unions wither, along with pay and civil and social rights.

In March, Wisconsin became the latest casualty, with a law rammed through the legislature by Governor Scott Walker. Four years ago, when Walker attacked public unions, the ranks struck back with a heroic occupation of Madison and agitation for a general strike. But AFL-CIO leaders redirected their fighting spirit into electoral channels — replacing Republicans with Democrats. Their strategy flopped, akin to disarming a people in the face of an invading army.

First Wisconsin’s public sector lost its bargaining rights. Anti-labor laws were foisted on Indiana and Michigan soon after. Now 25 states have right-to-starve laws.

The ranks had it right in Wisconsin when they shut things down and called for solidarity from across the U.S. Now, from West Virginia to the West Coast, more battles loom. This time, labor’s ranks can’t wait for top union officials to do the right thing. This is class war. To quote Mother Jones, labor’s ranks need to “fight like hell”! Wisconsin showed it’s possible.

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