2012-06-06 19:50:01

What the Wisconsin election results mean for the future of progressive activism

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There’s no way around it: the results of yesterday’s election in Wisconsin suck. In case you haven’t heard, Republican Governor Scott Walker defeated Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee with 53 percent of the vote in a recall election that put it all on the line. The recall vote was only able to take place through tons of hard work and grassroots organizing by Democrats after Walker’s despicable union busting legislation inspired thousands of protestors to take to the streets last year. You may remember some of the iconic images of workers and union supporters and others swarming the Wisconsin Capitol.

But what about actual labor organizers? How are they feeling about all of this?

I spoke to Michelle Crenstil, an organizer for a healthcare union in New York City. Michelle is  someone who is all too familiar with the highs and lows of the labor movement. In addition to union organizing, her past experience includes youth organizing and welfare rights organizing. She focuses on intersections of race, gender, and class oppressions in her organizing and activist work. She has been involved with Occupy Wall Street through the People of Color Working Group and the Labor Outreach Committee. Michelle thinks the election results say a lot about labor in general right now. Walker’s win was a huge blow to the public sector, that has larger implications on race, class, gender. It also shows that Republicans spent 13 million to keep a guy in office.

We know that worker’s rights are a feminist issue. Abuses of power are always a primary target of feminist activism, as are efforts to place all power in the hands of a privileged minority.

But in the Wisconsin case these connections are particularly evident. As Dana Goldstein pointed out on her blog last year, Walker’s war on public sector unions is not only anti-labor but also blatantly sexist, since his attacks deliberately targeted public sector unions except the ones representing male-dominated (although certainly not exclusively male) professions like police officers, firefighters, and state troopers.

Not to mention that Republican Governor Scott Walker is himself a sexist whose politics involve targeting not only workers rights, but reproductive rights and even pay equity. Included among the bills introduced during his tenor are a bill banning abortion coverage in policies obtained through a health insurance exchange, a bill requiring doctors to consult and examine a woman seeking abortion privately, away from her family and friends, a bill to repeal the state’s 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts, and a bill requiring sex-ed teachers to stress abstinence as the only way to prevent STDs and pregnancy are included.

Not exactly a feminist champion.

Throughout the day, we’ve been hearing from talking heads and pundits on what this win means for the 2012 presidential election, or the future of labor organizing. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has already called it “a big loss for public employees unions” and Ezra Klein takes that one step further in the Washington Post, sounding the death knell for a labor movement that “isn’t coming back.” Somehow, the DNC is spinning it as a “win for progressives” by pointing out that Walker had to outspend Democrat Tom Barrett by more than 7-to-1 to win by an arguably small margin. Then there are those for whom the recall further demonstrates the scope of evil of Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law that we’ve previously decried as bad for progressives, and bad for women.

This election is certainly a reminder that we need to empower labor organizations not corporations and politicians, because this is what happens when big money voices are disproportionately represented in public.

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