WASHINGTON – 2011 will be remembered as the year workers occupied the capitals of Wisconsin and Ohio to defend union rights and the jobs of millions of public workers. It was a movement that spread across the nation as the labor movement rallied in all 50 state capitals to protest the layoffs, budget cuts and union busting.
2011 was the year protesters occupied Wall Street, disgusted by policies and practices that fleece the “99 percent” of the people to fatten the profits of the the wealthy “one percent,” a grassroots rebellion that spread like wildfire across the nation.
It was the year Van Jones launched a “Rebuild the American Dream” movement uniting the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, USAction and scores of other progressive organizations, which staged rallies, mass meetings and house parties across the nation demanding that the federal government approve public works programs to create millions of “good green jobs.”
It was the year the nation’s mayors meeting in Baltimore voted unanimously to “bring the troops, bring the war dollars home” from Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world and use the trillion dollars in savings to create jobs and rebuild the cities.
These movements were united in protesting federal, state, and local budget cutbacks that slashed or terminated vital social services and forced the layoff of hundreds of thousands of public employees in the name of “deficit reduction” and “balancing the budget.”
They spoke with one voice in denouncing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s bill that strips public employees of union bargaining rights. Walker now faces a labor-led drive to recall him from office with petitioners already collecting hundreds of thousands of voters’ signatures for a special election in the spring.
One of 2011’s highpoints was the Nov. 8 off-year election when Ohio voters overwhelmingly voted to repeal Gov. John Kasich’s SB-5, the nation’s most draconian anti-labor law. Even in rock-rib Republican rural Ohio voters voted to kill the law drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a far right outfit bankrolled by the Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. ALEC, together with lobbyists of giant banks and corporations, secretly drafted 800 “model” rightwing bills many introduced and passed in state legislatures across the country. Also in the 2011 elections, Arizona voters cast their ballot to remove from office the racist Repubican Arizona Senator, Russell Pearce, author of a venomous immigant-bashing racial profiling law also drafted by ALEC. Mississippi voters killed in a landslide an ALEC ballot initiative that defined a fetus as a person, the most extreme anti-abortion scheme yet.
Until these progressive, anti-corporate movements erupted in the streets, the Republican right’s arguments dominated the airwaves and the nation’s political discourse. The Tea Party Republican gang blamed “socialistic”and “liberal” benefit programs like Food Stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, and Social Security for the deficits (even though Social Security doesn’t add a dime to deficits).
The Obama Administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill charged that the aim of the Republican right is to force poor people, children, the unemployed, students, veterans, the elderly, and the disabled, to bear the burden of deficit reduction while a trillion dollars in Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy are preserved.
The radical right GOP-run Michigan legislature pioneered a new right wing approach to killing democracy. Signed by the state’s governor, it empowers the state to take over “failing” local governments. State “overseers” can privatize services, fire workers, tear up union contracts and more. To no one’s surprise, the first bodies to fall under the state axe were a majority African-American, most, if not all with union contracts. Detroit, Benton Harbor and Flint were three examples.
The GOP-run Minnesota legislature shut down the state for three weeks, throwing more than 20,000 out odf work, because it refused to close a budget gap by raising taxes on the 1 percent. As Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton demanded. In the end, the state reopened, but not without deep cuts in education.
The House GOP attacked workers rights on the national level, too by trying to emasculate the National Labor Relations Board. It passed two anti-NLRB bills on party-line votes. One banned changes in union election rules and the other removed the board’s power to punish firms who close up shop in retaliation against their unionized workers, the so called “Boeing Bill.”
The Supreme Court got in on the attack on workers when it ruled that Wal-Mart’s women workers could not sue as a class against the monster retailer’s sexual discrimination on the job.
The Republican right is shredding the safety net, blocking even an extension of unemployment compensation, throwing tens of millions of poor and unemployed “under the bus” with a message to the needy and the sick, “you’re on your own,” Democrats on Capitol Hill charged.
But until the grassroots movement started generating “street heat” these charges gained little traction. Now with slogans like “We Are the 99 Percent” and “Tax the Rich” and “Jobs Not Cuts” the accusations have become demands supported by a vast majority of the people.
This past year was marked by deep changes in mass thought patterns, a shift that reached across the partisan divide. The Koch-funded Tea Party went into eclipse. Of Ohio’s 82 counties, 80 voted to repeal SB-5. This is Taft country, where the Republicans have always had a powerful base. The same shift was on display in Arizona, Mississippi, and Kentucky, all considered GOP territory.
A question looms for the coming year: Will the grassroots upsurge that swept the nation take advantage of the shifts, put feet on the ground to counter the ocean of corporate cash and the voter suppression tactics the Republicans are using to steal the 2012 elections?
A worthy New Year’s Resolution might be: “I will work for a powerful get-out-the-vote effort next November to defeat the Republican power grab?” It would be a mighty victory of “Main Street” and open the way for federal programs to create jobs, health care for all, funding for public education, more generous Pell Grants and an end to the mortgage foreclosure nightmare.
Photo: PW stock photo of demonstration earlier this year.