A little over a year ago, the working people of Wisconsin made history when they took to the streets in protest against the union-busting agenda of the right-wing governor Scott Walker. The mass popular uprising that shook the state in February and March of 2011 gave way to a massive recall campaign in which Walker became the third governor in U.S. history to face a recall. On Tuesday, June 5, a footnote was added to the pages of history when Walker became the first governor to survive a recall election, defeating his opponent Tom Barrett 54 percent to 46 percent, a wider margin than his initial election victory in 2010.
Many activists around the state are understandably disheartened by the fact that what began last year as a powerful mass movement involving rallies of tens of thousands, occupations and sick-outs, has in the end led to Walker remaining in office. The right will undoubtedly take the election results as a mandate for further attacks on working people. The blame for this lies with the leadership of the unions and the politicians of the Democratic Party, who diverted a mass movement of the working class into an electoral battle between the two parties of big business. To prevent future defeats, it is vital that workers learn the lessons of the Wisconsin recall and break from the two-party system.
The popular energy present last spring, both in Madison and all over the state, carried the potential for real, progressive change. Many of the protesters involved were experiencing their first taste of direct political activity, and countless Wisconsinites threw themselves into the grassroots, on-the-ground work of the recall campaign. At the time, the recall, which would not have been even a possibility without the protests of February and March, was presented by the union leadership and state Democratic politicians as the only way forward for the movement. These activists’ enthusiasm and zeal is evidenced by the nearly one million signatures supporting the recall of the governor gathered around the state in just a few months.
As we move closer to the November 23 deadline for the Congressional “Super Committee” to present its plan to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget deficit, both major parties have put forward proposals which sharply attack Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs. If these policies go through, it will be the most devastating attack on New Deal programs since they were first established. Massive struggles need to be organized to defeat these cuts.
Among workers and the Democrats’ liberal base, outrage at Obama and party leaders has reached new heights. The president who many hoped would revive the New Deal appears determined to bury it instead. Obama’s approval ratings by mid-August dipped below 40% for the first time in his presidency.
Channeling the growing mood of indignation, liberal star Keith Olbermann, host of Current TV’s Countdown, came out swinging after the deal was announced:
“There is a tide pushing back the rights of each of us, and it has been artificially induced by union-bashing and the sowing of hatreds and fears. … It will continue and it will crush us, because those who created it are organized, unified, and hell-bent, and the only response is to be organized, unified, and hell-bent in return. We must … protest this deal, and all the goddamned deals to come, in the streets. We must rise - non-violently, but insistently. General strikes, boycotts, protests, sit-ins, non-cooperation, takeovers.”
Divisions within the Democratic Party machine are deepening. Twelve AFL-CIO unions declared they would boycott the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which they traditionally pour millions into. Veteran liberal Rep. John Conyers blasted Obama, saying:
“The Republicans - Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor - did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that… My response to him is to mass thousands of people in front of the White House to protest this.” (Salon.com, 8/1/11; video here)
Unfortunately, true to form, Conyers is more bark than bite and no protests were organized. Nonetheless, such statements reveal the deep anger among working people Democrats rely on for votes. And while some union leaders will organize symbolic protests, none are talking about a real break with the Democrats.