Unions Stepping Up in Wisconsin, Egypt, and Around the World

MWisconsin_Budget_Reyn_t607exico City This evening I speak at the Workers’ University of Mexico (Universidad Obrera de Mexico) about my book, Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign for Working Families. It will be hard not to make the point about unions, even weakened and beleaguered, and the vital role they are playing around the world in standing up for not only workers but progressive social movements and programs for the poor.

In Egypt part of the story finally bursting through the popular high-tech Facebook narrative is the role of workers and their unions that struck repeatedly across the country to force the military and government’s hands. Partially it cannot be ignored because the strikes and worker protests continued unabated throughout the week since President Mubark finally stepped down. Reports linked to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center operation indicate the strong role played in developing infrastructure and capacity. A critical driver here is the union demands to build an independent formation launched earlier this year as an alternative to the state connected labor federation. This is huge! The real lesson in Egypt may be the power that is built and unleashed when a social change movement is linked so concretely with the labor movement.

In Wisconsin the state AFL-CIO, individual unions, students, and others have mobilized reportedly up to 35,000 to protest the new Republican governor and the Republican legislative majority attempt to eviscerate collective bargaining protections for public employees and teachers. There has been a three-day sit-in at the Capitol. The Governor in best-Mubarak style has stated that he will wait out the protests in order to work his will claiming that the state’s fiscal crises driven by the on-going recession gives him no choice. The test will be whether or not this is simply organized “engineering” or the birth of a new understanding and movement to resit anti-worker anti-people legislation in the United States that is now erupting coast to coast.

In Britian as the new conservative government announces a wholesale slashing of the existing welfare program for the unemployed and poor, the loudest opposition and the clearest voice also seems to be labor, understanding that the unemployed victims are not to be blamed, when the economy is not producing the jobs. There is no real sign of a permanent and powerful coalition being built in the UK, but the ruling government may force the time for this idea to have to come.

For all of the rocks thrown at the house of labor and the continued questioning of whether or not it has a heart to go with its hands, events bursting out every day in headlines and back stories around the globe, underscore the critical role that workers and their organizations play in both creating change and defending against repression and reaction everywhere. That is another lesson being relearned today that should not be ignored.

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