Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Wisconsin Midterm Aftermath

Madison      After a grueling day as a weather warrior, I made it to Madison in time to talk with a diverse group pulled together by the University of Wisconsin – Havens Center.  As always, the dialogue was educational at least for me.

There was quite a bit of excitement coupled with some exhaustion in the wake of the midterms, especially the defeat of Governor Scott Walker, who had moved a state once heralded as the paragon of progressivism to its antithesis. His attacks on workers and the poor were cataclysmic and in a bygone time had been so widely heralded by the right that he was seen as a credible Republican presidential candidate until he joined the long list of presumptive candidates overwhelmed by Trump in the 2016 primaries.

In Madison particularly, the effort seems to have been phenomenally successfully.  Coupled with same day registration 92.5% of those eligible to vote, did so.  These are the kinds of numbers we associated with voting percentages in the old Soviet bloc, not in medium sized cities of America or anywhere else.

One issue that kept coming up was gerrymandering.  In the state legislative house districts, almost 1.3 million voters statewide had voted Democrat, but they only garnered a little more than one-third of the actual seats.  Thirty-five to be exact, where only a bit over 1.1 million Republican votes were sufficient to win two-thirds of the seats or 64 in total!   It’s hard to argue that there isn’t a problem there.

Equally interesting to me were some of the other questions about ACORN, organizing, social change and more.  A standard question anywhere near a campus these days has to do with the growth of the DSA, Democratic Socialists of America.  They have a vibrant youth chapter in Madison that was particularly active and effective in the midterms, and several of their lead organizers were in the room.  In some ways, this is unsurprising.  A recent survey report indicated that among millennial men, 40% identify as socialists or democratic socialists, as do 20% of millennial women.  Those are serious numbers.

There was a unique question about leadership styles.  The leadership question focused on the value of charisma and whether or not where that existed within an organization it posed a danger to accountability and other voices.  It’s funny.  Reading about Michael B. Jordan, the hot as fire contemporary movie actor, we expect to see charisma discussed as part of market commodification.  A generation ago in the days of Camelot and elsewhere it was virtually a political prerequisite.  Interestingly, in an organizational context, perhaps in the aftermath of Occupy and arguments for less hierarchical structures, charisma is being viewed with less of a welcome mat and with more warning signals.

Another interesting question looked at the pros and cons of centralization.  That one was easier to answer within an organizational context.  As long as resources are scarce, social change and organizing are contentious, and achieving scale is critical, it is really impossible to avoid a relatively high degree of centralization.  The same answer might have been sufficient on the question of sustainability.  Without some centralization and effective delegation and commitment, sustaining the organization as well as the organizers is nearly impossible.

People are doing important work in Wisconsin.  They realize this is now a key battleground, and they are suiting up for the fight.  Thank goodness!


Duplicate Dues Enrollment Should be Standard Operating Procedure


UAW Billboard 1930s Detroit

Little Rock   Reading about the second battle of Wisconsin between labor and Governor Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues, who four years ago stripped public workers’ unions in that state of the ability to collect agency fees or “fair share” payments in lieu of dues for representation, it seems they are making short work of getting rid of the same “union shop” provisions for private sector workers, adding Wisconsin to the list of “right to work” states.Unions are protesting loudly there, but seem resigned to the inevitability of defeat.   No doubt tipping Wisconsin will embolden other politicians waiting in line to
kick unions on their way down.

Labor is starting to piece together of chain of similar setbacks.  Last year home health care workers in Illinois, long members of our old sister local there, lost union shop provisions after an adverse US Supreme Court ruling.There has not been the immediate ripple effect that might have occasioned that reversal, but it is a sleeper bomb embedded in the memories of our opponents waiting for the opportunity to explode.

Over the last year visiting with union leaders and organizers in the United Kingdom, I sometimes found myself musing privately on the strategic and tactical thinking of labor in that country when they lost the union shop under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and then never made regaining that system a key item when the Labor Party held the chair for long years under Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.Victor Bussie, the former president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO for seemingly forever was the longest serving such officer at the state level in the labor movement and the only one dating back to the merger of the CIO and the AFL in the last 1950s.  In annual convention after convention when Bussie would stand for election, he would say he was committed to staying in office until he
was able to win back the union shop that was lost in 1976 when Louisiana became the last state to fall into that column.

It now seems to me that that maybe our brothers and sisters got it right in the UK.  Having weathered the storm, lost members, and survived, why jump back on that horse to see it race back and forth with each change of government when you are in a fight for the long haul.  Maybe even Brother Bussie also could have spent his time better?  Some union organizers in the UK even prefer the new system, including alternate non-employer based dues collection procedures in organizing a workforce no longer chained to the bench for life.

We may have simply lost the messaging battle on this campaign irrevocably.  As our membership percentage declines and unions are seen as a luxury benefit rather than a necessity for many on the job, then membership becomes more understandable as a voluntary choice than a mandatory obligation and the explanation for using management to help collect a union’s dues becomes a bridge too far for the public and even
for many workers.

Where we can get it, we should use it, but now that corporate and political forces are preparing as we see in Texas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere to take the fight past right-to-work to eliminate the ability to use payroll deductions completely, we need to embrace the position of people like the GMB’s organizing director who argued to me that they preferred direct dues payments from individual’s bank accounts to payroll deductions.

In our union we are going to stop enrolling members unless they are signing two places on the card, one for payroll deduction and one for direct bank drafts.It is a herculean task and investment to re-sign everyone from one system to another, but it is a much simpler matter to enroll members in a different way from the beginning.  Once joining, it is a trivial matter for a new recruit to sign twice, because they have made the key decision once that they want to be in the union.

The tide is going out and it may never come back to shore.  Unions need to be careful not to be stranded on the beach all alone like Robinson Crusoe on their own private and deserted island.


Woody Guthrie “Union Burying Ground”