Friday, March 25, 2011

I Still Exist

You may have noticed I haven't updated my blog in a while. No, I haven't given up blogging to pursue a hip-hop career. I've just been a bit preoccupied for the past few weeks. "Preoccupied with what?" you ask? Well, this:

Things have since quieted down a bit, which is incredibly terrible for the public sector workers of Wisconsin, but good for readers of this blog, because it means I can resume posting things.

I could fill an entire book describing what I've been doing during that intervening time. If I did, it would probably be called Homage to Madisonia. Eventually, I would like to share some of these experiences in detail on my blog, but it will take a bit of time to write them up (a lot of stuff happened in the past few weeks), so my next batch of blog posts will be about other stuff, including the promised Sci-Fa-Lit contribution about Galileo.

But if you insist on knowing what happened, here's a quickie summary.

It all started when Wisconsin's Governor Scott "13 Century Man" Walker decided he needed someone to blame for the economic crisis. A reasonable person would blame the banks and real estate companies because, you know, they're the ones responsible for the economic crisis. But since Walker received campaign contributions from those guys, he decided it would be better to blame somebody with less money. In situations like these, it's customary to blame the Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs. However, ever since Bristol Palin, teen mothers have been considered incredibly hip among the anti-abortion crowd, so he needed somebody else. As such, he decided to blame me.

Well, he decided to blame public sector workers, such as my self, and unionized public sector workers, such as myself, in particular. As such he initiated a "Budget Repair Bill" to take away public sector union rights and steel their money in order to give more tax cuts to the super-rich.

Naturally, this pissed a lot of people off, leading to a series of mass protests, including sick-outs among the teachers unions (that my union completely bungled) and an occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol, and a sit-in to keep the State Senate from meeting. And the Democratic Senators fled the state. In my later series of blog posts I'll describe some of these protests in detail, but for now, I'll defer you to the following Radiohead music video to give you an idea.

It was all very uplifting. When the the Governor of your state decides to single you out as the cause of the economic crisis, it can be a bit depressing. But then stuff like that happens and you feel a lot better. We got all sorts of solidarity. The police and firefighter unions, who were exempt from the bill because they endorsed Walker, came out in support. All the homeless street musicians performed in the Capitol. Iranian dissidents ordered us pizzas. Even the union representing the Green Bay Packers came out in the support. As a mathematician who doesn't care too much about football and didn't even watch the Super Bowl, I would like to say thank you to those football players for showing solidarity when I was under attack.

Of course Walker didn't care about that, because as far as he is concerned, none of us were "real Americans" like the Koch brothers. Normally, a situation like that would go one of two ways: either the action would be ratcheted up (like the anti-Vietnam war movement), or the movement would gradually fizzle out (like the anti-Iraq war movement). Instead, the situation went in a third direction: it rapidly fizzled out. This was due to the union leaders being more concerned with appearing "respectable" to Democratic politicians than defending their members.

The first test came with the occupation of the Capitol. After being tolerated for a while, a move was made to kick out all the protestors from the Capitol. In response, my union passed a declaration in support of the occupation and promptly changed their mind as soon as people were told to leave. But because there were so many protestors in the Capitol, and because the police union supported the protestors, nothing ended up happening. So my union changed their mind again, but the union marshals instructed everybody to leave. The result was that my union, which has a reputation as the most radical union in Wisconsin, was more conservative than the police union.

This is known as the Duke of Plaza Toro School of Trade Unionism. Whenever there's any fighting, you lead your union from behind (you find it less exciting). But when away your union runs, your place is at the fore(-o).

Any time any question of fighting came, the union leaders came with the same reply: we can't do that because it will hurt public opinion. From the occupation of the Capitol, to the general strike question, to the question of slightly-less-general strikes, to the question of whether or not we should immediately give in on all of the demands except collective bargaining rights, we were told that we should take the most conservative option, because otherwise it would alienate us from "real" America.

This last issue about the concessions made absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Koch brothers were telling private-sector workers that public-sector workers have it easy because of their health care and pensions. The obvious way to win over the private-sector workers would be to tell them that they also deserved good health care and pensions and that the best way to do achieve that would be to join a union. Instead, Randi Weingarten, the president of my national union (AFT), insisted on the Colbert Report (without consulting the membership), that of course we all need to make sacrifices, and all that matters was being allowed to have a union that will collect dues but not fight for anyone.

This whole attitude came to the fore when the Republican Senators decided that the bill wasn't really about the budget after all, and as such didn't require the same size quorum. This resulted in a sudden angry demonstration inside the Capitol, in which thousands of people came in through windows (I used the door), with chants of "General Strike!". As such, the leaders of my union decided to lead their union from behind (they found it less exciting), and agree that if the other unions called for a general strike they would endorse it. The other union leaders responded in kind. As such there was no general strike, or any other sort of strike.

After that, the movement completely died down at the precise moment when it should have been at its peak. Suddenly everything became about recall campaigns and legal challenges. The legal challenges to the bill were based, not on the content of the bill, but on a technicality about how it was voted on. As such, they can just vote on it again if it gets thrown out. And by the time any recall campaign can take effect, the bill, having passed will effectively destroy the public sector unions. And then, at best, we'll replace the party funded by the anti-union Koch brothers with the party funded by the anti-union Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And yet, this strategy was deemed to be "reasonable" because apparently "reasonable" and "passive" are the same thing.

This resulted in a series of frustrating debates within my union and others that ended up being kind of depressing. Suffice to say it culminated in a presentation to the union members that equated strike action with the bombing of Hiroshima. And my union is seriously considering responding to the decertification threat by re-branding itself as a student club. Oh, yeah, and we don't have a contract. But it's not over yet, so it might possibly, conceivably get better. Or worse. We'll see.

Anyway, with all that, I had a bit more free time, but I was put out of the mood to write anything for the blog for a while. So, a quick recap of what else happened while I was otherwise engaged. Also, there was a nuclear disaster in Japan (you know, it's kind of like a teachers' strike). And there were a bunch of revolutions in the middle east that also got derailed. Oh yeah, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama bombed Libya. And on the good side of things the United Left made a breakthrough in the Irish general election.

For the time being, I have more free time and you can look forward to reading about all of that in excruciating detail. And while you're waiting for that, you can look forward to reading about the awesomeness of Galileo, the pointlessness of Bing and the truly outstandingness of Fight Club.


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