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Pro-Worker Movement Gains Power in Wisconsin, But What's Next?

There is a lot of talk about where to take this energy, and a lot of options—all with credible arguments and all with support from serious players.

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SCFL president Jim Cavanaugh says: “As the labor movement moves to address this naked class war waged upon us, we know we have already accomplished much, setting an example to the nation and the world for how to fight for our rights and for our children’s futures. It appears we have much more to do.”

And this is not just local talk in Madison. Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen is talking about organization of of a national “no-business-as-usual” day of action on April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

At the same time, many unions are embracing a plan to move money from banks and businesses that have supported Governor Walker’s campaigns and his current initiative. Firefighters’ union president Conway and members marched Thursday on the M&I bank branch in downtown Madison and began withdrawing money—taking out close to $200,000 in the initail action—as a protest against the support the bank executives have given Walker.

“Pull the plug on M&I Bank!” reads the literature distributed by members of Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 565.

“M&I execs gave more money than even the Koch Brothers to Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP,” the message goes. “M&I got a $1.7 billion bailout while its CEO gets an $18 million golden parachute. Tell M&I Bank: Back Politicians Who Take Away Our Rights (and) We Take Away Your Business.”

David Goodspeed, Local 565’s business agent, says the unions top international leaders have taken up the cause, which means that substantial amounts of money could be removed from banks that back Walker. And the United Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard says his union “has started taking a very close look at where we are banking.”

This focus on the banks take up the message pushed by National Nurses United, which produced “Blame Wall Street” signs that have become favorites at the mass rallies in Madison, Milwaukee and other cities.

The economic pressure on the banks and businesses that back Walker becomes all the more important at a time when the Citizens United v. FEC ruling gives corporations a go-ahead to spend freely on behalf of candidates that do their bidding.

And that gets to the politics of the moment.

The first fight will come April 5, when Wisconsinites will choose a state Supreme Court justice. Incumbent David Prosser has aligned himself with the right-leaning judicial-activist majority on the High Court—a majority that favors corporate power almost as explicitly and consistently as does the US Supreme Court. Prosser says that, if re-elected, he would vote on the court as an aggressive and unapologetic “judicial conservative.” He is, as well, a former legislative leader with close ties to Walker.

Prosser’s challenger, veteran Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, has taken a different direction. She promises to serve as a judicial independent who is interested in restoring the integrity of the court and following the rule of law—as opposed to the partisan demands of the governor’s office.

The national special-interest groups that have aligned with Walker will help Prosser, as they know that their agenda will face court challenges. Progressives will need to counter the out-of-state money with in-state grass-roots campaigning. But with hundreds of thousands of newly energized foot soldiers, that won’t be nearly as hard as it would have been just a few weeks ago.

The same goes for special elections (the primaries will be April 5 and the elections will be May 3) to fill three state Assembly seats vacated by Republicans who went into the Walker administration—those of Mark Gottlieb, Scott Gunderson and Mike Huebsch. Some political insiders want to focus solely on the Huebsch seat in western Wisconsin, as that district has tended to back Democrats in recent national elections. But if the movement that has developed in opposition to Walker’s anti-worker, anti-community, anti-schools agenda is to mean anything, it must compete beyond the traditional boundaries. That’s especially true in the Gunderson district, which includes sections of western Racine County that are home to many union members who work at state facilities in the region.

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