Just watched a nice little documentary called, Wisconsin Rising, about the 2011 attempts to defend trade union rights in Madison in the USA. Despite incredibly well supported direct action tactics that prefigured the Occupy movement by a year, the campaign ultimately failed – which is always a bummer for a Labor film. The campaign parts of the film are thrilling and inspiring but you can’t help being deflated at the end by the movements defeat.
But the film also makes clear why the campaign failed. In the vote to recall the State Governor, Scott Walker, the Governor’s team spent $34 million dollars, the workers had a budget of only $4 million. These $34 million dollars were provided by corporate donors who supported Walker’s attempts to abolish trade union rights in the public sector.
Secondly, the media was relentlessly hostile to the trade union side as illustrated by the fact that Fox News literally faked footage of violent demonstrators attacking the police. The fake was exposed because it was shot in California and you can see palm trees in the back of the shots. Just think about that for a minute. A national news service whose tag line is, ‘Fox News – Fair & Balanced’, literally staged an event using actors and then showed as news footage showing let-wing demonstrators attacking the police. So we’ve now moved into genuinely Orwellian territory where the news is literally staged to convey the message that Rupert Murdoch wants people to hear. The BBC’s disgraceful re-ordering of the sequence of events at Orgreave http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/22/orgreave-truth-police-miners-strike pales beside this shocking, Stalinist, perversion of the fourth estate. And it is shocking both in terms of it’s complete morally bankruptcy and it’s breath-taking incompetency.
The film also makes clear that the Republicans ignored the rules of the State legislature and passed the bill illegally. Despite this after the bill was passed the campaign took a legalistic turn and decided to try and beat Walker on his own ground by calling for his recall. There were voices calling for the continuation of direct action in the form of a state-wide General Strike, but the ‘moderate’ voices prevailed and the campaign’s energy was put into the electoral process. But this played into Walker’s hands because it was an asymmetrical battle with Walker able to spend tens of millions on TV advertising and his opponents relying on grass-roots activism and door to door canvassing to drum up support.
Finally what the film illustrates is just how asymmetrical democratic politics now is with corporations effectively buying election results.
And of course watching the film from the UK what is most apparent are the similarities between the situations of workers on this side of the Atlantic, with Cameron now launching his own attack legislative attack on trade unionism. We now face the same tactical and strategic dilemmas as the workers of Wisconsin, whether to fight Cameron on his own ground through parliament or take the fight onto the streets