Madison, WI – It was just before 5:30pm Wednesday when the flurry of text messages began: “Word is collective bargaining might get forked and voted on tonight. Urgent rally at Capitol.”
Thousands surged into the building, climbing through windows and pushing through police lines. Chants of “general strike” (initiated by Socialist Alternative members!) were repeatedly taken up by the crowd, reflecting the deep anger and mood for stepping up the struggle.
By 7:30pm, from inside the Capitol, students and Socialist Alternative activists made the call – the planned “Day X” Madison student strike was on for 10am the next morning. The Facebook page “Day X Walkout on Walker,” set up the night before by East High senior Onawa Powell and Socialist Alternative organizer Philip Locker, put out the word, and numbers “attending” shot up from a couple hundred to over 1,000 by morning.
Early Thursday morning students and SA members fanned out to three high schools to leaflet for the walkout. At 10am around 2,000 students (according to media reports) walked out from Madison high schools, and descended on the Capitol building, adding a youthful, lively element to the day's rallies.
Rumors of a General Strike
All afternoon, rumors that unions might call a general strike could be heard in conversations in and around the Capitol. “Workers should strike like the students are doing,” was a regular sentiment expressed by protesters stopping for discussion at Socialist Alternative’s table, as we passed out thousands of leaflets advocating a one-day public sector general strike.
Unfortunately, all evening more and more evidence came in that most union leaders, far from pushing for coordinated strike action, were campaigning hard against a general strike in response to pro-strike pressure from union members. The Madison teachers’ union president publicly urged members to stay on the job rather than join striking students as they had in the early days of the movement. Similarly, the UW-Madison teaching assistant union leaders, at a 400 strong general membership meeting Thursday night, argued against rank-and-file activists proposing immediate job actions.
The Madison firefighters’ union president stands out as the only union leader speaking publicly in favor of the idea of a general strike. Beyond that, most union leaders are offering no strategy for stepping up the mass action after Saturday’s protest, effectively accepting near-term defeat. Instead they are pushing for all activists to focus on the election recall efforts, reflecting union leaders’ deep conservatism and ties to the Democratic Party.
Second Day of Student Walkouts
Meanwhile, in response to calls by Michael Moore for national student walkouts Friday, well over 1,000 Madison students walked out again today, joining together for a youth-organized teach-out on Library Mall, followed by a march to the Capitol. Because of our leading role building the previous days’ walkouts, I was invited to speak for Socialist Alternative, urging students to keep mobilizing and to appeal to teachers and parents to support the general strike idea.
Tomorrow’s protests promise to be massive, possibly the largest yet, but it remains unclear where things will go from there. Calls for workers and youth to focus their energy on upcoming elections and the recall efforts don’t answer the central questions of these last two days. How can the mass popular outrage be rapidly mobilized into action and what is a strategy to prevent the implementation of this bill? We are confident that the collective power of the Wisconsin workers and youth can bring Walker to his knees in the coming days and weeks, but this will require bold and visionary leadership armed with a clear program for action.
Socialist Alternative is urging the following action plan:
- Emergency mass union meetings to democratically develop an immediate plan for stepping up the struggle.
- The formation of elected strike committees in the unions as well as action committees of students, unemployed and community members to lead the struggle.
- Set the date and make immediate preparations for a one-day full shut-down of the state as soon as possible through a public-sector general strike and prepare for a series of general strikes and other actions until Walker backs down.
- Full mobilization of the youth and the unemployed as well as private sector, union and non-union workers in support of strike actions.
- Neighboring states to send caravans of activists to flood Wisconsin with hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers to stop this attack on the entire union movement.
- Wall Street is to blame, not working people or their unions. Tax the super-rich and big corporations. Working people shouldn’t pay for a crisis we didn’t create.
- No concessions! No Cuts! Kill the whole bill!
- The full right to strike for all workers; the right to unionize and have decent jobs, benefits and pensions for all.
- An end to the corporate domination of politics and our lives. Working people of Wisconsin and the U.S. unite and fight for a mass party of working people and a democratic socialist society!