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It is even past my bed time at 3 o’clock, Thursday morning, 10 March 2011. But if we’re reading this right, we all have miles to go before we sleep again. As the late poet, Gwendolyn Brooks wondered once upon a time, when confronted by young black militants at a famous conference held at Fisk University in the late ‘sixties, we marvel now, could someone please explain what is going on in Wisconsin? The question is more rhetorical than real since the Wisconsin movement has shared front-page news with events unfolding in the Middle East for nearly a month now. But Wednesday evening’s “breaking news” that the governor of the state, Scott Walker, has been handed an initial victory by his Republican cohort, who, minus their democratic colleagues, just rammed through a bill stripping the state’s public workers of their collective bargaining rights imposes an entirely different order of magnitude on America’s crisis in labor.
A close friend asked me if I was surprised, and the stunning news is that I am not—that nothing this current crop of Republican lawmakers does can any longer surprise, and it seems to me that the sooner the American public gets used to the idea that nothing, really, appears to be beneath them, nothing too low and mean, or outrageous and immoral, or mendacious and just outright bad for American democracy, then the better off millions of us will be. What we wonder is why so many American voters last November sent the likes of Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich, with his foul contemptuous disposition, to the nation’s state houses in the first place. Are we to believe that voters had no idea what these “gentlemen,” given the proverbial inch, would do and who, in fact, sent them? Unless we are simply crazy by the millions, which is rather difficult to embrace as an actual political theory, then we can certainly not claim innocence of any Republican motive or personality from Ronald Reagan on.
Surprise is one thing, but anger is quite another. We are angry at this rage against workers, while we recognize that malice toward labor and people who work for a living and the unions that help to secure their rights is one of the gravest themes of American social and political life since the post-sixties period, and there is probably good evidence to support the idea that such hatred stretches even farther back into the American past and ascendant industrial work over the last century and a half. But it has been a long time since anything so blatant as Wednesday night’s travesty of justice has occurred in the country—in fact, I recall nothing like it in my lifetime. We hope to take up this problematic in a more systematic way in the pages of TFW over the coming weeks, but suffice it to say now that those of us who work for a living ought to be mad as hell and wide awake. It’s past time!