On May 5, 1886 then Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk, ordered the State Militia to fire on thousands of workers at the steel rolling mill in the Village of Bayview, just across the bridge from South Milwaukee. At least seven were killed and many others wounded. It was a shocking display and use of the power of the State to suppress the collective voices of thousands of workers demanding that they simply be permitted to have “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours to do what we will.”
In the cruelest of ironies, Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman, no doubt with the full support of Governor Scott Walker, is circulating a draft of a bill that would erase a current state statute that mandates workers be permitted at least 24-hours off every seven days. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the plaything of corporate America and conservative Republicans like the Koch Brothers, are also bent on using the tiniest of holes in the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act to permit employers nationwide to interpret language in the law, in place since 1940, to manipulate the 8-Hour-Day guaranteed under the law, and the 40- hour, five- day workweek to do what they wish without hindrance.
“Even God said rest on the seventh day,” protested David Reardon, Secretary-Treasurer for Teamsters Local 662. He also feels keenly that “I would hate to see that Republican bill pass. Some employers would really take advantage of that.”
Absolutely no one has ever suggested that both State and Federal Law hinder an employees’ free choice to work outside the protections of the law establishing both the 8-Hour-Day and the five- day 40-hour workweek with such a gift of a full weekend to rest and do that which fulfills us. Yet, Senator Grothman, a Republican from West Bend and a key mover and shaper of legislation, asserts publicly, that Democrats were preventing workers from adding more hours and working more days each week.
What the Fair Labor Standards Act so long has done so thankfully and well is to prevent anyone who is employed in this country from being coerced or to say forced to work a work day and week that does not comport to that very wise standard.
Americans since 1940 have in full bi-partisan fashion fully endorsed the Fair Labor Standards Act so that everyone alive now has benefited from its protections. Has Governor Scott Walker, and Glenn Grothman never taken a weekend off to be with family and to rest so they might labor on in the work and path they have chosen? It is an absurdity even for a moment to think so. And also, they have chosen freely to work long hours and were not legally and under penalty of losing their jobs—ever forced to do so by any of their employers.
Wisconsin Assembly and Senate Republicans assert that the new law will raise productivity, and stimulate revenue. We must ask—nay demand, just who it is that will benefit from the new law?
The greatest clue to that is the plain fact that the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, has spent millions lobbying to get where we are at this point. WMC is now the largest and most powerful business lobby in the State, and after Act 10 the clear superior among all Unions in the State both public and private of what had been until 2011 it’s only serious rival.
These proposed initiatives will seriously erode the working conditions of all workers beyond even those who think themselves safe that are unconnected to Unions, Democrats, liberals, and social justice advocates. That’s right—even if you are the most loyal Union and liberal hating Republican and an enthusiastic supporter of Governor Walker these things are absolutely guaranteed to smack you and your family in the face from the blind side. Your partisan and ideological loyalties have nothing to do with it. You must act accordingly.
Whatever the cost, Struggles for Justice stands firmly with workers and on Union ground. We most strenuously support the rights of workers to collectively bargain with their employers for better wages, hours and working conditions. We laud the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the teachers everywhere of the NEA and the WFT no matter how broken and bowed down in condition by the hatreds and blind ambitions of the great corporations, and the indifference of the top 1% of income earners to the rest of us. There are also the bought and paid for politicians of both parties who bend to their will. They are a prime cog in the engine that drives injustice in 21st Century America.
We do recognize that liberal Democrats, then and now, with few exceptions support this cause and have long done so. We recognize the all too brief flirtation of Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob Lafollette and the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans of the Progressive Era who so gallantly as Mr. Roosevelt put it, “stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord!”
It was in a textile mill strike with the most recently arrived Americans of 26-nationalities, who in 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts boldly and certainly by necessity, for their very children were starving to death, denied their labor to the bosses and mill owners until such time as they paid for a living wage, and one that recognized those human rights so broadly confirmed by the Creator. The women marched singing a song, lyrically attached from a poem by James Oppenheimer that says in part:
“As we come marching, marching, we battle too for
For they are women’s children, and we mother
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life
Hearts starve as well as bodies: give us bread, but
give us roses!”
Just what would the longer term consequences be if Wisconsin workers, and all those in 23 States dominated by Republicans as here with Walker in Wisconsin were forced to extend themselves to six or even seven days a week of work, and to go significantly beyond the eight hour day permanently, as a condition to keep their jobs?
What would befall the children, the mothers, the single moms and dads, even the best of parents who model the best that is in us? We already know somehow that it would make a mockery of the Republican Party’s long-stated commitment to family values and strong families which for them are the nuclear families of a mother and father and children. Perhaps they might today find the heart to include marriage partners of the same gender, and single fathers and mothers who by choice or necessity are struggling to raise children.
This won’t happen you say? Just ask the teachers and State employees of Wisconsin who saw it all from 5 January 2011, the very day Governor Walker took office. They’ve followed a distinct pattern of employing the minimum of transparency so vital to a thriving democracy. They’ve used deceit and obfuscation too. Only a complete fool would think they will stop now.
That’s what all of us NOT in the top 1% of income earners, and who do not heavily influence the levers of power in Wisconsin and elsewhere must do: quash this most egregious and dangerously harmful legislation in its tracks.
Struggles for Justice hereby issues a clarion call to arms among all those who fight for social justice to stand together in the hundreds of thousands just as those who stood that late winter in Madison, Wisconsin and it’s State Capitol, to make that good fight for justice against ACT 10 just three short winters ago. Only this time, we must win, and as in 2011, we must do so with non-violence, a commitment to uphold the rule of law, and true fidelity to the very core principles of our democracy.
We must as President Lincoln said so long ago, “appeal to the better Angels of our nature.” It is that true appeal to our hearts and the feelings we hold for those around us. It is all those who have sought since 1776 to expand the borders of the blessings of liberty, such as the abolitionists, suffragists, the civil rights marchers, untold numbers of American soldiers, and more.
We must journey to Bayview either in our mind’s eye, with hearts filled with empathy for others, or even with our very bodies to join those in the Village of Bayview, on or around the week of May 5, 2014 lest we forget what they did there for all of us that day in 1886.
Struggles for Justice
“Speaking for the Voiceless, Protecting the Vulnerable!”