In 2011 massive protests erupted outside the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. Scott Walker and his colleagues were pushing through Act 10, which is also known as the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill.” The Bill was marketed by the GOP as a way to decrease Wisconsin’s ballooning debt. Teachers and educators were scapegoated as the reason why the debt existed in the first place. These events occurred as I was entering high school where my Dad worked as a Spanish teacher and Head Wrestling Coach. As a way to sell people on the bill, teachers were painted as lazy leeches, who were using their collective bargaining rights in order to receive free healthcare, which was what was driving up Wisconsin’s debt. As a teenager this confused me. I had watched my Father work his butt off every day for as long as I could remember, never once complaining or asking for more. Now I was being told that teachers were not only lazy, but also greedy, which did not compute with what I had experienced in reality up until that point in my life.
I’ll never forget walking into the church my family attended every Sunday and over hearing a congregation member say “when teachers are sleeping under their desks at work, it’s time to get rid of the Unions.” At this point my young mind began to go from perplexed to enraged. My parents, who had voted Republican all their lives until this point, began to question everything they previously knew about politics. These events are what propelled me into studying economics and politics. Nine years later now, I’ve obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science (along with $82K in student debt). I think it would be valuable to reflect on the events that brought me to this point, with as sober and objective of an analysis as I can provide.
Looking back, the strategy of the Republican lawmakers was to divide the so called “uneducated” blue collar working class, from the white collar teachers and educators. The fact that most teachers vote Democrat meant that Walker and the Republicans were free to portray the teachers as villains without losing much of their electoral base. Simultaneously they could secure the blue collar working class vote by uniting them against the common enemy of teachers. While educators and blue collar workers should be natural allies in the struggle for better conditions for all the working masses of Wisconsin, they now found themselves turned against each other. The Fox News coverage of Wisconsin was endless. Constantly calling the teachers entitled children who were sucking money from Wisconsin taxpayers. This not only helped turn the blue collar working class against teachers, but the teachers against the workers as well. I remember beginning to feel a great disdain for my blue collar classmates who I would hear repeating Fox News talking points about lazy teachers at school. I was beginning to breed contempt for those who should have been my allies in the class struggle. A division grew between me and my friends, and I began to view them as brainwashed pawns in a rich man’s game. Looking back in retrospect, the choice to hold contempt for them made me a pawn in my own right.
Act 10 was eventually passed, and the teachers saw collective bargaining rights dismantled, while also now having to pay a portion of their insurance premiums out of pocket. From Scott Walker’s point of view this was likely his greatest success. He had passed his bill, won a special recall election in 2012, and was reelected again in 2014. However, the second most notable act during Walker’s time as governor would not go so smoothly.
Following the failed attempt to recall, and the 2016 election of Donald Trump, Walker’s administration proposed a multi-billion dollar subsidy to the Chinese tech company Foxconn. Walker claimed the subsidy would allow Foxconn to build a new factory in Racine, Wisconsin, which would bring 13,000 new manufacturing jobs to the state. Continuing his strategy to consolidate the blue collar voting base, Walker touted himself as a job creator, striving to bring more manufacturing into the Wisconsin.
When all was said and done the deal cost $4.1 billion, which stands as the largest government handout to a foreign company in US history. Foxconn has yet to fulfill their promise to bring 13,000 jobs to the state. The factory in Racine was built, but it was much smaller than Walker and Foxconn had originally promised. In addition much of the manufacturing has been automated, and is done by assembly line robots.
The Wisconsin debt Walker promised to eliminate by cutting teacher pay currently stands at over $22 billion. Being greatly increased by the subsidy which Walker claimed would pay for itself. By 2018 it seems that the Wisconsin working class had lost faith in the governor, and he lost his reelection bid to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. So, seven years after he had successfully painted teachers as entitled leaches adding to the state debt, Walker had exploded the debt and now lost his office to a teacher. The election result is likely a product of many factors, primarily his failed attempt to bring manufacturing jobs to Wisconsin. Another factor is of course the contempt teachers still hold for Walker years after ACT 10, as they came out to vote in large numbers in order to hand him the upset loss in 2018.
Now here we are in a post Scott Walker Wisconsin. The teachers have seen their collective bargaining abilities dismantled, promised manufacturing jobs have yet to materialize, and the state debt sits at $22 billion. The state has yet to heal from the divide created in 2011 between white and blue collar workers, a pattern which can be seen in most of the United States. White collar educators show up to Vote Democrat every election, while the blue collar working class remains mostly loyal to Trump’s GOP. All the while nothing of substance ever changes.
Now let me pause to pose some question to those who show up to vote Democrat every year. What has Tony Evers done to repeal the damage done by Walker? Have teachers seen their collective bargaining rights return? Have they seen a substantial increase in pay or funding? Has Governor Evers done anything to fix Walker’s Foxconn Blunder? What has Tony Evers done in any way to better the material conditions of Wisconsinites? The answer is almost nothing.
The only action from Evers thus far which has made headlines, was a proposal to give ID’s to undocumented immigrants. A proposal which sent Wisconsin Republicans into an outrage. While we argue about Identification cards, teachers have gotten nothing, manufacturing has gotten nothing, and Wisconsinite tax money is being handed to a Multi-National tech company based out of China. The material conditions of Wisconsinites continue to get worse, as we scream and fight with each other about ID cards and other social issues.
They playbook of Wisconsin Politicians, at least since 2011, has been to divide the white and blue collar working classes. As we squabble amongst ourselves about social issues, those in power continue to serve the material interests of Multinational corporations. All the while neither the white nor blue collar workers have seen their lives improved in any meaningful way.
While Governor Evers may be well intentioned, he is not the answer to Wisconsin’s problems. I would argue the answer will not be found at the voting booth. The answer is to begin to cast aside our differences and fight for the working class as a whole. The enemy is not the people within our communities. They enemy is the multinational corporations who refuse to bring good paying manufacturing to Wisconsin. The enemy are the politicians who claim teachers are stealing your taxes, then turn around and give $4 billion to giant companies. The enemy is the corporate media, who keep us fighting amongst ourselves, as corporations run out the back door with all the money.
We need not to be advocating for less collective bargaining, but for more. When the teachers went on strike during the act 10 proposal it had little to no effect. However, if the industrial working class had the power of collective bargaining, they would be able to bring the economy to a grinding halt via strike at any moment. The same goes for the farmers, who see more and more of their market controlled by giant corporate farms every year. The industrial and agricultural workers have the ability to force the state apparatus to do whatever they want at any moment, if they only realize their collective power.
We must not look to politicians for a better more prosperous Wisconsin, but rather to each other. We must realize the strength that exists in the unity of workers coming together to demand a better world. We must stop falling into the trap of dividing ourselves over essentially meaningless issues, as we continue to be robbed blind by corporate America. There is power in unity, there is power in the working class of Wisconsin, and there is power in the American working class as a whole.