May Day 2015

Published on April 30th, 2015 | by Meg Gorski

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The Importance of Rural Labor in Wisconsin

What do you think of when you think of Wisconsin? The Packers, beer, cheese, farms, cows? You’d be right. But you should also be thinking of hardworking families who get up each day to care for their families, friends, and neighbors. We have our big cities — Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay — but the biggest contributors to the state’s working economy is rural Wisconsin. Rural Wisconsin has been the backbone of the state’s economy since its incorporation in 1848, and rural laborers have been the beating heart.

From small-town mom-and-pop stores to Wisconsin’s dairy farmer, our state, from its conception, has run on the laborer, mostly immigrants from Norway, Germany, Ireland, and Poland. This state would be nothing without it.

If it wasn’t for rural Wisconsin, we wouldn’t have over 44 billion dollars cycling through the state economy each year, but it takes more than cows to create such a haul. It takes farmers and their farmhands. It takes the worker who gets up at dawn to milk cows. It takes the worker who spends all day feeding and caring for animals, and harvesting crops.

But this area isn’t just all farming. It also takes the worker who works in construction, retail, medicine, health care, and housing to keep our economy strong. Under Scott Walker and his unquenchable desire for capitalism, that’s all been slowly devalued.

In 2010, Wisconsin voters promoted Scott Walker from failed Milwaukee County executive to failing and flailing governor. Never a supporter of labor, he, in his words, “dropped the bomb” in 2011, and began his all-out assault on the working class with Act 10. Act 10 punished labor and unions, but was disguised as legislation to “save money.” Teachers, public employees, and even private unions saw serious detrimental effects to their jobs in the forms of pay cuts, cuts to health insurance, pensions and retirement funds. It’s becoming harder to find work in Western Wisconsin, let alone work that pays well, that you can retire on, and that is union-represented. Without those unions, we can’t raise Wisconsin’s piss-poor minimum wage, which is currently set at $7.50. Raising the minimum wage will, according to Walker, “kill jobs.” Translated to English that means “my Koch brothers investors, who I want to please, wouldn’t like having to pay their workers a fair wage.”

During Walker’s third run for governor in 2014, western Wisconsin, once a trustworthy right-wing base that was the push behind him winning the 2011 recall election, suddenly began awakening from the Dark Ages. People were tired of losing their jobs, their homes, and their livelihoods. His support waned in the election, even though he went on to best challenger Mary Burke. In a storm consisting of Walker’s cuts ($750,000 worth) to rural health care programs, including cuts to Planned Parenthood funding that thousands are dependent on, and making it easier for investors to scoop up farmland that has been in some families for generations, this area is becoming exasperated with conservative policies.

And to tie up the pretty capitalist bow on the gift no one wanted, we now have the “Right To Work” as law. If dwindling union numbers weren’t bad enough, we now have full and legal union busting. As with Act 10, RTW will now give Walker’s overlords and financial backers the ability to fire their employees at will, and to punish them for discussing unionization, or asking for high wages and better health insurance, leaving them totally susceptible to poor working conditions.

The support for RTW was held with the same amount of little enthusiasm from Wisconsinites as Act 10, but as with all of Walker’s terrible legislation, it was passed under shady circumstances in the statehouse by Walker’s greedy, money-loving, labor-hating allies.

Wisconsin was once a place that was known for its outspoken progressivism and a place where, at one time, socialism flourished: three socialist mayors of Milwaukee, and the birthplace of Victor Berger, the social democratic party Congressman and the first socialist in the U.S. House.

But in the past five years, we’ve seen a scary turn to the right. And now Walker, who ruined everything 167 years of backbreaking work produced, wants to be president. Our families before us worked too hard for what Wisconsin is becoming, and we need to preserve their sense of spirit and work ethic before the capitalist system has completely destroyed it.

 

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