Wisconsin Pagans React to Latest Anti-Union Developments

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 10, 2011 — 44 Comments

For almost a month now protests have raged in Wisconsin over legislation proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker that would weaken collective bargaining rights for most public employee union members as part of a plan to address the state’s budget shortfall. Many have pointed to this being part of a larger initiative by Republican Governors across the country to weaken public sector unions in an effort to stymie a traditional Democratic fundraising stronghold. Now, in a procedural move that some are calling legally “murky,” and in the case of Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Lagley, “unconstitutional,” the collective bargaining measure was stripped from the budget bill (which requires a full quorum, denied due to a legislative walkout) and passed with simple majority.

This latest development has reignited already ongoing protests throughout the state, and PNC-Minnesota was able to conduct an interview with a Pagan Union Steward for his reactions and views of what’s happening in Wisconsin.

What is your reaction to tonight’s Republican action eliminating collective bargaining for State workers?

” The Republicans admitted tonight that was their goal. They clothed real intent in their budget repair bill, but it is pretty obvious what they were after from the beginning. I can’t say I am surprised. I am surprised it took them this long to do something. They were using the budget bill to provide themselves with cover, but it was pretty transparent. “

What do you think will happen going forward?

” There are 2000 (supporters, 200 tractors) tractors lined up to come to town. Family Farm Defenders is organizing that. They realize that there are a lot of farmers that are on Badgercare (Wisconsin Health Program),  and Walkers budget is going to decimate that. A lot of farmers are depending on this health care and don’t have anything else.  It is not just about the unions, its never been just about the unions. There was so much bad policy in that budget repair bill, you hate to even call it that. It is just a phrase. Koch industries, one of their biggest things is energy, and the Governor has the authority under that bill to accept a no bid contract from anyone. I am not saying it is going to be Koch… but ya know… We aren’t talking just big power plants, there are a lot of state facilities, like prisons, that generate their electricity. Some of the big UW campuses have their own power plants. Twenty or thirty of them, they are all small, but hey,  if you can tap a vein. The billionaire vampires have a clear path to suck more for themselves. Sucking off the body politic.”

Do the unions workers have a specific response plan?

” I know that in southern Wi. the AFL-CIO has put out some word about a general strike. I don’t know what that means. My current contract says I cannot strike. We have is a contract extension that put all the existing contract terms, extended into the future. We signed that with Doyle. We bargained for a new contract. I was on the bargaining committee. I tell ya, you know which side has power, the side which looks at you and says, “I think your asking too much”, not interested at this time”. “not interested” to every proposal. We had 18 months of that shit. Anyone who says that unions are big powerful entities is just plain wrong. We have been without a contract since July of 2009, and working out of continuing contract extensions. Last month Walker sent notice the extensions would no longer be honored after March 13th. The unfortunate thing for him is there is provision in state and federal law, the ‘evergreen’ clause, that should apply here, mandating a continuing contract. Well unless he somehow abolished that in the budget repair bill, too.”

“There are sixteen recalls going on, for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact the ones for the Democrats started first. There is a lot of energy focusing on them, by those that want to recall Republican right now. A group out of Utah has started all the petitions against the democrats. They are a group that is against immigrant rights. (The group filed electronically with the GAB between Feb. 18 and 21, calling itself theAmerican Recall Coalition. It lists the founding organization as Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. )”

You can read the entire article at the PNC-Minnesota site. PNC-Minnesota reporter Nels Linde, who lives in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border, has also been traveling to the protests and has written a couple of editorials on the subject.

In addition, Wisconsin photographer Nataraj Hauser, who has worked quite a bit with Pagans, including shooting the cover image of Witches and Pagans #22, has been documenting (and participating in) the protests in Madison.

“Within a few minutes word came out that the vote had been rushed through, and passed. Collective bargaining rights had been stripped from workers – including the police department responsible for Capitol security by the way – undoing more than 50 years of progressive Wisconsin worker protections. A voice on the PA announced that Senate was no longer in session and the Assembly was not going to vote until Thursday, so we all had to leave the building. No one budged. No cop made an effort to ask us to leave. At this point no one believed that the Republican Assemblymen would not simply use that pretext to clear us out of the building, then vote. Hell no, we won’t go.

I left the building – which was still in lock down – to meet up with my partner. While I was in the building, additional protesters had climbed in through second floor bathroom windows, been let in in groups at doors that were not staffed by law enforcement (until reinforcements arrived) so the crowd was pretty large. Outside I found several thousand people had arrived in the hour or so that I was inside.”

You can see a slide show of his images from the protests, here.

Finally, Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox has been traveling to some of the protests, and offering short updates on her Facebook page. Here’s an update from March 5th.

“Powerful outpouring of support for public workers’ rights & unions today at Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. I joined the thousands in the streets & at the rally on the steps of the Capitol where filmmaker Michael Moore spoke as did US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin & others.”

I’ve previously mentioned Fox’s participation in the protests back in February.

I make this report not to push a particular political stance, but to reinforce the idea that the headlines often do involve and affect the lives of modern Pagans. I’m always looking to amplify the Pagan voice in a variety of situations that may not seem, at first, to be “Pagan issues.” But there are, as you can see, Pagan union stewards, and Pagans at these protests, and Pagans are a part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin. No doubt there are several Pagan public employees wondering what the fallout of these events will mean for their lives. If you are a Wisconsin resident, I invite you to share your perspective in the comments, and The Wild Hunt, The Pagan Newswire Collective, and the wider Pagan media will endeavor to continue looking for the Pagan voice within larger stories going on in the world.

ADDENDUM: PNC-Minnesota has just posted more Pagan voices from Madison, Wisconsin.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • From all the teachers I've had in occult matters, the ethical guidance given always ultimately reduced to saying that it is wrong to limit an individual's right to self-determination and expression. Labor unions are a multi-faceted subject, but ultimately I think it's a literal crying shame that politicians legislatively silenced and truly injured so many people's ability to determine the direction of their state and communities. Elected officials are elected as the voice of the people and to as much is possible protect their interests – I don't see how stripping the unions of their rights to collective bargaining helps very much.

    • Yes, but by that standard, are not the unions also harmful, especially those with mandatory membership, who take money from their members (except in the instances of those unions that charge the state directly like I believe the public unions might be doing in WI). Often, by their own words, Union leadership is working for Union leadership, not for the betterment of its members. Seems that both sides of this are detrimental to the people who do the actual work.

      • Yeah, that's what I mean – it's a multi-faceted issue. The argument can be made that unions improve working conditions and protect workers' rights (among others), but the argument can also be made that unions drive up prices, line the pockets of union leaders, and make it difficult to eliminate unproductive employees (take the Teachers' union, for example.) I'm not saying unions are perfect – you gave some great examples – but I think it's a dangerous step to take for politicians to take away collective bargaining rights.

      • When a Union negotiates it represents all the workers. If there is a pay raise, everyone gets it. If there are retirement benefits, job safety provisions, etc, these apply to everyone. That is why it is called "collective bargaining".

        When you start work in a place that is a Union shop you automatically become a member of the Union, and you automatically receive all the benefits of better wages and working conditions that go along with being in a Union. If you don't want to work in a Union shop, then you have the "freedom" to go work somewhere else, I suppose.

        • Actually, "closed shops" are illegal in the United States, and have been since 1947 and the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act. There are such things as "union shops" still in some states (though they are also banned in others) where employees can be required to join a union by a certain period of time in order to continue to work at that business, but there are often clauses (as with my own union) that permit unions to charge only for certain services supplied to all workers in a workplace, but requires that portion of dues that goes to support the union directly only be a voluntary fee, and never a condition of employment.

          The "closed shop" is more of a reality, however, than teacher's "tenure," which does not actually exist in public schools. What I do have, as a public school teacher, is a due process right; I cannot be fired without showing cause and without giving me a chance to change whatever is wrong with my performance, provided it is not actual malfeasance, within a set period of time.

          It is interesting how swiftly school districts can manage to go through a due process proceeding when they're motivated! But when districts don't feel like bothering with more than cursory classroom observations or meaningful performance reviews, nor with the documentation of actual inadequacies of performance by teachers, they cry foul, and say the unions make it impossible to fire bad teachers. That is nonsense–not to mention the 2–5 years (depending on the state) during which teachers do not have those due process rights at all, and can be summarily dismissed.

          (As a Pagan who is quite visible online, I was uneasy during those first three years of my teaching life, to say the least. It would certainly have been harder for me to document religious discrimination in my firing than it would be for my district to document poor performance on my part, were I an incompetent teacher.)

    • 7th_Pillar

      " …individual's right to self-determination …" is key to the teachings you've cited. Collective Bargaining units are not "individual" they are collective by their very nature. If you abrogate personal responsibility to another you are no longer self determining. Each of us is ultimately responsible for our selves through self determination. I negotiate my own income and benefits and can leverage my expertise and experience to a level that is acceptable to my customers/employers and my self. I was not able to do this when I worked in a union environment. It didn't matter how many achievement awards I earned in my profession, I could earn no more than the weakest slacker in the same bargaining unit. With Individual Rights come Individual Responsibilities.

      • Yeah, like I said, it's a multi-faceted issue and people are going to feel differently about it. I worked at a grocery store in Indiana years ago where the staff was all unionized. I was only there briefly and didn't get to see what happens up top in union leadership, but I was surprised because unlike other places I'd worked, every 8-hour shift came with a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Not like places where they say you get these things and then they just gloss over them or don't do it at all. I liked that the union provided me the tools to take my employer to task if they didn't give me what I was promised. I also enjoyed that the pay was higher than other other area grocers. When I talk about an individual's right to self-determination, I consider the material resources or the ability to acquire wealth and means the key vehicle to movement. When I see politicians busting up unions' rights to collective bargaining, I see a lot of people losing out on the ability to acquire the means to choose their own path, or the protection afforded by health care, insurance plans, etc. which shield them against financial disaster. That's where I'm coming from in my experience – I'm not trying to start an argument, just expressing my sympathy for the workers in Wisconsin.

  • I'm thrilled to read this Pagan perspective on the earthshaking events in Wisconsin. Keep up the good work!

  • As a pagan in Wisconsin, I appreciate the efforts to help highlight this situation from a pagan point of view. The interview with Dennis was particularly telling. As the scenes show, having hundreds of thousands of people making their voices heard is truly inspiring.

  • Deb

    I live in Wisconsin. There are so many issues in this bill that deserve attention. I'm particularly worried about the way it guts the public education system yet strengthens private schools (which would be able to teach faith based curriculum). It also removes the need for private school teachers to be state certified, a degree is good enough. It basically paves the way to making public secular schools inept and woefully underfunded while encouraging the private faith based ones.

    The massive cuts to medical assistance are also scary. This state is well known for helping people with special needs function in society. There is a push to force these people into private institutions rather than allowing public money to help them have actual lives.

    I could go on and on but possibly the scariest thing about this is the way the major media outlets are either ignoring it or spinning it so dramatically that no one knows what is really going on. Just because our government isn't allowed to interfere with the press does not mean it isn't controlled.

    • "Just because our government isn't allowed to interfere with the press does not mean it isn't controlled."

      Well said. Alas.

      • Bookhousegal

        Someone's confused 'Free market' with 'A Market that Can Be Bought..''

  • Unfortunately big business owns the media…and they are acquiring government also…soon, the working person of the country won't have a chance to do anything other than work paycheck to paycheck…that's if they get a paycheck…

  • Laurie

    I am a WI Pagan public employee (non-represented). In addition to union busting, attacks on public education, no-bid sales of power plants, and giving control of Badger Care (Medicare) to the governor's office, the legislation also undermines environmental protections we have fought very hard for in areas of recycling, fuel efficiency, wetland protection, etc. There is also a provision that exempts state contractors from abiding by equal employment opportunity protections based on sexual preferance. The good news in all of this is that the People of WI are very invested in their political processes now and will not soon forget this. We are awake!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    There's talk here in Ohio, where similar anti-union legislation is moving forward, of a referendum election on the bill. Thanks to bureaucratic churn that will likely be on the November 2012 ballot rather than 2011. One hopes it will bring union voters to the polls to vote in the Presidential election. Republicans brought out the Right in 2004 with an anti-gay-marriage measure, so this is fair turnabout.

  • Gods bless the workers of Wisconsin. They are showing the rest of us How Its Done.

    If there were any genuine "populism" in the Tea Party movement, then there would be at least some Tea Partiers taking the side of working people and the Unions. But the Tea Party has proved itself to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Business, Inc.

    • Apuleius, you never spoke a truer word. Yes, yes, yes.

    • Brendan Myers

      I agree. Well said.

  • Neville Thunderbelly

    "Permission" to strike? Oh what a weak, frightened world we live in…

    And a group out of Utah. Again. The LDS needs to be ushered out of the country. Iran sounds more its style.

    • chuck_cosimano

      How many Mormons does it take to outvote all of the Pagans?

      It is time to face reality. All this talk of pagan political activism is not worth very much in the electoral calculus and opinions on social networks have all the connection to the real world as three stockbrokers on a desert island getting rich trading their hats back and forth. They are, for the most part, collections of people who agree with each other and in agreeing, live under the illusion that the bulk of everyone else agrees as well.

      It all reminds me of the famous line from Pauline Kael, "I don't know how Nixon won. None of my friends voted for him."

  • Shawn McNulty

    My wife and I, and our kids (some Wiccan, some not) have participated in the protests as we can and followed this closely. It is *the* topic of conversation in our social media networks. 99% of the pagans I know in the Madison area (and that's quite a few) stand with the unions on this issue. As do 99% of my non-pagan friends, including ones who have voted Republican in the past. Walker, and those launching coordinated attacks on the working class in other states, have made a huge political miscalculation. This isn't going to go away. No one is going to back down from this fight. It's impossible to be "on the ground" in Madison and not sense that this is different from any other political struggle of my lifetime. Something fundamental is shifting in our culture.

    • From your lips, to the gods' ears, Shawn. So mote it be.

    • chuck_cosimano

      Yes, but it is not shifting the way you want. The smart money is not on the unions. They may pull something out in Wisconsin, but not in the other states and barring some serious surprises, after the next election, there will be a federal right to work law and that will be, for all practical purposes, the end of organized labor. As it is, if I were a Republican strategist I would be overjoyed at the campaign ad the demonstrators gave the Republicans last night.

  • And as far as I'm concerned, its a damned good thing there are no significant right-wing groups that have any inkling of what real populism looks like. True right-wing populism can be a very dangerous thing.

    • chuck_cosimano

      If that elephant stampedes, the Pagans will be lucky to get out alive. it is time to start thinking about how to actually win elections.

  • chuck_cosimano

    Well, if it is just the unions and the pagans, the fight is truly lost because there aren't enough votes there. And perhaps it is time to recognize that maybe the other side has some damned good magicians too.

    • Bookhousegal

      I suppose that depends how you define 'magician.' If you think this whole scenario is just about magic, I have a perfectly-good hatpin. Say when.

      But wait…

      Every time we go through this, we think we've learned our lesson, couldn't *possibly* not see…

      Said that in '98.

      Like so many other things…. If this is 'magic,' well, that ain't no thing.

      It's about the *rest* of it. What happens when it pops. *showing gleamey hatpin* Wanna?
      I'm in no hurry here, you know. Sooner or later, someone like me, thoughtful, or not. Pow. To the Moon.

      What then…. with this 'magick?' Ready? Chuck?

      Do you think this presumptive 'magicians' has *anything* to do with the situation for Pagans, directly, here? Win, lose, or indifferent, and there's a *lot* of indifferent. right about now, what 'magick' do you really think is the game-changer here?

      'Magicians' are the least of our worries here. All it takes is a hatpin. What are the people ready for…. Not *that's* a question to keep cartoon gals with a hatpin up nights. 🙂

    • Bookhousegal

      Helpful hint, though: Magicians will *always* lose if it's their intention to close off options. If their intention is control. 😉


      Therefore, *timing.* Dig?

  • Almighty Dollar

    Pagans, bow before your king, Scott Walker. Bow and surrender, your time is over.

    • Jack Tyler

      Is that really the brush you want to paint Walker with? A proclaimed "king" squashing a supposedly uneducated peasant rebellion? If you wish to make yourself subservient to your master do so at your leisure but kindly leave the rest of us to our democracy.

      • Almighty Dollar

        Democracy is over. Long live Walker. Long live the Republic.

        • Jack Tyler

          "Democracy is over."

          Not yet, but Walker is working on it.

          • Almighty Dollar

            Democracy ended under Pericles. Walker is a Pericles-wannabe.

  • The Grey Badger

    If I were a Wisconsin pagan, I'd be looking very, very hard at doing with as little energy from the grid as possible, in any way possible. Starve the monopoly-craving beasts! And I realize this is extremely difficult.

    I do wonder how much they paid for Da Guv.

    • Riverbend

      Sounds lovely in theory, but, well, it's COLD up there. This is one of the things that's needed most across the board–a way off that infrastructure, or a new infrastructure that gives us a real alternative to plug into. Difficult as all hell, as you say.

  • Jack Tyler

    I appreciate that Pagans are getting caught up in this. Kind of hard to imagine that we would somehow be immune to what's happening in our greater communities. What I'm not sure I fully appreciate is why a Pagan flavored spin needs to be put on this. I think it would be perfectly newsworthy to report here (including emphasizing the Pagan responses and how this affects our communities) without having to re-brand this as a specifically Pagan issue. Maybe I'm missing something and that wasn't your intention Jason but the phrasing of it just seemed odd to me.

    As for the issue itself, well I think it's suffice to say that PantheaCon is not the only place Eris has deemed worthy of a Chaos Grenade.

  • Fire

    The last thing unions and their supporters need to do is a general strike. What needs to be done is to go back to the methods used when unions were trying to organize and be recognized.

    By the book actions.

    Most jobs have rules, many contradictory, how a work is supposed to be done. But the only way you're actually productive is if you ignore many of them and hope nothing goes wrong. In a situation like this you follow every rule to the letter and basically slow things down to a snail's pace.

    The power of NO.

    In any job where a worker has to make a decision of whether to accept an application, paperwork, inspect something, they have the power to reject. That's what you do, reject everything you have the option or ability to reject.

    There are other techniques I could go into but a little research on the history of union movement from the 1800s to the 1930s will provide anyone with the knowledge they need to wage a labor insurgency.

    • Well, as long as we are arm-chair quarterbacking, the last thing any Union needs is to make a fetish out of one particular tactic, such as work-by-rule.

      The General Strike, however, is far more than just a tactic. Rosa Luxemburg is generally credited as being the first to fully comprehend and articulate the central importance of the general strike as a weapon in the class struggle, which she did in her seminal work "The Mass Strike".

      • Fire

        That's the thing. I don't think you're going to be able to create an across the board general strike here in the USA.

        Using and analogy to the political, a general strike is an armed insurrection. Work rules, slow-downs and sabotage are an insurgency campaign. It's more do-able, more palatable to American sensibilities.

  • "They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." — Ronald Reagan, 1980

    Like I keep saying, this country has moved so far to the Right that even Reagan would be considered a "Socialist Liberal" by today's Conservatives.

  • Pitch313

    I have been wondering if unions should start calling themselves "militias." Just so the various media would have to report on and comment about corporate oligarchs and and their political lackeys plotting and maneuvering to strip collective rights from pro-union militias.

    • Jack Tyler

      If unions started re-branding themselves as militias the Christian Right might start supporting them.

  • Almighty Dollar

    Then the state will help you out with that, and you will be made to bow to King Walker, lord of Money.

    • Jack Tyler

      Our apologies Mr. Sheen, we thought we were talking to someone sane. Well, our apologies anyway.