Ken Germanson: America’s union story: Blood, struggle and bargaining for good and bad

Source: CNN, 3-4-11


By Ashley Fantz

Eighty-one-year-old labor historian Ken Germanson watches the news from home in Milwaukee every night, mystified.

“All those people raising their signs, protesting,” he said. “Well, geez, what did our governor think was going to happen?”

Germanson ran the Wisconsin Labor History Society for nearly two decades, an organization that teaches students about the state’s union heritage.

This year, students will learn 2011 is the 100th anniversary of when Wisconsin became the first state to pass a law guaranteeing workers’ compensation. They’ll probably be taught that the state was a major fighter in the early 19th century for the radical idea of an eight-hour workday. It is the law, after all, in the land of cheese and Super Bowl champs, that school curriculums include Wisconsin’s organized labor history.

It’s also possible that some of those students and teachers are today among the thousands of demonstrators who have crowded the state Capitol in Madison for weeks. They are beating drums, holding hands, doing defiant yoga, all chanting, “Kill the bill!”

The bill, backed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and many GOP lawmakers, would mostly end public unions’ rights to bargain collectively. The governor and his supporters say the legislation would help ease the state’s projected $3.6 billion budget deficit by, in part, increasing state worker contributions for pension and health benefits.

Workers view the bill as a way to quash their rights to negotiate for better work conditions and decent wages. Fourteen Democratic lawmakers have left the state in protest, refusing to vote on the measure, a move that got them slapped with $100 fines for every day they are gone.

Similar political and union battles are boiling in Indiana and Ohio, where bills would end or substantially weaken public unions…READ MORE

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