Depending on your preferred news source, the “story” in Wisconsin is the ongoing legislative standoff and/or the building national solidarity movement. Here on the ground, it’s that, yes, but a lot more. From a state worker’s perspective and a social services for the needy perspective, there is no way this can end well, and a lot of ways it can end extremely badly. Steep pay cuts for state workers are a given, even though our pay is a relatively small part of the budget. (I’ve discovered that even a lot of the TAs protesting do not realize just how big those pay cuts are for state workers.) The bigger dollars savings from pay cuts are the implicit attacks on county and municipal employees; Walker wanted to strip them of bargaining rights because he wants to impose cuts in local aids that will force localities to cut the pay of their workers. Layoff notices for teachers and others are being generated by lots of districts — including districts that have come out officially against the Governor’s bill — because of rules that require adequate notice and the fact that their budgets are going to get cut no matter how this ends.
The one single good thing in the bill that actually saves the state a lot of money and is uncontroversial — restructuring state debt to save $165 million — is being held hostage by the Governor (who won’t let it be voted on separately) and will, for reasons I don’t understand, apparently become impossible if it isn’t done by today. EDIT: fixed the statement about the debt; the “real” deadline is apparently March 15.
And the University has its own internal mess. Part of the bill includes a provision to semi-privatize the UW Madison campus and separate it from the rest of the Wisconsin system. The general idea of this is actually something that a majority of Madison faculty (including me) have wanted for a long time for a lot of reasons, although the TAA opposes it and it cuts a lot of complicated ways in terms of broader social issues like access to education. There are accusations that our Chancellor cut a secret deal with Walker about this, and has been called before the Board of Regents today. Students have been protesting at that meeting against the plan, and rumors are rampant among the faculty about what might be going on. Both the Chancellor’s resignation and her firing are likely outcomes.
And the protest just keeps getting more interesting even as everyone who’s been protesting is getting run down and passing around a bug. There have been smaller rallies all week, but a big one is being called for tomorrow. The [Republican] state legislature passed a special bill to ban non-employees from office areas after hours and forcing the TAA to remove its command center from the Capitol to Democratic Party headquarters nearby. The public areas of the Capitol are NOT closed over night. And the union of police officers issued an official statement that THEY will be sleeping over at the Capitol in solidarity with other workers!
And as he has now given a public interview on the topic, I can reveal that our very own Alex Hanna literally WAS “from Cairo to Madison”! Alex is co-chair of the TAA this year. He had already been studying the earlier April 6 Facebook movement and took a leap earlier this month: he charged a plane ticket on his credit card and went to Cairo, where he was standing in Tahrir Square on February 11. He flew home from Cairo and literally went straight to the TAA office from the airport. As Alex is my advisee, I plan to bask in whatever reflected glory I can manage to grab. Of course, as hard as Alex has worked, he is not the only sociology graduate student who has played a major role in this protest down at ground zero in the Capitol command center, and I along with other sociology faculty are both in awe of them and grateful for all their work.