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Labor Day 2011 has extra meaning for union members

Labor Day events have extra meaning this weekend as union celebrations around the state acknowledge an historic year marked by collective bargaining limits placed on public union workers, nine Senate recall elections and the possible recall against GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

Tensions flared this week over the Wausau Labor Day parade after labor leaders there initially sought to bar elected Republicans. They backed down after Wausau mayor threatened to withhold resources. Union leaders said they didn't want school and other groups affected.

"We didn't start this fight in Wisconsin, but were responding to anti-worker positions and policies supported by local Republican politicians, including those who have complained about not being invited," said Labor Council President Randy Radtke in a statement this week. "With the track records that Pam Galloway, Sean Duffy, Scott Walker, and Jerry Petrowski have all put together this year, they should be ashamed to even show their faces at a Labor Day parade."

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Ashland, said he'll participate in the parade and issued conciliatory remarks.

"The unfortunate truth is Wisconsin's political environment has become so toxic these days that even parades are seen as a chance to take political swipes at each other. But working together, I know we can repair these relationships and find common ground," Duffy said. "The Wausau Labor Day parade is a great family-friendly event and I hope it stays that way. I intend to participate and am looking forward to bringing my kids to walk with me. Unfortunately, this parade has received a lot of negative attention, but I trust now we can show people across the country who are simply spoiling for a fight that Wisconsinites can come together, have fun, be friendly, and set politics aside for this holiday celebrating the great American work ethic."

The Wausau parade controversy is another chapter in an historic year for Wisconsin unions, especially public sector unions hit by sweeping collective bargaining changes enacted by Walker and majority Republicans in the Legislature.

Republicans said the measures were necessary to balance state and local budgets without massive layoffs. But the reaction from union members in the private and public sector has been strong.

"Wisconsin continues to make history. Back 100 years ago, the State became a model of progressive, modern government, a title it held until this year, when the Legislature and Governor turned the state upside down by passing a blitzkrieg of anti-union and pro-business legislation," says the introduction to a new Wisconsin Labor History Society newsletter compiled by Ken Germanson, WLHS president emeritus. "As the summer continues, the history of the efforts to overcome the union-busting efforts continues. Recall elections of State Senators ended in August, with two Republicans and no Democrats unseated. The voter turnout for those supporting labor grew significantly, raising hopes for a successful recall effort against the governor come November and December."

The poster for Milwaukee's Laborfest is based on the design of pro-union “stand with Wisconsin” posters that have become a symbol of the fight against the bargaining changes, and features blue fists in the shape of Wisconsin against a red background. And in Madison on Monday, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and Wayne Kramer of The MC5 -- who all performed during the Capitol protests -- will perform at the Barrymore as part of their “Justice Tour 2011.”

"One hundred years ago, Wisconsin leaders put politics aside and became the first state to pass a constitutionally upheld Workers’ Compensation law. In 1886, building trade workers joined Polish laborers to fight for an 8 hour work day in what is now known as the Bayview Massacre," said AFL-CIO leaders Phil Neuenfeldt and Stephanie Bloomingdale. "This Labor Day we honor those who have fought for a fair and honest day’s work and we pledge to continue the fight for economic justice and social equality, locally and globally."

Also of note is a new executive director of the National Education Association from Wisconsin.

John Stocks, 54, the former chief lobbyist for WEAC, moved from the deputy executive director post to the top NEA job on Sept. 1, becoming only the 11th executive director in the history of the 154-year-old union. He continues to commute between his McFarland, Wis. home and D.C. as he has since going from WEAC to NEA in 2003.

Stocks, who remembers a time in Wisconsin when the political culture allowed for more compromise, said he doesn't see falling one seat short of a new Democratic majority in the state Senate as a big loss for unions.

"Oh no, I wouldn't see it a big loss," Stocks told WisPolitics.com in an Aug. 19 interview from his D.C. office. "I see it as the next step in unions regaining their strength in the the state. I think that in the end, probably a number of years from now, the public sector unions will be stronger than ever in that state."

See a listing of Labor Day events on the WisPolitics.com events page: http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Content=22

Read more about Stocks, the new NEA executive director: http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=246020

See the Wisconsin Labor History Society newsletter highlighting the 2011 events: http://www.wisaflcio.org/index.cfm?action=article&articleID=2d18d326-78dc-4878-ae01-0a2545a53d38

Walker statement: http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=246530

One Wisconsin Now statement: http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=246531

RPW statement: http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=246532

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