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Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back


In early 2011, the nation was stunned to watch Wisconsin’s state capitol in Madison come under sudden and unexpected occupation by union members and their allies. The protests to defend collective bargaining rights were militant and practically unheard of in this era of declining union power. Nearly forty years of neoliberalism and the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression have battered the labor movement, and workers have been largely complacent in the face of stagnant wages, slashed benefits and services, widening unemployment, and growing inequality.

That is, until now. Under pressure from a union-busting governor and his supporters in the legislature, and inspired by the massive uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, workers in Wisconsin shook the nation with their colossal display of solidarity and outrage. Their struggle is still ongoing, but there are lessons to be learned from the Wisconsin revolt. This timely book brings together some of the best labor journalists and scholars in the United States, many of whom were on the ground at the time, to examine the causes and impact of events, and suggest how the labor movement might proceed in this new era of union militancy.

A crucial study of the exhilarating fight-back in the Badger State. With superb essays from labor scholars and activists, it brings into sharp focus the challenges that working people faced as they rose up to take on Scott Walker’s reactionary assault. A probing analysis of the role of organized labor and the Democratic Party rounds out this indispensable volume.

—Matthew Rothschild, editor, The Progressive

Years from now, activists and scholars alike will discuss the protests that began in Wisconsin in the winter of 2011 as a turning point for the U.S. labor movement. The insightful and provocative essays in this volume are the perfect starting point for that analysis, and the lessons are still unfolding … an indispensable resource.

—Eve Weinbaum, Director, University of Massachusetts Amherst Labor Center

A still-breathing draft of history. With contributions by participants and observers steeped in the labor movement’s long struggle for revival, this volume is in turns celebratory, tough-minded, and anguished … a vital examination of a pivotal moment when workers decided the billionaires shouldn’t be the only ones fighting a class war.

—Mischa Gaus, editor, Labor Notes

Table of Contents


Foreword, Robert W. McChesney

Editor’s Introduction: Something is in the Air, Michael D. Yates


  1. Disciplining Labor, Dismantling Democracy: Rebellion and Control in Wisconsin, Connor Donegan
  2. Capitalist Crisis and the Wisconsin Uprising, Andrew Sernatinger
  3. Who Were the Leaders of the Wisconsin Uprising? Lee Sustar
  4. A New American Workers’ Movement Has Begun, Dan La Botz
  5. The Wisconsin Uprising, Frank Emspak


  1. Back to the Future: Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America, Rand Wilson and Steve Early
  2. In the Wake of Wisconsin, What Next? Jane Slaughter and Mark Brenner
  3. What Can We Learn from Wisconsin? Stephanie Luce


  1. Potholes and Roadblocks on “The Roads Not Taken,” Elly Leary
  2. The Assault on Public Services: Will Unions Lament the Attacks or Fight Back, Michael Hurley and Sam Gindin
  3. Marching Away from the Cold War, David Bacon
  4. “No, No, No, the People Have the Power,” Dave Zirin
  5. Fighting Wage Cuts in Upstate New York Teaches Chemical Workers the Value of Mobilization, Jon Flanders
  6. Beyond Wisconsin: Seeking New Priorities as Labor Challenges War, Michael Zweig
  7. Building Communities of Solidarity from Madison to Bend, Fernando Gapasin
  8. Class Warfare in Longview, Washington: “No Wisconsin Here,” Michael D. Yates


About the Contributors



Michael D. Yates is a writer, editor, and labor educator. He is Associate Editor of Monthly Review and Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. He is the author of Why Unions Matter and The ABCs of the Economic Crisis (with Fred Magdoff) among other titles.

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Publication Date: March 2012

Number of Pages: 288

Paperback ISBN: 9781583672808

Cloth ISBN: 9781583672815

eBook ISBN: 9781583672839