The Thin Blue Line

Events happened quickly today and February 25, 2011 may be remembered as one of the most unique days in labor history.

Despite promises to consider all amendments, early this morning Republicans in the Wis. Assembly ended debate and rushed a vote and ended voting as soon as they reached the majority of 51 votes. Almost half of the Democrats (and a couple of Republicans) were not even allowed to record their vote! The Democrats are looking for a legal angle to challenge this ridiculous display of supressing democracy.

The reaction after the vote was caught on youtube:

The completion of the Assembly’s business also allowed the Republicans to force the Capitol Police to start closing the the Capitol. The cops began handing out flyers announcing that tonight, anyone staying in the Capitol would be required to sleep on the ground floor with no bedding allowed. On Saturday, at 4:00 pm the Capitol would close as normal and everyone would be expected to leave.

The TAA decamped from the Capitol to the nearby Democratic Party headquarters.

Then something absolutely crazy happened! The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state-wide labor union for police officers issued a call to its members to join the occupation, come to Madison and join the sleep-in this weekend. If the Capitol Police intend to clear the Capitol, they will need to begin by dragging out fellow police officers. This sets the stage for the first true act of civil disobedience to be completed by police officers.

Has this ever happened in the history of Labor? I remember in Toledo, Ohio when the police union authored a change in city ordinance that prevented them from being used to break up picket line (or arrest anyone in a lawful picket unless they saw a felony committed), but that was after the AP Auto Parts Strike and a rough-and-tumble melée with the cops.

The head of the union (as reported by said “Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Governor Walker’s attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin’s devoted public employees is wrong,” continued Palmer. “That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight.” has been an incredible source of news during this conflict. I follow them on Twitter and they are one of the few twitter accounts that I allow to have sent to my phone. If you want to get the low-down on what is happening, please look them up (Isthmus’s Jack Craver has also been doing excellent work).

In Madison, the “thin blue line” standing between the forces of democracy and human rights and the forces of crony capitalism and despotism turns out to be Agents of the State. These officers have chosen to uphold their oath and defend the people and workers of Wisconsin. I know that there will be many battles to come and at some point, more stark choices will need to be made. However, as the Battle of Wisconsin moves from the inside of the Capitol to the streets of every town in Wisconsin and the ballot box, it feels good to know that today, the police and the people are on the same side. Some might say that this is the result of Madison’s history; however, the police in the capitol have largely been from out-of-county. The police standing with us certainly include Madison, but they also include officers from the far flung reaches of Wisconsin, from communities that (in a normal season) would mock the protestors in Madison, mock Madison in general, and not see the protestors as allies.

Were Wisconsin a stand-alone republic, losing support of the police would likely mean the end of the government.As David Brooks mentioned on NPR this afternoon, the Governor still has the upper hand in the Battle of Wisconsin, but it is becoming clear that he and the Fitzgeralds have lost the war. They willingness to hang on seems to be how much they can get away with before they are thrown out of office. The recall and other elections cannot come soon enough; however, for 13 days now, I have been more proud than ever to be a Wisconsin resident. It is really a very unique place.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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