No Business As Usual–Allen Ruff on the Battle of Wisconsin

The following speech was delivered by Allen Ruff on the steps of the Capitol Building in Madison WI, on March 26, 2011 at the Co-operatives for Labor Rally. In addition to being a student of mass movements, he writes at Ruff Talk and has published several books including a history of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing House, We Called Each Other Comrade and a memoir of New Haven, Save Me, Julie Kogon. Please contact Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative for ordering.

A video of this transcript can be viewed on youtube: Allen Ruff (UNCUT)

Allen Ruff Speaking at Co-operatives for Labor Rally 3/26/2011

Why do I believe in coops? Because coops are the self-generating defensive organizations of people placed under siege by capital and that has always been the case. In the heart of the 19th century, in every country of the world where capital had it its claws, its talons, worker co-ops, consumer co-ops and producer coops rose up to defend the living conditions of people living under the monster.

Coops were not a gift from some benevolent middle-class reformers, handed down from on high, but self-generated from the bottom up, created by people determined to take charge of what they ate, what they consumed, what they bought and what they produced-a creation of the working class, and not some middle class movement.

Now, we have to understand. I am going to ask you a question here. What was Scott Walker’s campaign slogan? “Open for Business” They are saying to their corporate backers and investors that this state is open to maximize profits off of the backs, the sweat and labor of the entire state, of every working person, whether employed or underemployed, the unemployed and poor and disabled. All of us.

{People yell Shame! Shame!}

It’s not a question of moralistic guilt. I don’t want to hear “shame”! I say “out with the bastards!” We cannot shame them. They know no shame. So I don’t want to hear shame, shame from you–to hell with that.

Now—when they say “open for business,” they are saying “we will privatize schools and make them for profit”. That is why this has nothing to do with how much teacher’s make. It’s a fact that public education as a right and a guarantee can not be exploited and raped in the fashion that these bastards want to do.

When they say decertify and destroy unions, they are saying they want to get rid of unions because they are the one organized force of the working class in this state that has the capacity to collectively resist.

I said I am a historian. My entire adult life I have studied the history of mass movements from below. We have a lot to learn, to relearn to re-take, to regain, to re-educate ourselves on. On what generations ago people in this state, this nation and the world taught us about how to fight these bastards.

{Someone in the crowd yells something about the Robber Barons}

That’s right—they want to take it back to the 19th century to the age of the Robber Barons. We have to re-discover and re-learn the tactics of the popular movement that fought the robber barons. What are the tactics? The Strike, the Recall, Direct Action.

{someone yelled something about “recall”}

Somebody said recall. Understand that there is a direct relationship between the mass movement and initiative within the parliamentary electoral system for recall [of the Republican senators] It is the mass movement, this popular movement, that energizes that recall initiative. In the State of Wisconsin, what became known as La Follete Progressivism,  had it origins as a “push from below”. It wasn’t born of the geniuses sitting on top of Bascom Hill, but initially was one of the demands, a part of the platform of Socialist movement of Milwaukee. Wisconsin had the first recall legislation in the entire country.

What became known as the “Wisconsin Idea” that they are currently trying to dismantle not only had meaning in this state, but it set an example to the rest of the country. “Ah, the people of Wisconsin have a good idea!”

At a time when every legislature and statehouse in the country was run by boss political machines, bought and paid for by corporate interests, the good state of Wisconsin, the people of Wisconsin said “Hell, No! We are going to actualize, we are going to revitalize, we are going to give real meaning to “democracy”!

I said before that I been a student of popular mass movements. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life and I am so fucking happy!

Now listen very carefully because we are right on the cusp. These movements start at the level of protest. “Protest” means petitioning your government, your leaders for redress, for reform. We could cover this building with a million people, right, sort of like a swarm of ants a popsicle dropped on a sidewalk on a summer day and they, walker and his backers would say, “We’re not concerned. They’re not exerting power.”

Every serious movement that we know of that has called for redress and reform through the system, a change of the status quo, has been thwarted by the arrogant, the rich, and those who don’t give a damn. Every movement that we know of has called for redress and reform, for substantive change has had to move to a different higher level. That of “resistance.”

Resistance means actualizing the mass boycott of companies through direct action, through pickets. We must identity and get to know every corporate sponsor of Walker and his clique. And we tell them: “We not only say that we aren’t buying your crap, but we are going to shut you down.” The mass action, the pickets, the be-ins, the sit-ins, the occupations of corporate officers, of corporate headquarters of rapacious banks must go on. It will push and energizes the recall movement. It pushes the electoral movement. Remember that the good Democrats who did good  and honest and moral things in the past month and a half would not have done so without the movement, the push from below.

Now those you who are going to focus on recall-do what you must. Do what you must—we are all part of the same movement. Those of you who are serious about exerting real social and political power must move to a level of resistance. When they say “Wisconsin is open for business” we must say “No Business as usual.”

No Business as usual.

No business as usual.

Brothers and sisters, this not just about Madison, not just Dane County, nor just the State of Wisconsin. The entire nation and good part of the world is looking to see what we do here. And we say, “To Hell with you. To hell with you Scott Walker! To hell with you Scott Walker’s Darling, the Alberta Clipper! To hell with you the Boss Tweed Ring revived as the Fitzgeralds, poppa cop and his corrupt sons. To hell with Glen Grothman that pre-Enlightenment man. To hell with you and your corporate backers who will take everything, every last dime out of our hides and all those of who have a dime that they can rip off…

Let’s talk about those tax privileges…

How is it that at the same time that they give unimaginable tax breaks to the utmost pinnacles of privilege, those that already suck us dry, tax breaks to the very wealthy in this country, that they can blame all of us for the deficit.

Again, we must organize. We have to organize ourselves. One final thing and then I’ll shut up.

Big Bill Haywood, that great leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, the most militant working class organization of the pre-WWI era said two connected things: 1. “The brains of the boss are under the worker’s cap.” What he meant is that those who would exploit, and own and beat and jail and kill us if we resist—they don’t know crap. That everything that they know — not only do they render their wealth from our hides but they also extract the knowledge of the working class and expropriate it as their own. There are hundreds of thousands of public service employees in this state who hold the brains, the knowledge of the operations of this state under their caps. Haywood said a second thing that is real important for service sector, public service workers and those unions under siege the public sector — the teachers, technicians, the administrators of those offices that they aren’t currently dismantling. Haywood said that the most effective method of resistance for workers assailed by the boss and the supervisor or foreman is to fold your arms. Put your hands in your pockets. They think that they can pass regulations threatening that if you miss a day and don’t have some doctor’s legitimate excuse that you could get your ass fired. We say, hell no. We say, “Slow the shit down.”

No business as usual!

No business as usual!

No business as usual!

Thank you brothers and sisters.

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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