YouTube video

In the years following the Great Recession, Republican Gov. Scott Walker led an all-out assault on unions and public sector workers in Wisconsin. In response, teachers, students, farmers, and workers of all stripes descended on the state Capitol, engaging in one of the largest sustained protest actions in US history, now known as the Wisconsin Uprising. When the dust settled, however, Walker and the Republican legislature succeeded in passing Act 10, which was a devastating blow to the labor movement that essentially stripped collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, made it much more difficult for workers to organize, and forced unions to take massive concessions on healthcare, retirement benefits, and much more. Soon after, in 2015, Walker signed legislation that turned Wisconsin into a “right to work” state, issuing another blow to unions in a state once heralded as a bellwether of progressive politics and the labor movement.

As part of a special collaboration with In These Times magazine for The Wisconsin Idea, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez traveled to Wisconsin with Cameron Granadino (TRNN) and Hannah Faris (In These Times) to speak with teachers and organizers around the state about how Act 10 impacted their lives and work, and how they are rebuilding out of the rubble. In this interview, recorded at the Racine Labor Center, Alvarez speaks with retired teacher and lifelong organizer Al Levie about the devastating impacts of the right-wing war on workers and public education, the historic grassroots struggle that took place during the Uprising, and how multiracial, multi-generational, student-led coalitions in places like Racine are carrying on that fighting spirit 10 years later.

Pre-Production: Maximillian Alvarez, Hannah Faris, Alice Herman, Cameron Granadino, Eleni Schirmer (research consultant), John Fleissner (research consultant), John Yaggi (research consultant), Harvey J. Kaye (research consultant), Jon Shelton (research consultant), Adam Mertz (research consultant)
Studio: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino, Stephen Frank, Kayla Rivara

The Wisconsin Idea is an independent reporting project of People’s Action Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and In These Times.


Maximillian Alvarez:    This is Maximillian Alvarez for the Real News Network and In These Times magazine reporting from Racine, Wisconsin. As part of our special collaboration with In These Times to investigate the changing political terrain in the state of Wisconsin, I’ve been talking with teachers and organizers around the state about the trajectory of the labor movement in Wisconsin, especially after the coordinated assault on workers and unions that turned Wisconsin into a right to work state and that stripped public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights with the passing of Act 10 under Republican Governor Scott Walker 10 years ago. In the Racine Labor Center behind me, I got to sit down with retired teacher and longtime organizer Al Levie to talk about these assaults on the working class and about how workers, students, and communities are working to rebuild power and bring progressive change back to Wisconsin.

Al Levie:                I’m Al Levie, a retired teacher. I was active in the teachers union. I’m currently in a transitional role as the organizing director for Voces De La Frontera. I have been doing that for two years.

Maximillian Alvarez:    Oh yeah. Well, Al it’s really a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for sitting down with me, man. For folks watching, this is part of our expansive collaboration here at the Real News with In These Times for their project, The Wisconsin Idea, which is really looking into the changing politics and economics of Wisconsin, especially in rural areas, but not exclusively. One of the big stories that we’ve been investigating on this shoot is how public sector workers, especially teachers, are faring 10 years after the passing of Act 10. How people are organizing on the ground to build out of the rubble that was left by Scott Walker and the legislature, so on and so forth. I wanted to talk to you a bit about that Al, but before we get there, I wanted to get to know more about you. Could you talk to us about, I guess, your path to becoming a teacher? Are you originally from Wisconsin?

Al Levie:            No. Well, actually originally I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. It was outside a small coal mining town. My parents were from New York City and they moved to Pittsburgh. My father was very active in the steel workers, he was a steel worker. He worked at an open-hearth furnace in Pittsburgh, J&L Steel, which is no longer in existence. I guess what brought me into teaching… And my mother at the time was a full-time mom raising four kids, going to school to be a teacher, actually. From there, they were always very active in the civil rights movement and the labor movement. They would take us to different things that were going on in the ’60s in Pittsburgh. My consciousness developed at an early age to be sympathetic towards working people and to understand that I was a worker, that I would grow up to be a worker.

I think a favorite quote was my father saying, whatever you do just do it well. If you’re a garbage man, be a good garbage man. Whatever it is, just do it with pride because there’s pride in work. When we were in high school, my folks moved to Connecticut, they wanted to be closer to their roots. My father was a writer. At that time he was doing industrial writing, it was public relations. We moved to Connecticut. I went and finished up my high school in Connecticut and I decided to be a worker. I went to work first as an ironworker. I worked putting up buildings. Then later because of the… There were layoffs and outside it’s kind of a hardship, and so I decided to become a machinist. I worked at a shop, and there I was introduced into the union. It was a big shop. It was a UAW shop. I think there were 2000 workers in this shop. I began to get active in the union, and through that activity…

I not only came from a worker background, my folks were also intellectuals. We would always discuss, debate, read. We were taught to read about working class history and what it meant to be a worker, what it meant to be somebody that… to be optimistic about the future, but also realistic about what was the plight of workers, both in this country, but internationally. So I developed in that way. I worked in a shop in Connecticut, then I moved to Wisconsin. And at that time I was married, I had a child. Again, I was a worker, I worked at a pretty good-sized shop. This was a machinist, so I became active in the machinist union. I became a steward, stood up for workers. I became active in the legislative and the political committees of the union, but I was rank and file. I was always rank and file. I never had a union position.

I worked there and then I got laid off, and I decided to go closer to Milwaukee, and I got a job at [Marshall] Motors, where they made big diesel engines, and that again was a machinist shop. Again, I was very active in the union. When I got laid off there, there was an amalgamated local with, I think there were seven or eight shops that were part of it. I decided to organize because there were a lot of layoffs. It was a massive period of layoffs. So I organized an unemployed organizing project. We organized all the unemployed and they fought for benefits, everything from getting discounts from businesses, to getting access to medical care, to keeping people from being thrown out of their homes.

Then I caught the eye of a group called Wisconsin Action Coalition and they said, listen, could you organize unemployed in Milwaukee? And I said, sure. So they put me on staff and I organized about 5,000 unemployed to really stand up. They were mostly laborers unemployed. They came from all those shops, from UIW, the machinists, the construction workers, the operating engineers, the laborers, on and on. We organized on basic issues. They got 50% off the buses. Again, it was healthcare, it was survival issues. But then as part of this group I was able to connect that to the larger policy issues within the state such as wealth, taxation, utility, the public service commission, and utility rates and hikes. I did that. I became an organizer for the Wisconsin Action Coalition and eventually became the Milwaukee organizer. I had about 90 groups that I worked with.

I did that for seven years and then they started to move in a different direction than the grassroots organizing. At that time we built those very sizable grassroots initiatives with laborers, not just the unemployed, with people going back to work. We had really the first massive lobby days in Madison where we produced hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people on labor issues. We took a benign Labor Day celebration into a Labor Day march and rally for folks for labor issues. It started to move in a different – And I’d been doing that work for seven years. So I decided, just thinking about it, what could I do that would be productive and use my experience that I gained? I thought, teaching. So I became a teacher at [Horlick] High School, which is across the way a bit.

I was kind of a teacher organizer. I came in and for the first… And I was older, I was 46 years old when I became a teacher. The first three years I learned my trade to be a good teacher, to really understand what I was doing. But in the process it became very clear that the inequalities that existed outside of the schools existed in the schools. That the kids who had the basic classes, who had very low expectations, they were the working class kids, primarily African-American, Latino. I looked at it for three years and then I started to organize, and I organized a group called Youth Empowered in the Struggle. Well, actually I organized the kids to participate in an activity of Voces De La Frontera and it got big, big media, big press. Because this teacher organized these kids in this essentially working class, white-dominated community to stand up on immigrant rights.

It made big headlines and there was a lot of criticism, so the kids decided to start a group. It was called, SUFIR, Students United for Immigrant Rights. We would participate in all the marches and activities that went on across the state. Then the Black students started to get the idea that… And they would participate. They said, listen, Mr. Levie, we want to have our own group, so we organized an African American group called Students United in the Struggle. After a year or so, they decided that they wanted to be one group because their issues were overlapping. It really was an issue of oppression. They came together and they formed YES, Youth Empowered in the Struggle.

Maximillian Alvarez:    The Latinos and the Black students?

Al Levie:                Yes. Then once they did that the white kids came in, because it became a social justice thing. At the same time, I became first a rep for the teachers, and then I became the president of the building, which was the largest building in the district. At first the teachers were very standoffish with these working class Black and Latino kids, most of them. They felt like they didn’t want to learn. Teachers were acting like missionaries, right? Like, we are going to bring this to you. We’re going to bring Jesus to you, which is education. You can have a life like we have. I took a different approach and really listened to the kids. There was this dichotomy until I became the president and the teachers saw that I was standing up for their rights and working for them.

But there still was this… They tolerated that I worked with the kids. I’ll never forget there was a big… It was when Bush he came to – This started in 2004 – Bush came to a private college and we took two busloads of kids to a park and ride that was close by, and we had a mock graduation which made national news of course. But the teachers were like, Al, you’re going to get fired. You’re going to get fired. You’re going to get fired. We need you. Don’t get fired. However, all this shifted when Act 10 hit. Busloads of these kids, Black or Brown kids, they went to Madison and they protested, and they were the life of the whole protest movement. Day after day in buses. And Voces De La Frontera paid for it. After that, it connected these teachers district-wide to these kids, but it wasn’t just in Racine, it was also in Milwaukee. We had spread this group.

We have four high schools in Racine and there were like seven or eight high schools in Milwaukee. After, I think it was a couple years, we were able to… We got enough recognition from the progressive community that they started to fund it, progressive funders. Then I had staff, it wasn’t just me, this classroom teacher, so I supervised staff who were working with the kids. I was working with the kids but they were doing the real organizer work then. But once that happened, the teachers embraced the kids. MTEA, the teachers union in Milwaukee, they actually paid for a full-time staff person. They got a national NEA grant to pay for a full-time staff person. Here in Racine we have a full-time guest organizer who you met already. What it did was it connected the teachers, and it connected the teachers and the parents and the kids to each other.

Al Levie:              It also connected the immigrant kids. When this started, the immigrant kids… When I talk about there’s a social hierarchy in the schools just like in society, right? Well, the immigrant kids are the lowest in the hierarchy. Then it’s the kids who are first generation and they try to be Americans. In that process –

Maximillian Alvarez:    That was me.

Al Levie:             …Yeah, there was a lot of antagonism, right? You get annoyed with kids who are immigrants because they still were thinking like the old world. They want to be out of school, they want to be working at 14 or 13. The other kids are like, I’m a teenager. There was this split. But this movement that we developed, it broke down the animosity, it really did. It broke it down because they all are part of mixed status families to one extent or another. So it broke this animosity and it created a lot of unity among the Latino kids. And as a result of this movement that we developed, the teachers were connected with the kids. I would say two thirds of the teachers, maybe it’s even three quarters. It’s big. It’s like 80%, maybe even 80% of the teachers have this affinity towards these working class kids now. It came from them supporting the teachers. They remember. It’s in their DNA now.

These white middle-income teachers from the suburbs, when they saw these kids marching and… But since that time until now, the kids have taken the initiative on every educational cut that’s gone on. They’ve been right in the forefront with the teachers. Block scheduling, hell no. Longer days, hell no. They’re just like, it’s like a drum beat, so it’s inspiring for the teachers. It’s built this connection, and it’s built the connection with the parents too. That’s what my role was to really build this movement as an organizer, as somebody that came from an intellectual Jewish family. It was to take that and to really analyze what was going on in the school and to build this unity between teachers, and students, and parents, and the community. I mean, there’s a lot more I could tell you in terms of giving you examples and things of those points of unity.

Maximillian Alvarez:    Well, I was actually going to ask about that because I was really curious to know how, from even when you were working as a machinist and even before that to when you were working as a teacher, you mentioned that yeah, you approached your work as an organizer, as a communicator, to other rank and file members on the shop floor, to students who usually don’t have people listen to them that attentively or respect them as having something important to say. I wanted to ask how you did that. How, maybe from a practical level, you were able to be an effective organizer in all these sorts of different places and get people who are normally divided within society or who are often pitted against one another through outside forces. What sorts of ways you were able to, with others, break those sorts of barriers down?

Al Levie:           Well, it’s really an important question. I think it starts with, I was really given an ideological frame. Both of my parents are socialists and they were very active within the movement when there was repression, when there was harassment. I took politics very seriously and I did a lot of reading and a lot of studying of what is society, or what are the forces within society that make it what it is? Really looking at the class contradictions that exist. Really looking at racism as almost a foundational issue within our society. I got that from my mother. My father was a brilliant man and my mother was brilliant as well. But there are stories where as a kid on the playground in a rural area of saying, oh, this kid was a real – And then using the N-word. My mother, I’ll never forget, crying listening to me when I got home because we would always talk.

When we were done she said, I never want to hear you say that again. That’s what happened to our people. First you scapegoat people, and then you riddle them, and then before you know it you dehumanize them, and next thing you know they’re dead. It really struck me, so from that day I never used racist terminology. I also was fortunate to do readings that I read, read, read, read, read at an early age. People like Herbert Aptheker, people like WEB Dubois. I had this frame that showed that the biggest… I would look at this issue of why is it that the US has no public healthcare system? Why is it that workers’ wage, workers are treated like shit in this country. You look in Europe, other parts of the world, there’s full benefits for people. Italy gets five weeks of vacation. You all have universal healthcare. Union membership is 80, 90%. Why is it in this country that we don’t have those things?

If you really look closely at it, racism is a foundational issue, a fundamental issue that has divided workers since the civil war. That it was used by the South to make tremendous profits, and then it was imported to the North. It existed in the North, but as an institution it was imported because Northern industrialists saw that they could make great wealth by people being divided. It was a huge divider within the working class. Just like male supremacy is a huge divider, where if women are making less than these men they have privilege. Even though they don’t know it, they have privilege and they want to hold on to that privilege. It forced me to really look closely at society. Then when you do that, I could see that once you break down that division and people come together, that they can attain enormous things.

That was the frame, is that there are all these things, particularly racism, that divide us. If you break those down and that you struggle for something that’s worthwhile, then all these divisions disappear, and then you see the best of people. For me, I became a better person as a result of struggling. I could see it. I could feel it. I wasn’t as petty. I think, did that answer your question?

Maximillian Alvarez:    Oh yeah, and then some. Well, and I was wanting to roll that into Act 10 and the Wisconsin Uprising. Could you talk a bit more about that time 10 years ago and how people were united in common cause against this ruling class onslaught against working people, and also from… Could you talk about how Walker and the media were really harnessing that power of division to ram this massive change through?

Al Levie:         It was an interesting thing. Before Walker got elected I was the president of the union. I went to every single member and I said, look, you cannot vote for Walker because he’s going to do this, this, this, and this. The Republican teachers, and there’s a lot of Republican teachers, they just, I’m not a one-issue person. I’m sorry, I’m not a one-issue person. I said, you may not be one-issue but you’re going to be in a world of shit if he gets in. And then he got in and it set off an explosion with teachers. They were like, hell no, I’m not getting my benefits cut. I’m not getting my this. Then there was this call to Madison by the leadership of the teachers, and people just emptied the schools. Through this process they became more than what they were. Their whole individuality broke down and it became a collective idea. They battled relatives, they battled friends, they battled spouses.

People got divorces over Act 10, because the husband is an accountant and the wife is a teacher, they have a comfortable life. Well, we can take a hit. Yeah, you can take a hit, but you don’t have to live in the schools. It created unity in a sense. The teacher’s union failed the teachers. They failed them miserably. Mary [Bells], who was the president of the union, and her executive committee, they tried to meet with Walker. They tried to say, look, we’ll take concessions. They saw it was coming. Even when he passed it they didn’t believe it. We used to joke that they hid under their beds. Actually the teachers in Racine under Jen, myself, Aaron, our leadership, we stormed the [inaudible] Convention as delegates, demanded the resignation of Mary Bells.

We created, we passed several motions charting a way forward. We were like a spark plug for the whole state. And we didn’t give up, we didn’t give our rights up. A lot of teachers just didn’t give their rights up, they struggled. In our local we went from zero membership to 70% membership. And Jen was the president, I was the chair of the membership committee.

Maximillian Alvarez:    And Jen is your wife?

Al Levie:           Yeah. Jen is my wife. She’s a real activist. She has a following like nobody’s business. Literally we staved him off. We had a handbook, which at the end of the contract they turned it into… No, we had a contract, and once contracts disappear they would just kill the union, right? Well, we had a very reactionary business association that really tried to get the district to just kill us, but we organized. We organized and organized and we stopped it. We turned the contract into a handbook. It was, you are protected. They passed two state laws just for Racine, I don’t know if you’re aware, but there were two state laws that they passed. It was such a raging battle on the board, there was an even split between pro and anti-union and somebody stepped off.

No, it was somebody stepped off and it was even five to five. The votes, every freaking board meeting to replace them, they couldn’t get somebody else. They were like a log jam in terms of they could not move their agenda. So then what happened was, the state passed a law that said that if there’s a stalemate then the chair decides, just for Racine. The law says, just for Racine. The speaker of the House represents Racine, Robin Vos. They passed this law and they appointed this woman, her name was [Parhan]. Her daughter happened to be one of my activist students. But they appointed her because, and she was an African American woman, she was their sixth vote. It got to that meeting and she was totally torn, totally torn. She was like, she didn’t know what to do, but in the end she voted with us.

They went back the same way, it was a class struggle on our school board. They went back and they found that she had this felony conviction from when she was a teenager. She wrote a bad check on her mother’s checkbook that her mother prosecuted just to teach tough love kind of a thing. They forced her to resign, then they put in a right-wing guy on the school board. However, then they passed a second law against Racine which was that we were done by… We had an at-large voting district. All the school board members would vote all over the district.

Which to me it doesn’t seem right to begin with, it should be in your district. But they passed it because they wanted to clean out all the progressives from the school board. So Jen, myself, Aaron, when we were the heads of the… I wasn’t the head, I was just really like the organizer. But we were working with the kids in Voces, all nine seats were up. There wasn’t three, three, and three, they wanted to just sweep it. All nine seats were up. We won eight of the nine seats, we won. It was like the whole sky had just fallen. That was –

Maximillian Alvarez:    It backfired.

Al Levie:             Oh, it was a class struggle. It was a struggle to the death. It unified. And the teachers were crying. The school board members all came to the REA office and they were freaking in tears. Voces Action put in maybe $100,000 that we recruited for these local school board races. We beat the most reactionary board that you can imagine. It really led to a tremendous heightened sense of militancy within the union. In some ways, just like [inaudible] built the Immigrant Rights Movement. You know what I’m talking about. Okay. Well, Walker built the teacher’s movement. He rebuilt because in many ways the teachers, and I’m a very strong union member. I’ve been a member of the UAW, the machinist. I started OPEIU local when I was at Wisconsin Action Coalition. I was a steward and a president in my building for the teachers. I’m not badmouthing the teachers, but the whole movement, it went from a movement into a bureaucratic operation.

There were certain parameters that they operated within. Within those parameters, it allowed for the right-wing movement to squash the teachers, to squash all the, not just teachers, but everybody. This is now a right-to-work state. All over the country the same phenomenon went on. That’s why Trump got elected, because unions they became more bureaucratic organizations that operate within the parameters of the law, [inaudible], all these repressive laws to keep people from being organized. It really broke that. George Meany used to say, I never walked a picket line. He used to brag. He was the head of the AFL-CIO, right? Okay. Well, then you had a generation following Reagan who were like following PATCO and Reagan. They didn’t live through Meany, and they were starting to learn through the struggles.

Basically what Reagan did is he tore up the pack of the liberal state. He said, if we do it in Africa, we do it in Asia. What’s the difference between workers here and there? Up to that point it was like, oh, well, hell, we’ll just give them some crumbs in America. It was interesting. This guy that we know through political work, he was the president of [Case], 3000 workers at [Case]. He called me up he said, Al, you want to go on my boat? He had a nice fishing boat. I love to fish so we went out on a great lake a couple of days ago. We talked and we talked and I brought a young guy with me named Fabi Maldonado, he’s the political director of Voces but he’s also one of the first… He’s a very prominent Latino county board supervisor who’s done a lot of good work in this area. We went on this trip and when we got out I said…

He had a good life. I’ve had a good life. I have a pension. But it’s not his work that gave him a good life, it’s the fact that he struggled for it and that they won these benefits. You go to [Case] now, they make $10 an hour. They have a two-tier system, the old guys and now the new guys. They went from eight plants to one plant. The UAW leadership, he was a militant guy. He was a real rank and file kind of guy that the world was changing and the leadership of the UAW, they were bureaucratic. They looked at it as dollars and cents. What we win here we lose there, but we keep the institution. They were more concerned about the institution than they were about the movement. That’s what is being rekindled is the movement. Movement is not a dirty word anymore. It used to be a dirty word or privilege. When I was teaching it was like, what do you mean white privilege? The white kids said, I work. My parents work hard.

That’s not the point. Then Black Lives Matter. Well, all lives matter. I taught sociology. I taught Latino-American, African-American history. But in the sociology classes there was a lot of division. We discussed, we debated these issues, but I think that the times have shifted to the extent where there’s a whole new wave of militancy that’s grown up. The young people, they no longer buy into the status quo. This whole movement with Bernie Sanders proves it out. I think the world is changing. I think it’s changing and it’s the labor movement. In Wisconsin, actually, Wisconsin really started this whole recent anti-labor drive with Walker. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if that answers your question?

Maximillian Alvarez:    Oh yeah, no. I mean, this is everything that I hoped for and more, man. I mean, it’s really important and incredible stuff to hear. I wanted to actually follow up on what you were just saying. To link it back to the targeted assault on the working class and on the labor movement in general that Scott Walker and the vast network of money and dark money and influence that was behind him with Act 10. How they were able to not only sell this massive political and economic change, but how they were also doing that deliberately to hobble the labor movement. I mean, so I guess what I’m saying is that even though Scott Walker was telling the public that after the recession people are hurting, we’re not going to raise your taxes, we’re going to balance the budget by basically taking out of the pockets of public sector workers, and so on and so forth.

The lie was really obvious in the fact that, okay, if you wanted to just “balance the budget,” then why are you stripping workers of collective bargaining rights? Why are you making unions recertify themselves every goddamn year to go through this long process? Why are you stipulating that in those recertification votes you need a majority of the membership, not just a majority of the voters? Because you were trying to actively stack the deck against workers, you were trying to bleed unions dry. It was very clear the more you looked at the details of what was actually going on here. I wanted to link that to what you were saying about how the labor movement itself, or how organized labor rather, I would say, had made itself very vulnerable to something like this. Now, like in the 10 years afterwards, I wanted to ask you what lessons have been learned and what sort of organizing has emerged to correct for those missteps that organized labor made that made workers so vulnerable to something like Act 10.

Al Levie:                Well, that’s a big question which I’m not fully equipped to answer because I’m a retired worker. However, I believe that there’s a couple… one was the election, it was a life or death election. People saw it as life or death. Trump would have ushered in fascism and people know it. There was a huge coalition that formed. I think that those forces, unlike those which were similar to what formed under Obama, they’re not backing off. They’re not just receding into the woodwork and saying, okay, we won the election. They see this more as a political struggle. I think there’s a race consciousness that didn’t exist before. There’s a race consciousness. The ante has been upped with the official labor movement in terms of it’s do or die. It’s like, let’s go, we’ve got to saddle up. They’ve been emboldened.

But I also think that beyond those institutions you have tremendous rank and file struggles that are going on all over the country. I’m dying to see. There’s a pause in teachers’ strikes. These were rank and file strikes in the South, like with Virginia in the West, Arizona. I mean, Oklahoma. These are like redneck states, so one part is the official movement has been re-energized because they were hopeless. I think that they have more hope. Then you have these powerful, powerful movements, like the Immigrant Rights Movement that have given inspiration to all these movements. Voces De La Frontera has had 11 general strikes since Walker, 11. I’ll never forget the last one. The legislature passed this very regressive immigration bill, passed it. We mobilized to Madison. We said, it’s time. A day without Latinos, 30,000 people dropped their tools, went to Madison. 30,000 people.

They’ve had more, they’ve had 100,000 in Milwaukee. Okay. So 30,000 people dropped their tools and along with them were dairy farmers, workers. 60% of all dairy labor is immigrant. The farmers, they were beside themselves. They said, look, just take half. Just take half of our workers and we’ll go. We’ll go with you. These Republicans, redneck, and I’d say… Well, I shouldn’t say redneck. They’re hardworking, but they’re business people, they’re Republicans. They came to Madison. I’ll never forget because I don’t usually speak, but once in a while I like to speak just for the hell of it because it’s thrilling to speak to 30,000 people. They don’t hear you, but you’re still speaking to 30,000 people. Behind me were the dairy business people, the dairy farmers. They were like, yeah, we got to support this, and they went in and they saw Walker.

They went in and saw the legislature. You know what? Walker vetoed this anti-immigration bill. There were no comments, there was nothing. He just, [whoosh sound] it’s done. The labor movement in many ways has been rejuvenated by the Immigrant Rights Movement. The Voces has a worker center which is part of a network of these workers centers across the country that have organized thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people. I think that they’re the most militant workers in the country. They’re not just immigrants, but they’re immigrant families and they have sparked African American workers. I think that the labor movement, they can’t get enough immigrant or Latino organizers because those are the industries. They’re going to be victorious because they’re pushing, they’re pushing really hard. If we have an administration that actually does card checkoff, that really outlaws and really penalizes the most blatant anti-union suppression of the vote for unions, there’s going to be a surge. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Maximillian Alvarez:    It does. I mean, I think that one of the things that I was thinking of hearing you talk about is very implicit in everything that you’re describing and that we’ve talked about so far. Is that, after Act 10 especially, some of the lessons that are being lived out by the people who are breathing a lot of life into the movement, like you were just describing people with Voces, people with other kinds of labor centers and social justice movements and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of attention to getting the youth involved across generational solidarity, which seems to be really something that people I think are taking a lot more seriously in the past decade. There’s more of a focus on just…

What I’ve heard a lot of people that we’ve talked to say is getting back to the basics, not overly relying on a bureaucratic union structure to solve problems for people and expanding that even more hoping that the benevolence of certain politicians is going to get us what we want. But really working to build broad working class power through these kinds of intimate relationships that you need to build across sectors of the economy, different types of jobs, different racial and ethnic backgrounds. I guess I just wanted to tease that out of what you were saying, is that it seems like a lot of the signs of hope that you’re seeing are coming from people who are really going to the mat and getting back to the basics in that regard.

Al Levie:               Yes. You put it really well. The other part of that is you can’t emphasize enough. The youth are not bought into the system with past generations. They don’t believe that they’re going to be better off than their parents. They don’t believe in the system. Therefore, they have no stake in dismantling it, which includes dismantling the private healthcare system, dismantling the anti-labor system, and even an assault on capitalism as it exists. Really it’s very hopeful. The right wing sees it. They’re actually frantic. If they weren’t frantic, they wouldn’t be behaving the way they are. They’re trying to stop history, get their – Gorging themselves. Can you imagine the amount of money that they have and they just keep accruing every year? It’s insane. Even smart capitalists say, we got to slow down. We got to put the brakes on this. We have enough. If we keep going, it’s just not going to work. When you have like 1% owning, what is it? 70% of the wealth of the country, controlling.

There’s no more middle class. This issue of the white middle… it’s not even middle class, working class thinking that they’re middle class. They’re middle income, but that’s all slid. Even millionaires have slid down. Everybody’s sliding down except the top. There’s a lot of hope for change because they produced a Trump. Trump isn’t nobody. He’s not this charismatic guy, he’s a barbarian. But that’s the best that they could do is Trump. They’re not going to win, they’re going to lose in the end, so it’s very hopeful.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Ten years ago, I was working 12-hour days as a warehouse temp in Southern California while my family, like millions of others, struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the Great Recession. Eventually, we lost everything, including the house I grew up in. It was in the years that followed, when hope seemed irrevocably lost and help from above seemed impossibly absent, that I realized the life-saving importance of everyday workers coming together, sharing our stories, showing our scars, and reminding one another that we are not alone. Since then, from starting the podcast Working People—where I interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles—to working as Associate Editor at the Chronicle Review and now as Editor-in-Chief at The Real News Network, I have dedicated my life to lifting up the voices and honoring the humanity of our fellow workers.
Follow: @maximillian_alv