UPDATED: Fighting Forward Conference Encourages Militarism, Solidarity with Unions

MacIver News Service | June 18, 2013


The MacIver Institute has learned more about the Fighting Forward conference sponsored by departments within UW System. Updates from Friday and Saturday’s events are below.


Heidi Wegleitner, Lawyer with Legal Action Wisconsin and Dane County Supervisor

“We need more militarism – a solidarity between low-income people, the working class, and unions.”

M Adams, Member of Take Back the Land and Freedom Inc.

“I do not think you should be able to buy or sell land. We all own it. We’re going to take what is ours, whether you like it or not.”

Take Back the Land is an organization that, in their words, “liberates” privately owned land to use for their own purposes. One of the examples Adams gave was for a home on the east side of Madison that was foreclosed on by Bank of America. The organization “liberated” the home, changed the locks, and many people moved in.

Bob Peterson, President of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, compares the expansion of school choice to opposing civil rights in the 1960’s.

Peterson said at a workshop entitle Privatization of Public Education, “Choice is very powerful. The concept is as American as apple pie, and individual choice has long been considered a component of liberty in this country. But when choice becomes identified just with wholesale marketplace and replacement of public policy and public institutions, it’s a code word. School choice in Wisconsin is a code word for abandonment of public education. Just as states rights was a code word in 1960 for opposing federal civil rights legislation, today choice is a code.”

He harshly criticized Governor Walker’s characterization of the public sector as failing, arguing that offering private solutions is a simple case of abandonment. He additionally denounced the participation of religious schools in the public voucher program.

“85% of students in Wisconsin who receive public school vouchers attend a religious school. Vouchers, above all, are a way to funnel tax dollars out of public schools and into private, especially religious schools,” Peterson said. The public voucher system, according to Peterson, is a “direct attack on democracy” and a part of the nationwide Republican agenda to eliminate public school education overall.

He also attacked the enrollment caps included in the legislation, calling them “bogus.” If the program is seen as even remotely successful by the administration, the caps will easily be raised in the future, if not written out entirely.

Peterson highlighted the many issues plaguing Wisconsin’s K-12 education system, and acknowledged that the situation in many areas, especially Milwaukee, is bleak.

“Public schools have huge problems. A lot of them are based on the fact that the schools are in communities which have suffered years of depression-like conditions,” Peterson said. “When children come from families that are beleaguered, families that are struggling, obviously it makes my job as a teacher much more difficult.”

UW Assistant Professor claims UW public-private partnerships were created to reject unionized labor.

Noah Weeth-Feinstein, an Assistant Professor at UW-Madison’s School of Education, discussed changes to the University of Wisconsin system, which point to a privatization of the public institution. Weeth-Feinstein cited the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID) and the Badger Partnership as two projects that exemplified the neoliberal rolling back of public institutions and the subsequent moving forward of private institutions in their place.

Weeth-Feinstein noted that both projects used the language of flexibility, competition, and entrepreneurship, despite the fact that they were very different endeavors. WID, as a public-private partnership, was supposed to provide flexibility to the University to perform research it could otherwise not do. The end result, according to Weeth-Feinstein, was the flexibility to reject unionized labor, particularly unionized janitors, in the building.

Weeth-Feinstein also told the audience not to accept “common sense” arguments, such Governor Walker’s assertion that providing more classes directly relating to job-specific skills is simply common sense. That type of approach, according to Weeth-Feinstein, leads to an unjustified emphasis on market-based values.

He criticized the fact that UW professors in engineering, economics, and other topic areas in high demand are paid more than those professors who study the humanities. This type of dependency on market-based values, he argued, limits UW’s ability to establish its own set of values.

“We can never choose our own values,” Weeth-Feinstein said. “We can never be more just than the norm.”

University of Illinois Professor argues that the public sector plays a vital role in economic growth and if “left to private business, there’s no future for many of us.”

Bob McChesney, Professor of Communications at the University of Illinois, attacked austere measures in a seminar entitled Confronting Austerity: Causes and Collective Action. McChesney argued that austerity comes down to the decisions of political leaders who prefer to see a stagnant, collapsing economy rather than undermine their own power. “There’s no explanation for it except that we have some dummies in power,” he said.

The professor denounced the role of business in running the economy, arguing that the public sector plays a vital role in economic growth, and that “left to private business, there’s no future for many of us.” McChesney ultimately described austerity as not only a bad choice or a stupid choice, but one which is “suicidal.”

He urged the audience to reopen the debate of whether or not capitalism can be replaced, given today’s worldwide crisis. In the 1960s, McChesney argued, widespread calls existed to abolish capitalism despite the system’s success. He dubbed it ironic that today, capitalism is in crisis and “everyone acts like it can’t be replaced.”

Original Post on Monday June 17, 2013 at 12:02am

[Madison, Wisc…] A group of university professors and liberal political organizers came together in Madison for a conference on the working class in which many of the participants were extremely critical of capitalism. The program was entitled Fighting Forward: A Labor and Working Class Summit and took place on June 12-15 at the Madison Area Technical College.

Despite the fact that one of the two organizing groups was the Labor and Working Class Studies Project of the University of Wisconsin’s Haven Center, Conference Planning Committee member and UW-Madison administrator Patrick Barrett contested that “No public funds were spent on this summit.” When he said this at one of the seminars on Thursday, one audience member replied “too bad.”

The panelists in the Fighting Forward seminars all advocated change in America’s current capitalist system to varying degrees, with many calling for the outright replacement of capitalism. University of Illinois Professor Bob McChesney expounded upon his beliefs that austerity measures–like those enacted by Governor Scott Walker in 2011–were not intended to improve the economy, but were rather the elite’s attempt to maintain their position at the top of the hierarchy even at the cost of a stagnating or declining economy. McChesney later went on to state that the current NSA security scandal in Washington was a result of the current system, saying, “militarism is the heart and soul of capitalism.”

Patrick Barrett then laid out his idea for enacting change to the flaws McChesney spoke of, and he saw elections as only one part of the political process. In his vision, politics was the struggle between different social and political forces over certain “strategic terrain,” such as schools, the media, and other institutions. In Barrett’s opinion, the goal of politics was to aggressively take control and redesign this “strategic terrain” in such a way that it benefitted your political side to the detriment of your adversaries.

In this, he thought that the right had more success in recent years than the left, and pointed towards to 1971 Powell Memorandum as one of the key reasons for it. In that letter from future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to a friend in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Powell argued that capitalism was under attack from the left and that the most disturbing part of it was that it was coming from universities, the media, and the arts and sciences, and Powell argued for some sort of response to be taken by American business. This, Barrett believes, was the reason that the left had lost so much power since the 1970s.

Participants were sure that the majority opinion was on their side, but were divided as to whether or not this would help them prevail in the end. Some believed that with proper organization and voter turn out, they could overturn the system. Others were more cynical, stating their beliefs that Republicans were involved in widespread voter suppression and that initiatives such as the GOP-supported Voter ID legislation was intended to keep liberals from voting.

Many of the participants saw rejecting radicals on the left as counter productive, and thought that the rejection of groups such as Occupy Wall Street only drove American politics further to the right. No matter the methods, all participants agreed that there was a fundamental problem with capitalism and that it had to go.

As the MacIver Institute learns more about the conference and its workshops, we will post that information.