Investigation Reveals Widespread University Involvement in Radical Anti-Capitalist Conference

Palermo’s Protest Group Funded by UW Sports Revenue

MacIver News Service | July 24, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] Departments within Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded public universities and technical colleges organized a conference that brought together radical, left-leaning groups to promote labor activism and call for the end of capitalism.

As the MacIver Institute originally reported, Fighting Forward: A Labor and Working Class Conference, which took place June 12-15, was organized in part by the UW-Madison Sociology Department’s Havens Center. The conference was co-sponsored by a large number of radical activist groups, unions, and socialist organizations, as well as by seven University of Wisconsin Departments.

The original question raised by MacIver was if any taxpayer resources were used to organize and support this conference. Patrick Barrett, Administrative Director of the Havens Center, said at one of the seminars that “no public funds were spent on this summit.” When he said this at a workshop on Thursday, June 13, one audience member replied “too bad.”

However, when MacIver emailed Barrett on June 17 to ask if any university resources were used for the conference, he responded that “two graduate assistants helped with registration.” The MacIver investigation also uncovered that 15 faculty members from the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Technical Colleges (WTC) spoke at the event.

FF Text Box 3.pngThese public employees led workshops that included, “Putting Militancy Back in the Labor Movement,” and “More Than Just Madison: Wisconsin Organizing Statewide.”

The MacIver Institute uncovered salaries for 14 of the 15 faculty members who led seminars and helped plan the event. The salaries for the 14 faculty members in 2011-2012 totaled $950,196.67 for an average of $67,871.19 a year. Of the 14 staff members, MacIver was only informed that one person was not on salary for the days of the conference. The vast majority of our inquiries and open records requests have gone unanswered for weeks.

A key aspect of the MacIver investigation is to determine if any of these faculty members were on taxpayer-time during the conference. The conference began at 7PM on Wednesday and went through Saturday evening. If these employees participated in the event while on government payroll, it would have cost taxpayers up to $6,713.97 (2 days pay, MacIver did not include Wednesday or Saturday sessions as these were not during normal business hours).

James Cook, a government employee that according to payroll records was not on paid time for June 13-14, was the faculty member that reserved all the rooms for the event at a cost of $1,715.25. Cook is the Apprenticeship Director of the Madison Area Technical College’s School of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology. While the organization on the receipt obtained by MacIver is the “Working Clas [SIC] Studies Association,” Cook used his taxpayer-funded Madison Area Technical College email address and phone number to reserve the space. Inquiries as to where the money for the conference space came from have gone unanswered.

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The Working Class Studies Association was the other key organizer for Fighting Forward. The association’s stated goal is to “promote interdisciplinary and activist projects focused on working-class lives and culture.”

During the conference, the Working Class Studies Association asked participants what the Association should do to thrive over the next decade, and they received suggestions such as, “organize academic labor,” and “be more critical of capitalism.”

Along with professors and other UW System and WTC employees speaking at the event, seven different UW entities co-sponsored the Fighting Forward event. The UW departments co-sponsoring the conference were the UW-Madison Community and Environmental Sociology Department, the UW-Madison Gender and Women’s Studies Department, the UW System Women’s Studies Consortium, the UW-Extension School for Workers, the Havens Center, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

MacIver looked into the budgets for six of the seven departments (MacIver was unable to find a listing for the UW System Women’s Consortium) that co-sponsored this event. According to the 2011-2012 UW Redbook, the six departments together spent $14,908,937 for the fiscal year. Some department officials that MacIver spoke with claimed that co-sponsoring the event only involved a verbal endorsement and many posted the event on their department websites.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension School for Workers was also intimately involved in the organization of the conference. One of the employees of the School for Workers, Don Taylor, was listed as part of the conference planning committee for the Labor and Working Class Studies Project. Taylor was one of three School for Workers employees who took part in the conference as panel speakers.

Taylor took vacation days for June 14-15, but ultimately Wisconsin taxpayers still foot the bill for this time. The other two School for Workers employees did not take time off to participate in the conference.

The School for Workers is “the oldest continually-operating university-based labor education program in the country” according to its website. The course listing includes classes such as “essentials of bargaining” and “building workplace power.” According to records, the 2011-2012 budget for the School for Workers was $905,185. 

University of Wisconsin-Madison officials in charge of the Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and Social Change were not asked to approve any of the co-sponsors or speakers for the Fighting Forward conference. Barrett told MacIver that approval for the group’s co-sponsors and speakers–which included radical groups such as the Autonomous Solidarity Organization (ASO) and Take Back the Land–did not go any higher than himself.

One seminar, “The Autonomy of Solidarity,” was led solely by leaders of the radical group ASO. Members of that group were responsible for some of the most infamous incidents at the Capitol during the debate over Act 10, including stalking Republican lawmakers, protesting the Special Olympics, and coordinating a massive disruption of a Joint Committee on Finance Meeting.

During an event honoring Special Olympics, ASO members dressed up as zombies and stood with their backs to the Governor while holding their fists in the air. They stood between attendees and Walker as he honored the great work that Special Olympics does in Wisconsin.

FF Text Box 2.pngTake Back the Land is a group known for their disregard of property rights and their belief that all foreclosed homes should be “liberated” to be used as their group sees fit. Their National Director has bragged in the past that “we are openly and publicly breaking unjust laws.”

As previously reported by the MacIver Institute, at one Fighting Forward seminar Take Back the Land leader M. Adams advocated the seizure of private property, saying “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.”

The Industrial Workers of the World-Madison co-sponsored the event, as well, and led one of the workshops. This group’s mission is to “take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.” They also are working to “do away with capitalism.”

Self-proclaimed socialist organizations that co-sponsored the event or led workshops included the Madison Democratic Socialists of America, which held a meeting at the conference on June 14; the Socialist Party of South Central Wisconsin; and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, which split from the Communist Party USA in 1991 and had a national organizer speaking in two seminars.

Other co-sponsoring activist groups included Occupy Madison, Solidarity Sing-Along, the Teaching Assistants’ Association, United Faculty and Academic Staff, and three separate local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) unions.

The Fighting Forward conference is not the only left-leaning event that the Havens Center organizes. They hosted RadFest 2013 on May 24-26 at the UW-Extension-owned Upham Woods near the Wisconsin Dells. The event was founded by the Havens Center in 1983 as the Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference. The name was changed to RadFest in the late 1990s, and in 2003 Midwest Social Forum was added to the title.

The Havens Center even tried to hire child care workers for the Memorial Day Weekend event.

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In 2002, Patrick Barrett told People’s World that the purpose of that event is to allow “progressive activists, organizers and intellectuals to come together to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern, strengthen networks and devise strategies for progressive social, economic and political change.” When the MacIver Institute requested a schedule of events for RadFest 2013 we were informed that no such documents exist as the topics were decided “spontaneously on site.”

The MacIver Institute has contacted UW System and WTC officials regarding the use of taxpayer funds to operate this event, and many inquiries have gone unanswered. MacIver has been investigating this event for the past month and questions still remain.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.