In Wisconsin, a bill stripping public unions of most collective bargaining rights awaits the signature of Republican Governor Scott Walker. It's the latest phase in an ongoing legislative saga that intensified a month ago when all 14 Democratic state Senators fled to Illinois to prevent quorum on a vote for a proposed budget bill that contained anti-union provisions they found objectionable. The impasse was broken Wednesday night when Republican Senators removed financial provisions from the bill and passed it sans the presence of their Democratic counterparts. The state Assembly then moved it along to the governor's desk as protesters chanted, “Shame!”
The conflict ignited protests as the proposed bill, which also makes deep changes to Medicaid, united students and public and private-sector union members. Now, as collective bargaining rights are set to be all but eviscerated, attention turns to the question of “what's next?” Democrats will launch a legal challenge, as they say the Republican senators violated the state's open-meeting act with their Wednesday maneuver. Students plan to walk out later today in protest. The charge to recall legislators and Walker have gained traction. Talks of a general strike are even being weighed. Whatever transpires from this point forth, it is certainly a turning point.
And as the old Industrial Workers of the World (a.k.a. the Wobblies) warned, beware of a movement that sings. Here are five union songs inspired by and performed for embattled Wisco workers as they continue their struggle:
1. Tom Morello, a.k.a. The Nightwatchman, “Union Song!”
“I'm Tom Morello, and I'm a union man,” The Nightwatchman began his speech to workers protesting in Madison, Wisconsin. The folk guitarist riled up the crowd saying the cause hit close to home as his mother was a unionized teacher. Morello then ripped into “Union Song!” It was a spirited performance reminiscent of when he played for Disney Resort Hotel workers in Anaheim roughly a year ago.
2. Dropkick Murphys, “Take 'Em Down”
Irish-American punk/hardcore band Dropkick Murphys dedicated a song to the workers before heading to Wisco, releasing a statement on their website saying, “Hey, everyone, the Dropkick Murphys would like to take a moment to acknowledge the struggles of the working people of Wisconsin and to pledge our support and solidarity by releasing the song 'Take 'Em Down' from our upcoming album. We think it's appropriate at the moment and hope you like it.”
3. Melissa Czarnik, “Jump Start”
Hip-hop is every bit a medium of protest music as folk or punk. Contributing in the genre's regard is “femcee” Melissa Czarnik. The Milwaukee-based rapper was inspired to write and record “Jump Start” for the workers and their supporters in the Wisconsin showdown. The YouTube video for the free download begins with a call-and-response chant in which you can almost imagine Lil' John screaming, “What?” before protesters answer with “Kill the Bill!”
4. Jeffrey Henderson, “The Call”
Working-class struggles fire up the song maker in many people, but the result isn't always listenable. This is not the case with Wisconsin Education Association Council member Jeffrey Henderson. With his acoustic guitar and pro-union lyrics, he sears Republican Governor Scott Walker, singing, “We fought for years to work together/And the despot will not tear us apart.”
5. Rotunda Protesters, “Solidarity Forever”
The last song in this list is a collective effort. Nearly two weeks into a continued rotunda occupation of the Wisconsin's capitol building in Madison, workers and their supporters (including the necessary drum circle) broke into a spirited version of “Solidarity Forever.” Originally penned by writer/artist/labor activist Ralph Chaplin in 1915, the song has inspired the morale of labor struggles for nearly a century.