A history of class conflict in flyover land

Posted: 6 March 2011 in Uncategorized
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Kate Zernike gets it:

The ferment in the Midwest — a place that many people on the coasts assume just waits around for revolutionary ideas to be flown in, like day-old sushi — exists in part because the region has been the center of so much of the industry where the union movement first took hold.

So does Rosemary Feurer (in the same article):

“The play by the governor is part of a longer history and a longer struggle over ideas and social policy,” said Rosemary Feurer, a labor historian at Northern Illinois University. “When I see this I think, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.”

In her book, “Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950,” Professor Feurer recounts how companies in the electrical industry in St. Louis started a network known as the Metal Trades Association in the first part of the 20th century to fight union organizing. The association had been alarmed by union protests that erupted violently with the Haymarket Square riot in 1886 and the demands for an eight-hour day, which started with the 1894 Pullman strike in Illinois — an early effort by Eugene V. Debs, the former Indiana legislator and future Socialist Party candidate for president.

“That left a legacy of the 1930s and ’40s for employers to form deep right-wing networks,” Professor Feurer said.

That network, she argues, was the precursor to the Midwestern groups that have now been assisting the fight against the unions in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana: the Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, and Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan. David H. and Charles G. Koch, the billionaire brothers behind the energy and manufacturing conglomerate that bears their name, have been large donors to Mr. Walker in Wisconsin, as has their advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, which first opened an office in Wisconsin in 2005.

Along the way, Zernike presents pieces of the history—about both sides of the class conflict—that we would do well to keep in mind in trying to make sense of what is going on today not only in Wisconsin but also in Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere in the Midwest.

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