Wisconsin workers’ rights are a feminist issue

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Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images

For a few reasons. Dana Goldstein hits the nail on the head on how directly feminist of an issue the Wisconsin labor battle is, as it’s one that addresses women workers:

[P]redominantly male professions are deliberately protected while female ones are targeted.

About 80 percent of American teachers, for example, are female; at the elementary school level, nearly 90 percent are women. Nursing is 95 percent female. Nationwide, the majority of public sector union members, represented by AFSCME and other groups, are women.

Meanwhile, over 70 percent of law enforcement workers in the United States are men. Our firefighting ranks are 96 percent male and over half of all professional firefighting departments have never hired a woman.

Secondly, Paul Krugman reminds us what this whole debacle is about: power. And power — particularly, abuses and hierarchies of power — is a primary target that feminism aims to dismantle. We can talk about the injustices around class and work that are obviously at play here and are obviously feminist issues, but these are also efforts to place all power in the hands of a privileged minority and support an American oligarchy — and that in itself is inherently anti-feminist. This is not only class warfare, but is about power and control over people’s lives.

Speaking of power and control over people’s lives, am I the only person who wished our Dems had the guts to flee states in protest of the current war on reproductive rights?

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9 Comments

  1. Posted February 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting about the struggle in Wisconsin. I am from Wisconsin and participated in the rally at the capitol on Saturday. This post describes how the bill would affect women, but even without those numbers I think this issue is a feminist one. Feminism of course is about rights of women, but also about rights in general- and in my opinion, if rights of anyone are taken away, then it is injustice to everyone.

    Also a feminist concern is healthcare, and equal access to it….or, in the case we’re fighting for at the moment, access at all. The proposed bill would put WI medicare (SeniorCare and BadgerCare in WI) in the hands/power of the governor, which we all know would be a very bad thing. He may very well end up ending these programs (if it’s legal), which would leave thousands without access to healthcare.

    So again…thanks for posting about this!

  2. Posted February 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    I am a teacher in Wisconsin and took two unpaid days last week to go to the capitol. I have thought much about this issue, but never thought about the feminist perspective. I will share your insight, and although I wish I could be more positive, it only reinforces for me that this is about power and control. I will continue to fight for what I know is right. And yes, I do wish the Democratss would have the guts. . . .and I think what our Dems are doing in necessary in this case.

  3. Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s issues such as this that will grow feminism.

  4. Posted February 23, 2011 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this! I live in Madison and it’s like you read my mind. It’s so good to know other people feel this way too!

  5. Posted February 23, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about you all but I would much rather my police and fire departments to remain intact over teachers unions. If I am being attacked or my house is on fire than there is an immediate need for assistance that must be answered or else there will be a catastrophic outcome. I want to feel safe and protected and not have to worry about if all the fire trucks are busy while my house is burning down.

    I know that there is a problem of overcrowding in schools, but I just don’t see it as being as big of an issue as the safety of our citizens.

    Just curious, why are nurses included in this article? Last time I checked healthcare was still private. How does cutting the Wisconsin State budget affect the number of nurses employed?

    • Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      The crux of the problem doesn’t have to do with funding levels. The teachers union actually agreed to the monetary changes being laid out, but the governor also wants to take away their collective bargaining rights. If anything, it would be more disruptive for firefighters to hold a work stoppage/reduction than for teachers to do so (with strikes being the tool available to workers/unions to actually leverage for rights).

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      Failing to provide women workers with adequate work conditions is a catastrophic outcome in itself. And as for the schools: I want more for the children in my state than to simply protect their immediate physical safety, and I have no tolerance for specious arguments about balancing the budget. I am an employee of the state, and my union (like all of the major unions here) has already agreed to cuts in wages and benefits. Further, our deficit this year is SMALLER than many years in the past few decades! This is not a particularly hard budget to balance. This is not about the budget at all.

    • Posted March 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Because many of the nurses work at UW hospitals. They would lose their right to form unions all together. (As opposed to some of the other unions which are losing most, but not all, of their rights).

  6. Posted March 1, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    ”Meeeee” wonders why teachers are as important as firefighters and police? Please consider why it is that you need police protection in the first place. A community of poor and uneducated people is a community in trouble. When your children are well-educated, they are more likely to find jobs and less likely to resort to crime to stay alive. A well-educated society is one in which the citizens can figure out when they are being railroaded as Wisconsin is now. Well-educated citizens know their rights and can protest to fend off the attacks of the elite who want to control them. In a privatized society, such as Scott Walker envisions, no one will care about your house burning down (check out the family in Tennessee whose house burned down while the privatized fire department watched because the family had not ”paid up.”) and the privatized police force will be there to protect business property, not your personal safety. Think about the gutted communities where police protection no longer exists anywhere but in the elite suburbs. The police and firefighters in Wisconsin have supported the protests because they know very well what’s next on the agenda.

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