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It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest

First-hand accounts of the largest pro-labor mass mobilization in modern American history

In the spring of 2011, Wisconsinites took to the streets in what became the largest and liveliest labor demonstrations in modern American history. Protesters in the Middle East sent greetings—and pizzas—to the thousands occupying the Capitol building in Madison, and 150,000 demonstrators converged on the city.

In a year that has seen a revival of protest in America, here is a riveting account of the first great wave of grassroots resistance to the corporate restructuring of the Great Recession.

It Started in Wisconsin includes eyewitness reports by striking teachers, students, and others (such as Wisconsin-born musician Tom Morello), as well as essays explaining Wisconsin’s progressive legacy by acclaimed historians. The book lays bare the national corporate campaign that crafted Wisconsin’s anti-union legislation and similar laws across the country, and it conveys the infectious esprit de corps that pervaded the protests with original pictures and comics.

Reviews

  • “[A] collection of stories from those that participated in one of the most inspiring movements to erupt in the US heartland in decades. Those stories provide the observer from afar with a fairly universal and nuanced look at the daily lives of those involved in organizing, occupying, reporting and otherwise participating in those weeks of popular democracy. Interspersed between the tales of the workers, students, farmers and other protesters are a number of photographs and comics. The inclusion of these graphics truly enhances the overall effect....worthwhile and provocative.”
  • “These essays delve into the historical, political, and ideological underpinnings of the 2011 events. [L]ater chapters are meatier, with events set against the backdrop of early-20th-century Wisconsin progressive politics when Governor Robert 'Fighting Bob' LaFollette began the crusade against the dominance of corporate America (at that time, railroads) over government. The book exposes how that same dominance continues today. [W]ill help readers, regardless of their own stance, to understand much of what's at stake in the country's current labor and political battles.”
  • “Midwest pride of place animates much of the writing, along with awareness of Wisconsin's progressive history, the global context for the Madison protests and a genuine outrage that transcends the particular grievances of public sector union members. If anything, Walker has reawakened a dormant spirit of solidarity. The harvest of the extremism he sowed may be his own undoing.”
  • “Convey[s] some deeper understanding and offer[s] important lessons valuable for struggles to come...will stand as a future reference point for those wishing to get some later handle on what happened in the 'Badger State.' Importantly, several of the key essays provide a deeper backdrop for an understanding of what happened. The massive show of solidarity with those directly affected by the 'budget repair bill' did not come just from police and firefighters exempted from the assault, or from private sector trade union hands. It came from a broader public not directly tied to organized labor. [C]ontains several important perspectives on the state of Wisconsin labor, key for understanding the uprising.”

Blog

  • Interns, Occupiers, and Strikers: A May Day 2014 Reading List



    The 1st of May marks International Workers' Day, a festival of working-class self-organization stretching back over 130 years. It was originally inaugurated to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, where a bomb thrown during a worker's strike kicked off a period of anti-labor hysteria.

    In 1890, the first internationally coordinated demonstration for an 8-hour day was held, in commemoration of those killed in the massacre. Eight anarchists were executed on trumped-up charges after the event.

    Here, Verso staff present an updated reading list for May Day. Since first posting the list a few years back, we've added some of our recent titles that trace the changing nature of work and the labor movements in the U.S. and around the world. 

    All books listed are available for direct purchase from our site at discounts of 40% off paperbacks, 30% off hardcovers, and 50% off ebooks, with free shipping, and ebooks bundled with your print purchase where available. 

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  • New Left Review - new issue out now

    The May/June issue of New Left Review is out now, featuring the following essays:

    Susan Watkins: Another Turn of the Screw?

    Beneath the rolling surface of the Euro-crisis, a further chapter of the EU integration project is underway. Susan Watkins on the institutional machinery Berlin is imposing across the Union, and the political stakes – and hypocrisies – laid bare by the struggle.

    Michel Aglietta: The European Vortex

    Global economic turmoil has exposed the structural flaws in the single currency. Amid deepening divergences between industrial north and debt-laden south, Michel Aglietta assesses the Eurozone’s chances of recovery, and the impact of its continued travails on the world economy.
    Michel Aglietta is author of A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The US Experience.

    Perry Anderson Ronald Fraser

    Tribute to the author of Blood of Spain, locating the impulse behind his oeuvre in a commitment to explore lived experience. Reconstructions of work, war, politics and subjectivity, from Napoleonic era to post-Fordist present.
    Amongst others, Perry Anderson is the author of The New Old World and Spectrum.

    Ronald Fraser: Politics as Daily Life

    How are collective mobilizations refracted through the prism of personal experience – and in what conditions can individual histories be constituted as history? Ronald Fraser reflects on memory, method and militancy.
    Ronald Fraser is author of In Hiding, In Search of a Past  and Napoleon's Cursed War: Popular Resistance in the Spanish Peninsular War, 1808-1814.

    Alèssi Dell’Umbria: The Sinking of Marseille

    The recent fate of France’s second city – post-war decline followed by modish resurgence – seen in the longe durée by its radical historian. A social and political archaeology  of Marseille, amid the steady dismantling of its urban worlds.

    Roberto Schwarz: Political Iridescence

    Brazil’s foremost literary critic engages with the autobiography of Caetano Veloso, its best-known musician. The dense wave of relations between 60s counter-culture and left movements, and its rending by years of dictatorship and capitalist triumph.
    Roberto Schwarz is the author of forthcoming Verso book, Two Girls

    The issue also features the following book reviews:

    Fredric Jameson on Francis Spufford, Red Plenty. A documentary-cum-fable reconstructs the lost future of the Khrushchev era.
    Visit NLR to read the review.
    Amongst others, Fredric Jameson is the author of Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One.

    Tom Hazeldine on D. R. Thorpe, Supermac. Lengthy apologia for Harold Macmillan from a serial Tory biographer.
    Visit NLR to read the review.

    Gregory Elliot on Lucio Magri, The Tailor of Ulm. The trajectory of Italian communism, analysed by an unillusioned participant-observer.
    Visit NLR to read the review.

    Paul Buhle on Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage. Chronicle of the United Farm Workers and their mercurial leader, Cesar Chavez.
    Visit NLR to read the review.
    Paul Buhle is author of It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest.

    Visit the New Left Review to access the new issue or subscribe.

  • The working-class in the saddle: A reading list for May Day

    The 1st of May marks International Workers' Day, a festival of working-class self-organisation stretching back over 130 years. It was originally inaugurated to commemorate the "Haymarket Massacre" of 1886 in Chicago, where a bomb thrown during a worker's strike kicked off a police crackdown followed by a period of anti-labor hysteria.

    In 1890, the first internationally co-ordinated demonstration for an 8-hour day was held, in commemoration of those killed in the massacre, and those eight anarchists executed on trumped-up charges after the event.

    Here, Verso staff present "A Reading List for May Day", looking at the radical history of the festival in the European and North American labor movements, and how that spirit lives on in grassroots workplace struggles.

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Other books Edited by Paul Buhle and Mari Jo Buhle Foreword by Michael Moore Introduction by John Nichols