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March 31, 2011

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Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2011 10:32:42
From: TomDispatch <>
Subject: Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Union-Busting or Republican-Busting in Wisconsin?

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March 31, 2011
Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Union-Busting or Republican-Busting in Wisconsin?

One hundred years ago, 146 people, mostly young immigrant women, died in a
fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in downtown New York City, a
building lacking sprinkler systems, fire walls, or adequate fire escapes.
Onlookers watched horrified, writes historian Steve Fraser, as many of the
trapped workers jumped to their deaths from upper-story windows. Those below
?talked of the sky raining flaming bodies.?

Anger at the unnecessarily harsh and dangerous working conditions that
caused such a toll was widespread. One hundred thousand New Yorkers would
file past the coffins of the dead workers.  Within days, 350,000 New Yorkers
would take to the streets in a massive march of protest -- many, adds
Fraser, ?to vent their anger and express their determination that tragedies
such as this should never be allowed to happen again.?  That moment is now
considered a turning point for the movement to improve working conditions in

That was then, of course, and until this February, the centennial
anniversary of that tragedy would have been considered nothing more than
history, and those thinking about it sentimentalists for a bygone era when
people cared about and organized around the needs of working people in this
country. No one would have imagined that those sorts of mass protests over
the conditions of working people would ever again leave the history books
for the streets of America. But as in the Middle East, so here, it?s often
true that what no one expects or predicts happens, that one day the streets
in Madison, Wisconsin, or Cairo, Egypt, suddenly, miraculously begin to
fill. Now, in a moment when labor is under assault and some leading
politicians seem to be dreaming of returning American workers to a state of
powerlessness not seen in perhaps 80 years, something?s happening, even if
we don?t know what it is, Mr. Jones.

What occurred in Madison may already be altering the normal political
landscape of this country. The question is whether it will also, perhaps in
unexpected ways, create a new terrain beyond the usual electoral politics.
TomDispatch associate editor Andy Kroll covered the Madison protests for
Mother Jones magazine and for this site in a stirring piece, ? Cairo in
Wisconsin.? Now, he begins to explore the spread of what might be called
"the Madison effect" and the changing contours of political America. (To
catch Timothy MacBain?s latest TomCast audio interview in which Kroll
discusses his time in Madison and the larger meaning of those protests,
click  here, or download it to your iPod  here.) Tom

       Return to Wisconsin
       The Beginning or the End?
       By Andy Kroll

       It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see
       the ends.
       -- Joan Didion

       In the February weeks I spent in snowy Madison, Wisconsin, that
       line of Didion's, the opening of her 1967 essay "Goodbye to All
       That," ricocheted through my mind as I tried to make sense of
       the massive protests unfolding around me. What was I witnessing?
       The beginning of a new movement in this country -- or the end of
       an existing one, the last stand of organized labor? Or could it
       have been both?

       None of us on the ground could really say. We were too close to
       the action, too absorbed by what was directly in front of us.

       Click here to read more of this dispatch.


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this is where the gesture comes in

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