50 Years of Class War in Wisconsin

A conversation with veteran educators and organizers Frank Emspak and Adrienne Pagac about the conditions that paved the way for the Wisconsin Uprising.

Maximillian Alvarez

Protestors shout outside the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as he holds a ceremonial bill signing where he signed a copy of the budget repair bill March 11, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Scott Olson/Getty Images

This is the final installment in our special series of conversations with teachers, organizers, scholars, and activists in Wisconsin that Max, Cameron Granadino (TRNN), and Hannah Faris (In These Times) recorded in the summer of 2021 as part of a special collaboration between The Real News Network and In These Times magazine. To round out the series, we drive straight into the heart of darkness with an in-depth discussion with veteran educators and organizers Frank Emspak and Adrienne Pagac about the passage of Act 10 in Wisconsin under Republican Governor Scott Walker, the statewide protests against it, and the devastation that it has left in Wisconsin for the past 11 years. Frank is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School for Workers and a labor activist based in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a regular contributor to WORT Labor Radio, Progressive Magazine, and a range of other media outlets. Adrienne is a scholar, organizer, and former co-president of the Teaching Assistants Association.

The statewide protests against Act 10, known as the Wisconsin Uprising, comprised one of the largest sustained collective actions in the history of the United States, and anyone who was there in 2011 will attest to the collective spirit of resistance and solidarity that the uprising embodied, and the lasting impact it left on all who participated. But the protests were ultimately unsuccessful in beating back Act 10, and the short and long term effects of its passage have been a disaster for working people and organized labor. How did this coordinated assault on labor come to pass in Wisconsin? And what lessons can the rest of us around the country learn from the 50-year war on workers that has changed the state of Wisconsin for generations?

Additional links/​info below…

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Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemu​si​carchive​.org)

  • Jules Taylor, Working People Theme Song”


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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

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