Interview about 2011 'Wisconsin uprising'

A 2011 interview with Juan Conatz about the protests in Wisconsin.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 1, 2015

Here is a Spring 2011 interview I did for a internal (UK?) IWW bulletin I'm not sure exists anymore. I'm also not sure if this was included in it, as I never saw a copy.

1) So what made you decide to come to Wisconsin?

I had been unemployed for about 3 months and heard the Madison branch needed help because they were being overwhelmed by the situation. Members of Solidarity & Defense, First of May Anarchist Alliance and the Twin Cities IWW lent me enough money to buy some necessities and move from Davenport, Iowa to Madison, WI. Basically I had nothing holding me down and certain folks thought I could make a positive contribution, so they made sure I got up here.

2) Honestly, tell us about the IWW presence. How was the IWW received? Did we pick up new members? How did we relate to the rest of the movement?

I had been up to Madison twice before I moved up here on March 12th. Those two visits, I didn't notice much of an overt presence besides some random posters. As I learned, most of the branches' efforts were operating as dual carders within the public sector unions. By March 12th though, things had changed, Eric Drooker's 'General Strike' art was everywhere on the street. It was wheatpasted on bus stops, stuck on telephone posts, hung up in and on the capitol building and a lot of protesters had them as well. Even some small buisnesses had the poster in their window.

I think we were received fairly well. The Madison branch has been around a while, Madison is a left leaning town and even though we are small, the fact that people know we are a unions, I think means to them we actually do stuff, as opposed to the various socialist political organizations who eventually also started calling for a general strike (although just for 'one day').

It seems a fair amount of folks joined, although unfortunately, through the internet, where its harder to engage them and get them involved. There is the beginning of a workplace organizing drive started and a couple other possible ones though. These probably wouldn't have happened without our activities in the movement here.

3) Tell us about the public talks held by the IWW? What was the content and how was it received?

There were 3, I was at the last 2. The second was supposed to be on the idea of a general strike and involved a number of different groups and seemed to served the purpose of folks clearing the air with stuff they've been wanting to say. The third had a mini organizer training, but was hampered by a number of problems including inadequate lighting, other events happening at the same time, being a bit disorganized, and going on for too long.

4) In your estimation, how close were we to a general strike? What inhibited it?

Hard to say how close we were. I don't have much to compare it to. I think the possibility was definitely there, but the failure of the movement to generalize beyond the public sector, people's fear and inexperience and Democratic Party and union leadership co-opting the movement killed the possibility.

5) What the most inspiring moment for you personally?

Oh, where do I start? General strike factions emerging in the public sector unions, working class people pissed in the streets, the atmosphere of the capitol occupation. The aura of the city built your confidence beyond what you thought possible. Random people in the street would chat you up about how they hate Walker and think the bill is BS. From students to homeless people.

Originally appeared online: September 21, 2013 at Thinkin Through It