Despite a huge groundswell of opposition, including tens of thousands of protestors marching on and occupying the Wisconsin state capitol of Madison last month, governor Scott Walker signed a controversial anti-union bill into law on Friday. The bill, supposedly an effort to balance the state's budget, sparked outrage amongst unions and their supporters as it stripped public employees—most notably teachers—of their right to bargain collectively. Faced with a number of Democratic lawmakers who had fled the state in order to avoid the quorum necessary to vote on the bill, Walker and his Republican cohorts pulled a last minute legislative rules sleight of hand, which enabled them to push the bill through.
Of course, this has nothing to do with balancing budgets—it's all a calculated plan to cut the legs out from under one of the strongest voting blocks that make up the Democrats roots. Wisconsin Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald admitted as much on Friday, saying, "If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."
Among those rallying to halt the passage of the bill were DROPKICK MURPHYS, who released an advance of their song “Take 'Em Down” last month from their album, Going Out In Style, which debuted last week at No. 6 on theBillboard Top 200, their highest debut to date. The band also put out limited edition “Take 'Em Down” T-shirt, the proceeds of which are marked for the Workers' Rights Emergency Response Fund, and the punk outfit have made recent appearances in Wisconsin.
With the passage of the bill, were the bands' efforts and the tireless protests of the unions and their supporters a wasted effort? Similar measures are on the line in states throughout the country, like Ohio, Missouri, Michigan and Indiana, where Republican majorities intend to dismantle the union system under the guise of cost-cutting measures.
We asked Dropkick Murphys bassist/vocalist KEN CASEY whether or not he was disheartened by the outcome in Wisconsin, and what he thinks songs like his band’s can do for rallying people around political causes.
So it looks like the bill is going to be passed in Wisconsin. Was this whole thing a failure, or is the response and outpouring of protest a good outcome we can take from it?
I wouldn't say I’d call it a failure. I'd call it an injustice more than a failure on the part of the people trying really hard. We were just up there to see how relentless people have been keeping the pressure on. I guess if the powers that be want to mess with democracy, there's not much you can do. Hopefully, the outrage that's coming out will help change things. I know if they can get enough signatures [they can have recall elections]. Maybe after that, something can be done to change it back.
I was very surprised, before this, and I think now a lot of people are starting to see this is along term agenda. It's amazing to me how many people in the middle class seem to have forgotten who and what got us here, in the [economic] situation' in now. The big money people must be laughing all the way to the bank watching the middle class fighting among themselves over who is making five dollars more an hour, or who has a better pension. Trying to take something away form a person who has it isn't going to bring anyone up in class or income or living standard.
That's one of the things that's been most shocking about this to me: the workers who are fighting each other are picking the wrong fight. The whole situation has been twisted to where the workers are pitted against themselves instead of the real criminals.
We've seen it firsthand. Some of the feedback we've got from fans is stuff like, “I'll never listen to you again. I can’t believe you'd support this.” I was like, “Wow, I don't know what lyrics you've been hearing.... There's division in our fans, where you would assume our fans would be borderline 100 percent sympathetic. If there's some discrepancy even among them, I think it’s scary.
This is still an important message in your song though, right? Considering other states face similar propositions.
We were just in Ohio. We had a bunch of people collecting signatures to try to get the bill removed [there], and they have a long way to go. I think the fact the cops and fire [departments] are in the same position in Ohio gives it a little more public sympathy. People stop and go, “Wait, I might need those guys. We don't want to cut them.” People get selfish. They say, “I need those two, but everyone else can take a hike.” Regardless, it's a horrible situation either way.
You've been working with the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). What's your relationship like with those groups?
We had a rapport with the SEIU from [Boston Hospital Workers] Local 1199, where we helped them out when they were trying to negotiate their contracts with hospitals. We played a rally for them. We did a music video for them that they distributed to raise awareness. We have a long history with the AFL-CIO. Back in 2001, we went down and played at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. They like the message we're carrying because it reaches a different demographic: younger kids. Obviously, music has a way of carrying a message to people who may not otherwise hear it, or hear it in a way that they connect with. By the same token, let when we believe in something like this, we try to do it in actions—showing up, making T-shirts and raising money for workers' relief funds. I'm not big about soap boxing from the stage. People pay their money to hear music. They don't want to hear a guy who barely made it out of high school pontificating.
The band's images is of working-class, blue-collar guys. Is that what your upbringing was actually like?
[It was like that for] me and everyone else I knew. Your father was either a postman, a cop or worked for the gas company. My father was deceased when I was young, but my mother was a hairdresser. My grandfather was a union organizer years ago, and my father-in-law is a retired union president. I worked for him for years before the band. It's a background and a political belief.
Are kids more or less political now than in past generations?
I think they're very political now. Sometimes it depends on the subject, whether its trendy sometimes. You know, it’s hard to gauge. I think you could look at the last election where kids got out and voted for Obama to show they're paying attention and definitely involved. I don't know whether they understand the future ramification of stuff like this. Maybe when they're out of college in the workforce and have children... Hopefully they do understand it and will try to do their part.
What do you think of the framing of the concept of socialism in the current climate?
It's a fine line. Obviously, I believe in democracy and capitalism and people working hard to get ahead. I don't feel like everything should be taken from people who work hard and given to those who aren't, but if people who have give a little to the have-nots, it helps everybody get a leg up. I think that's better for everybody. II think this [situation in Wisconsin] is that fine line. Let’s pay people fairly for the job they do—especially when they earn it and especially when they're underpaid in the first place. How is it that we somehow ended up painting teachers as the greedy ones here? How ridiculous is that? And then years down the line when we're complaining about how poorly educated our children are, whom will we blame?
I think it's one of most important jobs. It's a tough job to do that day in and day out and keep [students’] attention. I don't believe any money saved by this is going to end up in a tax break. It's going go to some other political agenda. It's all bullshit. I mean, I'm not the guy balancing the budget, but those numbers are spun depending on whether you're watching MSNBC or Fox News. I have a pretty healthy distrust of politicians, especially the guys in charge [in Wisconsin]. I don't think [the unions] are the problem. I think these unions are being scapegoated and turned into the enemy and they're not. Not to say there's not corruption and things that couldn't be cleaned up—there are always problems that need to be addressed. But to make it seem like these hardworking people are the problem isn't the way to do it. alt