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William Cronon writes: "McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him."

Rallies have been held across the country to support the protesters holding steady at the Wisconsin Capitol in their fight against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening collective bargaining for unions, 02/28/11. (photo: Matt Eich/LUCEO/Newsweek)
Rallies have been held across the country to support the protesters holding steady at the Wisconsin Capitol in their fight against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening collective bargaining for unions, 02/28/11. (photo: Matt Eich/LUCEO/Newsweek)


Wisconsin's Radical Break

By William Cronon, The New York Times

22 March 11

RSN Special Coverage: GOP's War on American Labor

Now that a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, it's worth stepping back to place these events in larger historical context.

Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.

Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a "laboratory of democracy." The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers' compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959.

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