Harass and eliminate: Anti-labor forces go after professors and art

We’re in the midst of a severe assault on rank-and-file workers, led by anti-labor political and business leaders, and it has entered the realm of attempts to chill speech and artistic expression.

Harass and eliminate

Securing e-mails of “suspect” professors

Public university professors who are sympathetic to labor protesters may find their e-mails being searched by anti-labor entities who want to discredit, embarrass, or harass them, using public records laws to access their communications.

The first salvo came from the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which filed a records request to search the e-mails of a University of Wisconsin professor who had criticized GOP governor Scott Walker. In a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education (link here), Peter Schmidt reports:

The Republican Party of Wisconsin is seeking, under the state’s open-records law, to obtain e-mail sent by a Madison professor who has publicly criticized that state’s Republican governor, a move the professor is denouncing as an assault on his academic freedom.

Officials at the University of Wisconsin at Madison received the records request on March 17, two days after the professor,William Cronon, published a blog post examining the role conservative advocacy groups have played in formulating legislation recently proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers.

Next came a records request from a conservative think tank that wants to inspect the e-mails of labor studies professors at state universities in Michigan. Again for the Chronicle (link here), Peter Schmidt reports:

A free market-oriented think tank in Michigan has sent the state’s three largest public universities open-records requests for any e-mails from their labor-studies faculty members dealing with the debate over collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy . . . sent the requests . . . to labor-studies centers at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Wayne State University. The boilerplate wording . . . asks the universities to provide all e-mails from the employees and contractors of their labor-studies centers containing the words “Scott Walker,” “Wisconsin,” “Madison,” and “Maddow,” in reference to Rachel Maddow, the liberal commentator on MSNBC.

Removing art depicting rank-and-file workers

Maine Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, recently ordered the removal of an 11-panel mural depicting various chapters in the history of the state’s workers from the offices of the Department of Labor. As reported by Ros Krasny for Reuters (link here, including sample panels from the mural):

Waves of criticism have followed the removal of a mural depicting workers’ history in Maine, including the iconic “Rosie the Riveter,” from government offices in the state capital Augusta.


The deed was done, in secrecy, over the weekend.

The 36-foot-long (11-meter-long) work contains 11 panels with images including shoemakers, child labor, textile workers and strikers, as well as Frances Perkins, U.S. Labor Secretary and the first U.S. woman cabinet member.

LePage cited complaints from some business leaders as the reason for ordering the removal.

There is an Orwellian quality to this action, a desire to create a category of unpersons, those “whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practiced by modern repressive governments,” as Wikipedia puts it.

More signs of the American plutocracy

Recently I suggested that America has become a plutocracy, a society where power and influence are controlled and exercised thuggishly by the most wealthy. American plutocrats seek to deny the widely-held belief (outside the U.S., at least) that labor rights and collective bargaining are fundamental human rights, not a branch of some obscure special interest.

These developments are all part of that effort. The dots keep connecting…

3 responses

    • Lisa, thank you for the update and link to Prof. Cronon’s blog! I’m glad that the University showed some backbone and support on this. And it’s clear the professor respects and appreciates that.

      Unfortunately, I also think that the mssg has been sent — the very FOIA request and the exorbitant amount of time and emotional energy required to comply are what chill speech, not so much the end result. Will other faculty simply engage in self-censorship rather than face this kind of disruptive and stressful scrutiny? We’ll never know, obviously, but I think it’s a fair assumption that some professors — tenured or not — will opt for avoiding the hassle.

      Thanks much,

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