Janesville Doc Hits Close to Home in Madison, Wisconsin

(L-R) Brad Lichtenstein, director of As Goes Janesville, John Nichols, and WI State Senator Tim Cullen at the Madison Public Library

Director Brad Lichtenstein and Wisconsin Senator Tim Cullen lead a lively the discussion after a Madison, Wisconsin, screening of  As Goes Janesville. Lisa Mettauer, Outreach Librarian at the Madison Public Library, gives a rundown of the events as they unfolded in Madison, WI.

As the center of the massive protests to Governor Scott Walker’s legislation, we have a population extremely interested and involved with all aspects of the topics covered in this month’s film, As Goes Janesville.  We were fortunate to have a large and distinguished panel, including Brad Lichtenstein, director of As Goes Janesville, who acted as the moderator; Senator Tim Cullen, who was featured in the film; Mark Pocan, current State Assemblyman and running for US Congress; John Nichols, political journalist from The Nation and The Capital Times; Mike Sheridan, Legislative and Policy Director for the AFL/CIO and former UAW President in Janesville; Jenni Dye, Dane County Board member and Janesville native; and Brad Werntz, business owner and cofounder of Wisconsin Business Alliance.

As Goes Janesville played to a full house — some audience members came from as far away as Janesville to see the movie.  The audience also included a GM worker who has been commuting to Fort Wayne from Madison (more than 300 miles) since the closure of the GM plant. After the screening, we engaged in a panel discussion. An 8-year-old girl asked one of the first questions comparing the current recession to the Great Depression.  John Nichols thought that the current recession was worse, not in actual human toll and unemployment rate, but because we’re competing in a global society, and our recent presidents have allowed us to deindustrialize to the point where we cannot get out of the recession through manufacturing jobs.

We also discussed how cities compete with each other to bring jobs to their communities — someone called it “economic blackmail.”  Mark Pocan mentioned Midwest Progressive Officials Network, an organization that encourages communities to come together to stop raiding states by giving lower bids to companies to attract their jobs.  The group believes companies should be given standards and accountability measures to get the loans and subsidies from a community, and the companies should be required to give the money back to the community if they leave for another location. Pocan mentioned a bill in Congress to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

Senator Cullen said he was disturbed by the Janesville business community’s drive to lower the wages offered by the new businesses, and their willingness to offer non-union and low wage jobs. He talked about how many of his constituents have two or more jobs to be able to maintain the income they had prior to the plant closing.  To improve on this situation, Brad Werntz answered that companies need customers with disposable income and leisure time, and they need educated workers.  We cannot drive down wages because we need a vibrant middle class.

Nichols said that Wisconsin is now a national symbol because of its reaction to Scott Walker’s attempts to get rid of unions.  Nichols can think of 45 states that have a Janesville in them, where a large factory closed and the jobs either shipped overseas or disappeared.

Full house at the Madison screening of As Goes Janesville

One audience member asked how a society can survive when you take all your scientists, engineers, and resources and put them into the military sector instead of infrastructure.  The discussion emphasized how South Korea put less money into its military and instead developed high-speed internet.  According to Nichols, the tiniest village in South Korea now has faster internet than our own Silicon Valley.  We sacrifice economic development on the altar of the military budget.  After the election, the government will compromise to balance the budget, and both sides of the aisle have taken military spending off the table.  Nichols paraphrased George McGovern, who said if we want to thrive, we have to “come home America,” meaning we have to bring our funding home to build a strong infrastructure and build a great economy instead of creating a class of economic refugees.

What should businesses be advocating?  Brad Werntz answered: In disruption, there are opportunities to do new things.  Companies need educated workers and customers with disposable income and leisure time.  We cannot drive down wages, and we need to fill jobs with a vibrant middle class. One of the anti-business things Wisconsin’s governor did was to turn down stimulus money for high-speed internet.  It’s important for government to provide people the tools to reinvent themselves.

Finally, there was a big call for the U.S. to design an industrial policy. Germany has a trade policy to keep high-paying, highly skilled jobs in their country, and weathered the recession so well they bailed out the European Union. Like Germany, the government needs to provide the infrastructure and resources for people to create small businesses and with them, more jobs.

This was a wonderful film, truly appreciated by the crowd viewing it with us at Madison Community Cinema.