I was too young to remember the great Kohler strikes of the last century, but I'm old enough to remember the stories. And, I'm getting a deja vu as the budget repair stalemate enters another February weekend.
Being born in Sheboygan, there was no way Kohler didn't affect your life, even if you or your parents didn't work there. Chances are, relatives did. Perhaps a neighbor or two, or even a couple of friends. If not, someone knew someone who had a tie to the place, which employed thousands as America's need for porcelain products grew amid the post-war economic boom.
Kohler had labor pains, though, and at least two fairly hefty strikes. I don't remember the particulars, but I do know people died in the first one and that guard towers were build along the factory walls at one point. There was a second job action, too, one that lasted a long time.
Each left marks long after the picket signs went away.
I heard stories about how the strikes split families and neighborhoods, pitting brothers against brothers and fathers against sons. It all depended on which side of the argument you were on and, in some cases, there was no way the situation could be rationally discussed. In those instances, "Kohler" was something that wasn't brought up in polite company. In others, it meant a relative wasn't invited for Christmas. Or Easter. Or, in some cases, funerals.
I wonder if kids will tell stories in years ahead, not about Kohler but about 2011 and collective bargaining and the rent the debate caused in their families.
Everyone has an opinion and some are more passionate about the argument than others. The Journal/Sentinel tells of the impact the stalemate is having on cyber relations, which already are dicey propositions. Add anonymity and the invention of "facts" and you've got a powder keg just waiting for a lit fuse.
I've already given you a taste of what I'm getting for blowback--my new favorite e-mail came from a woman who accused me of being soft on guests and not bringing up the questions she wanted asked. My reply did nothing to mollify her--in fact, she responded by telling me that, in so many works, I'm a leftist simp. On top of that, she told me I should stick to blogging about recipes and that I'm not very funny on the air any more and that the only reason she listens is to find out what time it is. She didn't touch upon my kids or wife. Maybe she's saving that for the next e-mail.
Point is: these are incendiary times. My buddies at the Admirals got grief about booking The Dropkick Murphys as their post-game entertainment Friday night, a band that picked a side in the current fight with the release of a pro-union protest song. The group drew a huge house last spring when the team had them in, and the Admirals signed them for a return appearance last September, months before anyone could've seen what was coming in Madison or the band's choice of allegiance. That didn't keep the Admirals from getting blow-back from angry fans questioning the booking. So much for music soothing the savage beast.
You know it's a tinderbox when something as innocuous as a post-hockey-game concert is fodder in a greater political debate. I haven't been in many bars since the ruckus started, but I'm guessing it has to be not unlike tap dancing in a mine field. I've found it best to defuse such situations by issuing a girthy, "How 'bout dem Packers?!?".
Might I suggest the rest of the state take a page out of my playbook when things get tense and veins start to bulge as the inevitable comes up for discussion. When it looks as though f-bombs are about to be dropped and fists may be set to fly, bring up the Green and Gold as a deflection. The Super Bowl happened February 4th and the afterglow that covered the state for days after was something to behold.
Doesn't it feel as though the game - and that feeling - were something that happened about a year ago?
Gene Mueller is the host of Wisconsin's Morning News at AM 620-WTMJ.