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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Great Tractorcade That Wasn't

From some of the reports, one would think Wisconsin farmers had turned out en masse with their tractors to side with public sector employee unions against Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans who control the legislature.

The New York Times reported that "Farmers descended on the Capitol in Madison to protest the budget bill, trundling around in a brigade of tractors," and featured a photo of someone on a tractor in its story about the protest yesterday in Madison.

A brigade of tractors?  I realize The Times probably was using the term figuratively, but even so, since a brigade typically is 3,000-5,000 soldiers in number, certainly The Times was talking big numbers of tractors in Madison, right?

If not several thousand tractors, certainly the 1000 or more which were driven through Paris, France last spring in protest over food prices, right?  After all, the event was highly publicized by the union movement, as reflected on this Facebook page:
Saturday, at 10am, farmers from the dairyland will bring tractors and solidarity to the Capitol to fight for labor rights and a just state budget. Rural communities will be disproportionately hurt by the cuts to education and Badgercare. Farmers in Wisconsin stand with state workers and all working and middle class families in the state. The event is sponsored by Family Farm Defenders and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. All farmers... and eaters welcome and encouraged to come!
Funds were raised to pay the fuel expenses to encourage participation.

John Nichols at The Nation described the significance of the farmers and workers uniting:
So when the farmers of Wisconsin arrived Saturday, on tractors that rolled in from across the state, Wisconsinites brought this movement full circle.

The tractorcade, organized by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Family Farm Defenders, began a day of rallying at the Capitol that drew the largest yet—and that signaled the determination of Wisconsinites to keep fighting the Walker agenda....
Wisconsin workers and farmers have, in the words of the tractorcade organizers, decided to “Pull Together!” That’s a slogan that recalls the historic organizing of the farmer-labor movements of the upper Midwest, which had their expression in Wisconsin in the Progressive Party that sent Robert M. La Follette Jr. to the US Senate and elected Phil La Follette as governor in the 1930s.

It has been a long time since Wisconsin has been this united, and since the farmers and workers of the state have spoken in so loud and clear a voice.
So how many tractors actually were driven through Madison?  Well, like the crowd estimates (ranging from 50,000-100,000), it depends who you ask.

But no news reports says there were actually that many. AP reported:
Saturday's protest got a boost from a parade of more than 30 tractors driven by farmers supporting the union workers.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which used the term "tractorcade" put the number at 60.  The Wisconsin State Journal put the number at 50.

All these efforts and fundraising, all the hype about the return of the Fleebagger 14 to Madison, the last great rally to show the world that the workers of Wisconsin have united, and they only could get 30-60 farmers to bring their tractors to the parade? 

Even these low numbers, however, tend to overstate the significance, because it is not clear that the farmers who drove their tractors even support the unions. Rather, as this article in a local progressive website shows, the farmers were most upset about budget cuts unrelated to collective bargaining.  And Gov. Walker continues to have the support of many agricultural groups.

So there was no Brigade of Tractors, not even anything that legitimately could be called a Tractorcade.

Just fanciful exaggerations by people who bitterly cling to the glory days of the 1930s union movement, not realizing that the world has passed them by.

Update 3-14-2011:  My First Media Matters Post.

Related Posts:
Great Morning - MoveOn Confirms Paltry Protest Numbers And Village Voice Messes Up
50-State Union Protest Falls Far Short Of Predicted Turnout
The Nation Mag Still Spreading Pandemic Lies

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  1. The Madison Police Department estimated that as many as 100,000 people had gathered to welcome home the senators. I just mention it since you couldn't seem to find room to notice in your article about tractors.

  2. How many of those 50-60 tractors were from out of state? Is there a John Deere factory nearby that loaned out its demo tractors?

  3. 30-50 tractors? Heck I saw nearly that many at the 4th of July Parade in Monument, CO.--a two block long parade the highschool band played in--3 times. (The circled the block to get back in line.)

  4. @tlaloc please read the post before commenting. I note estimates of 50-100k and link to an article with the specifics.

  5. Hmmm - whatever number they come up with, someone needs to take that number and a picture of the crowd, then use that to estimate the number of people at the capitol on any of the large Tea Party gatherings....

  6. Why do we assume a union guy doesn't own a tractor, and maybe the family farm?

    I don't see this as two sets necessarily.

    I saw some of those tractors. Hobby horses.

  7. What I saw in the video from the Wisconsin State Journal was two things: different views of the same three tractors and a number of vintage tractors. I really only saw one that I would think is an actual working tractor.

    Now, since they showed only about 7-8 tractors, perhaps the rest were lawn tractors?

    And today, in that bastion of liberal thinking, Portland, Oregon, the Socialists of America held a rally. They let us know that there protest is the beginning of the SPRING RIOTS.

  8. I've seen more tractors at 4th of July parades.

  9. I wonder if those 30-50 farmers would like to return to those days (in WI) when their farmland was assessed at it's value based on potential development value, instead of at present agricultural use? Revisiting that issue comes up every once in awhile (when Doyle, D, was Gov)

    Many municipal & school officials In WI rue the day that farmland was given an exemption from having their land taxed at it's highest potential use - that land was literally a cash cow for the taxing bodies. Personally, I agree with that - doesn't cost much to educate cows or cropland, even if someday that land is converted to residential development. Anyway, that tax benefit for farmers was also labeled "anti-education".

    The school districts lost a substantial source of revenue (and it didn't cost them anything to serve vacant land), the municipalities claim that this shifted the burden of to the city & village residents.

    That's whats funny about this all going on in Madison. It's a large group of various constituencies with different interests. Right now they think they are part of some big common cause, because there are so many involved. Will be interesting to watch when they cannabalize each other as they advocate for their own self-interests.

  10. The bigger the tractor, the smaller the...

  11. Could you tell how many supporters of Walker came to the rally on Saturday - in a tractor - or not?

  12. On the same basis as the jobs created or saved - my guess is that it would take about 200 tractors to represent the labor of a Brigade of men. A modern tractor is capable of 20 acres of plowing in a 10 hour day.

    So even on that basis 50 - 60 tractors comes short of a brigade.

  13. Even given the top figure of 100,000 realize that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is 1.4 million. A member of the AFL-CIO which claims 56 unions as members, which jointly represent about 11 million of the 15.7 million unionized workers in the United States (per the NYT 2009) and all they could get to a rally that is of this kind of import to unions and supposedly the middle class worker who is under assault is a top number of 100,000? Even offering to bus in members, such as myself, from Michigan and other states? I am like many others who are members by virtue of where I work. Don't forget the SEIU is supportive even though the are no longer affiliated with the AFL-CIO anymore. That's another 2.2 million.
    And 30 tractors, really? We have that many in my rural area for the annual syrup festival parade. Thats from two rural towns totaling just over 2000 people. Course we should count the probably additional 1000-1500 outside the village limits. Even given the high number of 60, .
    Frankly coming from Michigan with multiple family members that were UAW members, and myself a member of a nursing union that rolled into a larger more militant union Dec 2009, the whole issue is bitter. Bitter in the same way it's hard to even drive by where the Oldsmobile factory used to be. Just an empty lot with a rusting fence and weeds growing through the concrete. Bitter to have watched the jobs drain away because of wages and benefits that became uncontrollable. Bitter to realize that the UAW was as complicit in the loss of jobs and a way of life as the company that was managed as poorly as it was.
    Come talk to some of those who lost everything and ask them how they really feel about their union.

  14. New Deal Worker Solidarity and the tractor.

    Only a few problems: it's an old deal, a raw deal, not ideal, and no longer a big deal. So no deal and no traction.

  15. I guess that would be a company of tractors? Or maybe a full platoon?

  16. "not realizing that the world has passed them by"

    Oh, they know it. In their hearts they know it. They go to bed knowing it. They wake up in the morning knowing it.

  17. The way a teacher or govt worker shows union solidarity is by taping a hand made sign saying Ford or Chevy over the Lexus or Accord logo

  18. 30 tractors would equal a full strength platoon, but I am also interested in the "hired help" bussed in from out of state to scream "this is what democracy looks like!"
    Maybe so, but it's nothing to brag about the way they are doing it.

  19. anyone notice that the guy in the photo is way to clean? I mean I live in Oregon and know that Farming is hard and dirty work but that guy looks like he just "dressed up" to look like a farmer. now I am not say there weren't Farmers at this protest but come on.

  20. What kind of gas mileage do tractors get? With gas prices what they are, I'm surprised any of them would waste the money on this, with planting season coming up.

  21. Perhaps they don't have dictionaries in the clinic where you profess, sir. Merriam-Webster, with particular attention to definition #2:

    Definition of BRIGADE

    a : a large body of troops
    b : a tactical and administrative unit composed of a headquarters, one or more units of infantry or armor, and supporting units
    : a group of people organized for special activity

    See brigade defined for English-language learners »

    Examples of BRIGADE

    The morality brigade insists that the book be censored.

    a clean-up brigade put the parish hall back in good order

    Origin of BRIGADE

    French, from Italian brigata, from brigare to fight — more at brigand
    First Known Use: 1634

  22. Could you tell how many supporters of Walker came to the rally on Saturday ... - G

    Not sure about Saturday, but 1,128,887 of them showed up on Nov. 2, 2010. Does that count?

  23. whine whine whine. Every article that I read about this stated 50 tractors and 1 donkey EXPLICITLY. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Why is Political Correctness now a conservative virtue?

  24. All you Cons have to do is listen to Faux News for figures on the crowd & tractor rides because they are so balanced.

  25. I peg the count at 44 "tractors", including one bicycle pulling some hay in the count.

    A few lawn tractors, many antiques, and at most half that appear to be actual working machines.


  26. The number of tractors is reported as being 30 in one paper, and 60 in another paper. That Leftards won't even give an accurate count of the very small number of tractors that pass them by means that the actual number was significantly less than 30.

  27. Yee gods. The guy on the tractor must be a fake farmer because he took a shower? Do farmers not have running water where you live, Joshua?
    Have you seen any modern farming where you live, Joshua? The tractors with enclosed cabs, air conditioning, GPS, fingertip controls, etc?

  28. What is the official number of tractors required to make a "cade" anyway?

    If the teabaggers can call Palin, ODonnell, Paladino etal legitimate candidates, and their mob a movement, Wisconsin can call this convoy of rural farmers pissed off at Walker whatever the hell it wants to...

    Let's try to keep this in perspective: This is a MONTHS worth of sustained pro-union protesting, not a weekend, and Saturday's crowd was larger then the teabaggers have as yet been able to muster. Walker has failed to legitimize the teaparty assertion that America hates unions and has instead only managed to publicly expose the Tea Party as an unwitting Political arm of Corporate America and put the Wisconsin GOP's ass in a sling for 2012. The Left couldn't have done it better if we tried. We are eternally grateful.

    Sounds to me like your "bitterness" assertion is a projection. But, what else would one expect from a mediocre professional union-buster witnessing a national resurgence in something he has spent most of his professional life trying to destroy...?

  29. I work on a farm, and I'll tell you, we'd all kill for the kind of salary benefits the WI union folks get. None of us have insurance, we have to pay self-employment taxes, work year round, no paid vacations or holidays and frequently, it's a very cash-poor endeavor. We love it, but man, I can't possibly see us as part of a demographic that's going to go fight for the privilege of paying for union benefits that are lavish beyond our wildest imagination.

  30. 1. Just fanciful exaggerations by people who bitterly cling to the glory days of the 1930s union movement, not realizing that the world has passed them by.

    Hopefully so. We'll know more after WI's Supreme Court election next month. There are attempts to recall state senators of both parties; we'll learn from how they fare.

    2. My impression is that while Wisconsin is taking the heat, similar Republican efforts are proceeding successfully in some other states. If the GOP fails in Wisconsin, the Left will claim the Right was repudiated nationally. Perhaps the Left figures that WI is its best chance for rolling back last year's election, and is accordingly focusing resources and attention there.

  31. Well of course it's larger than the Tea Party can muster. They have to show up because the Union told them to.

    They're just doing their jobs, except they've been called in on the weekend to put in a few more hours.

  32. Prof. Jacobson: Since we're counting tractors, it makes sense to compare to the number of mechanized vehicles in a military unit, not to the number of personnel. An American mechanized brigade has on the (very) rough order of 100 armored vehicles. Tank brigades have more tanks, armored cavalry have more Bradleys.

  33. This is something I would have expected from Iowahawk.

  34. PST314,

    Even by that count, they fall short of a brigade. Going by the high count of 60, that's 4-6 companies, depending on what TO&E you're using. 1-2 battalions, and a brigade has at least 4-5, not counting the support units. A task force of tractors at best...

  35. Cyberludite: Well, yes, of course. I thought that was obvious.

  36. A few clarificitions from one of the farmers:

    1. There were exactly 50 tractors because the Madison Police Department requested that we limit the parade to 50 tractors.

    2. Many of the tractors, including mine, were of the smaller, antique variety. That does not mean that the farmers operating them do not have larger work tractors back at the farm. I left my big diesel tractor at home because it is much easier to trailer the old tractor down to the city.

    3. Farmers weren't only on tractors. There were thousands of farmers and rural people who attended the rally on foot.

    4. Despite having other concerns about the budget repair bill, every farmer I spoke with also supported collective bargaining rights for public employees.

    5. Of course Scott Walker has the support of industrial ag groups. He also has the support of the Koch brothers. The family-scale farmers that attended the rally last Saturday are not represented by factory farm promoters like Farm Bureau or the Dairy Business Association.

    Looks like you need to come down from the ivory tower. The view is better from my silo.

  37. Thanks, Matthew. Yes, the very FB link posted here, had the blogger excerpted (or read?) more, notes that the permit now required for protests limited the number of tractors to 50, so there was a first come-first serve signup. Your silo provides a well-informed worldview.