by Bryan G. Pfeifer
Madison, Wis. – Since Feb. 14, tens of thousands of students, workers and other community members have liberated the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair” bill, which would eliminate collective bargaining rights for 175,000 public sector union workers statewide.
Gilbert Johnson, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 82 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told this reporter: “We’re repulsed by the efforts of the current administration to strip us of our rights and dignity. The increasing protests statewide, and especially at the state Capitol, are exactly what’s needed to kill Gov. Walker’s bill, which is a union-busting and anti-worker attack. The resistance by the people of Wisconsin is inspiring and instilling hope in poor and working people all over the country. We need a constant stream of people going to the Capitol to stop this bill.”
As of this writing, Walker’s budget bill is in the Joint Finance Committee, while hundreds of students and others are camping overnight inside the Capitol. A people’s filibuster took place for more than 20 hours Feb. 15-16. On one occasion in the late evening of Feb. 15, when the committee attempted to shut down public comment, hundreds of angry protesters led by students chanted, “We will speak” and “Let us in.” They won more time – public comments continued until 2:30 a.m.
If the committee approves Walker’s bill, it goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be passed, and then on to the Assembly. The bill could come before the Senate as early as tomorrow. Those protesting have pledged the Senate and Assembly will be faced with mass resistance of various kinds if they attempt to pass the bill.
Both Wednesday and Thursday, hundreds of buses traveled to Madison from all across the state for noon rallies at the Capitol. The thousands who traveled to Madison occupied the Capitol building both days, taking over all four floors, encircling the Capitol in moving pickets and holding candlelight vigils. Inside, thousands more lobbied legislators, joined protests and drumming circles and sang. The crowds descending on the Capitol grew from 20,000 Tuesday to 50,000 Friday.
All the K-12 teachers and students in Madison walked out and joined in solidarity at the Capitol. There have also been “teach-outs” at UW-Madison. Delegations of firefighters also joined the protests in a notable act of poignant solidarity, as they are exempt from the dire effects of Walker’s bill. They received an electric response from the crowds, as have the youth and students, who are playing a critical role in numerous areas.
The week started with pickets at legislators’ homes Feb. 13. The next day simultaneous protest actions as the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association-American Federation of Teachers at UW-Milwaukee sponsored a rally and the Teaching Assistants Association-AFT at UW-Madison rallied on campus and then marched to the Capitol.
Support builds from labor and community groups
On Tuesday, union teachers and others picketed Walker’s house.
Leading forces in the protest are youth and students, AFSCME, Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin AFL-CIO and AFT Wisconsin. An impressive media communications network of web pages, email, Twitter, YouTube, texting, phone trees and more is spreading the word about the resistance and encouraging people to come to the Capitol.
Chants such as “Kill the bill,” “Hands off workers, make the banks pay,” “Who’s got the power: We’ve got the power” and many others are echoing off the walls inside and outside the Capitol.
Statements and resolutions of support for Wisconsin workers and students are coming in from across the country. The San Francisco Labor Council, the Tucson May 1st Coalition, United Electrical Workers Local 150, Black Workers for Justice, South Bronx Community Congress, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice, Students for a Democratic Society, Fight Imperialism, Stand Together, Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions & Utility Shutoffs, and scores of other unions, student and community organizations have pledged support.
A Bail Out the People Movement solidarity statement issued on Feb.14 declared: “What the rich and the powerful want to do is strip us all of our rights and to make all workers into virtual slaves, both in the public sector and private. The so-called deficit crisis is being used as an excuse to attack workers in every sector, from private to public.
“We say no! Make the banks get off of the money they are hoarding. Tax them and the rich! Take the trillions of dollars wasted on war and propping up dictatorships and spend it on the people. We should tell Gov. Scott Walker: Hands off the public workers or we will do what the youth and people of Egypt did! Come and stay at Wisconsin’s Capitol in the thousands until they listen! We will take up the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and march, sit-in and link arms with our sisters and brothers until justice is won.”
Bryan G. Pfeifer is a former Wisconsin resident and is presently the staff organizer with the Union of Part-Time Faculty-AFT Local 477 at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. © 2011 Workers World. This story was originally published Feb. 17, 2011, by Workers World, 55 W. 17th St., New York NY 10011, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.workers.org, at http://www.workers.org/2011/us/madison_0224/.
Worker solidarity growing: Wisconsin to Indiana, Ohio and beyond
In this still-struggling economy, our country needs one thing: more good jobs. But instead of focusing on finding ways to create good jobs, politicians have turned their attention to political payback to the corporate CEOs who spent more than $1 billion on the November elections.
In states across the country, workers are fighting back against corporate-backed lawmakers who are trying to use state budget problems as an excuse to gut workers’ rights and benefits, when in fact it was Wall Street’s gambles and broken promises that have hurt taxpayers and the middle class – not workers. CEOs are trying to shift the blame for high unemployment and rising poverty levels away from themselves and onto workers and our unions.
It was Wall Street’s gambles and broken promises that have hurt taxpayers and the middle class – not workers.
But we won’t let that happen. Workers across the country – from Wisconsin to Indiana, from Ohio to Florida – are fighting back.
- In Wisconsin, workers, students, community and faith have joined together to stage massive protests this week against Gov. Walker’s budget proposal, which would gut collective bargaining rights for 200,000 public workers. Tens of thousands of people are putting their everyday lives on hold to stand in solidarity. Student Labor Action Project activists in Wisconsin have been mobilizing on a daily basis to the capitol.
- WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Beginning Monday, workers, students, faith leaders and community allies will be holding solidarity rallies in their own states. Plan your own action, or contact your local Jobs with Justice coalition to find out if there is already an action planned in your area.
- Thousands of people are changing their Facebook status to say, “Today I stand with in solidarity with the teachers, firefighters, nurses, and all public workers who are fighting for their rights. If you do too, change this to your status for the rest of the day.”
- The Student Labor Action Project is organizing a March 2nd Public Need vs. Corporate Greed Day of Action. Stay tuned for more details on these actions in days to come.
- In Ohio, working people are also fighting a repeal of collective bargaining rights for the teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public servants who provide vital services in our communities. Yesterday, thousands of people, including members of Columbus and Toledo Jobs with Justice, converged on the capitol to rally against Senate Bill 5. Jobs with Justice coalitions throughout the state, including Cleveland and Columbus, are gearing up for more actions in the coming weeks, including more actions at the Capitol, vigils, town hall meetings and rallies in key cities.
- In Indiana, working people are fighting several anti-worker bills, including so-called “Right to Work” legislation that makes it easier for companies to lower wages and cut benefits. Central Indiana Jobs with Justice has been part of actions at the State House and held a forum on the attack on Indiana’s workers this week, and they’re gearing up for a hearing on Right to Work and visits to the State House every day next week. South Central Indiana Jobs with Justice held a town hall meeting and press event, St. Joseph Valley project in South Bend is holding a roundtable on right to work next week, and Tri-State Jobs with Justice in Evansville organized a town hall meeting and an action when Indiana House Speaker Bosma came to town. Check out coverage of the fight in Indianapolis’ Nuvo newspaper.
- In Maine, Jobs with Justice affiliate Food AND Medicine held a legislative breakfast where farmers, small business leaders and workers made presentations to seven legislators in attendance on Right to Work as well as legislation specifically targeting hospital workers, state workers and construction workers.
- In Florida, the governor wants to slash taxes on big business and pay for it by forcing public employees to pay more into their pensions. Jobs with Justice coalitions in South and Central Florida are fighting back against draconian budget cuts.
- In Missouri, Jobs with Justice has been fighting back against big-business efforts to repeal the state’s minimum wage law as well as right to work and other anti-worker legislation.
Make no mistake: These attacks on working people aren’t about balancing any budget. They’re about corporate CEOs using politicians to make sure that nothing gets in the way of their ability to bring home huge paychecks and even bigger bonuses.
CEOs know that workers united through unions are one of the few remaining protections workers have from unchecked corporate greed. They want to weaken or eliminate unions so that the voices of all workers are weakened.
Corporations want to control how our communities spend money. They want to cut public sector jobs instead of closing tax loopholes, privatize public sector jobs so that they can profit, and do away with agreements that ensure government contractors pay decent wages and don’t cut corners on safety. Meanwhile, politicians are asking working people to sacrifice vital public services like firefighters, teachers and nurses so that they can give tax breaks, bailouts and tax loopholes to corporations and CEOs.
These CEOs may have more money than we do, but we have strength in numbers. We need to come together to curb unchecked corporate power and restore the balance to our politics. It’s time for politicians to come together to create real solutions to the problems that are facing ordinary Americans.
We need to come together to curb unchecked corporate power and restore the balance to our politics.
At a time of record economic inequality, these laws that direct more money to corporations will only widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor, enriching a lucky few while forcing more people into poverty. Who will control our communities: working people or corporations?
Jobs with Justice engages workers and allies in campaigns to win justice in workplaces and in communities where working families live. We reach working people through the organizations that represent them — unions, congregations, community organizations — and directly as JwJ activists. Nearly 100,000 people have signed the Jobs with Justice pledge to Be There at least five times a year for someone else’s struggle as well as their own.