Feb. 16 — 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 and for all to come out to the emergency rally Thursday.”
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 yesterday and today, 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 Wisconsin AFL-CIO says that 20,000 descended on the Capitol Feb. 15 and 50,000 today. On Feb. 17 union and student organizers expect even bigger crowds to come from across Wisconsin and beyond.
Today 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 yesterday and today 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 & 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.” (www.bailoutpeople.org).