Tens of thousands liberate state Capitol in Madison to oppose anti-worker legislation

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. Continue reading

Wisconsin public sector unions mobilize

On behalf of the banks, the corporations and the Pentagon, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared all-out war on unions and their allies. Walker’s “budget repair bill” proposal, which he unveiled at a state Capitol press conference on Feb. 11, proposes to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for approximately 175,000 public-sector union members. Walker has submitted his proposal to the Wisconsin Legislature with the directive that he wants his bill passed in the Assembly and the Senate by Feb. 17.

In a swift response, unions and their allies across the state are mobilizing to descend upon the Capitol in Madison this week with two major rallies planned for Feb. 15 and 16. Numerous other protest actions by labor-community-student organizations are ongoing across the state, including two major actions on Feb. 14: a march and rally to the Capitol building led by the Teaching Assistants Association-AFT and a rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee led by the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association-AFT Local 2169 and AFSCME. (www.mgaa.org)

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO is assisting member unions and federations in their protest actions to unite all workers in the state: union and nonunion, private and public sector. Facebook support pages are also mobilizing for the protest actions.

“This budget repair bill is an all-out assault on you, your families, your careers, your rights and your union. Walker keeps talking about the ‘good and decent people who work for the State of Wisconsin,’ but his actions speak a different message of divisiveness, cronyism and servitude,” AFSCME Council 24 wrote in a letter to its members after Walker’s Feb. 11 press conference. (www.wseu-sepac.org)

Some of the provisions in Walker’s bill include:

“Collective bargaining: The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index unless approved by referendum. Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts. Local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from these changes;” (tinyurl.com/4t4oozh) Continue reading