The movement to stop Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” continues to draw mass support nationally and internationally. The resistance has blossomed into a statewide people’s rebellion with rallies, demonstrations, candlelight vigils and other protest actions all focused on “kill the bill.”
A mass rally at the state Capitol in Madison March 5 drew 50,000 people, according to the state AFL-CIO. Even the police estimated 30,000 to 40,000 participated. On March 6 thousands also protested at the Capitol.
Again, it was the solid opposition to the bill’s language stripping public workers of virtually all collective bargaining rights that brought out tens of thousands of union members. They came from all over Wisconsin as well as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Ohio, the Dakotas and other states.
All the public sector unions turned out. Together they represent hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s teachers, health care providers, firefighters, janitors, office workers, transit workers and more. Students, who sparked the people’s rebellion by occupying the state Capitol Feb. 15, were again out in force from K-12 and higher education on March 5 and 6.
The Amalgamated Transit Union chose March 5 to mobilize with buses and carpools coming from around the Midwest. Private sector workers were there in solidarity, with large contingents from the Teamsters, Laborers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Members of the Pipefitters, Plumbers, Sheet Metal Workers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Steamfitters, Boilermakers, Electricians, Steelworkers and United Auto Workers unions also participated. All were united in an understanding of the classic union slogan — which appeared on many homemade signs — “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
There were many indicators of overwhelming working-class and popular support for the fight against both union busting and the draconian cuts in social services Walker has proposed. Doctors, sporting lab coats and stethoscopes, marched to defend their low-income patients who stand to lose health care coverage if Walker cuts state-funded “Badgercare.” The Sierra Club carried signs against the bill, which will weaken recycling programs.
Arriving in the morning and marching for hours before the rally officially began, a multinational group of middle and high school students from Racine, Wis., roused everyone with the popular chant: “This is what democracy looks like.”
Homemade signs blasted Walker for his servile relationship — exposed by the now-famous prank phone call — with the wealthy Koch brothers, who are major financial backers of the Tea Party. The governor was lampooned as a “Koch [pronounced “coke”] addict.”
On March 6 the National Association of Letter Carriers, sponsors of that day’s rally, turned out hundreds of members to “deliver” a message of solidarity. NALC Branch 214 in San Francisco had passed unanimously on March 2 a resolution titled “Support the Initiative for a General Strike in Wisconsin — and Prepare for Nationally Coordinated Solidarity Job Actions.” The resolution was in solidarity with one passed in February by the South Central Federation of Labor based in Madison.
The Associated Press reported March 6 that 700 Walker supporters, rallying at the Alliant Energy building in Madison, were met by “hundreds” of protesters. At the state Capitol rally — which drew many thousands despite the anti-right-wing protest — it was announced that 1,000 protesters were outside the Alliant building while fewer than 100 Walker supporters were counted inside in a room with a 400-person maximum capacity.
Earlier, on March 3, National Nurses United led a march of thousands in Madison demanding that the bill be killed entirely and that there be no more cuts for workers.
Grassroots organizing statewide
Before and during the big rallies in the capital March 5 and 6, Walker was on a statewide bus “tour” sponsored by the Tea Party-linked group Americans for Prosperity. In small to medium-size towns across the state, there was opposition at every stop, beginning on March 3 when the tour started, with protests numbering anywhere from 250 to 1,300 people from Milwaukee to La Crosse.
On March 2, in an action sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association/American Federation of Teachers, hundreds of students at the University of Milwaukee walked out of class as part of the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education and also in opposition to the “budget repair bill.” Earlier in the week, students from SDS and other organizations occupied the theater building at UW-Milwaukee in protest against education cuts and the bill.
Poor and working people in Wisconsin have also been targeting Koch-owned industries throughout the state. Expressing outrage at Walker’s union-busting bill, Rev. Jesse Jackson led a cheering crowd of more than 600, the majority African Americans, at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee March 4.
A major rally organized by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO is scheduled for March 12. State mobilizing for this includes farmers who will drive their tractors to Madison. The day before students from Milwaukee’s Riverside High School and other schools will begin an 80-mile walk to Madison at 6 a.m., which is scheduled to arrive at the Capitol the next day for the rally.
The atmosphere in Madison is one of determination and unity, with signs of support in the windows of shops, restaurants and cafes. The blackboard in Ian’s Pizza lists all the many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas whose people ordered pizza for the students and workers who took part in the occupation. Donations are coming in from all 50 U.S. states. Solidarity statements are pouring in to local unions, federations, students and community organizations.
What’s the next step? Discussions include reoccupying the Capitol building and/or a general strike. Many groups, including Bail Out the People Movement, got a good reception to leaflets supporting the latter. At the March 6 rally, state president of the Firefighters union Mahlon Mitchell — who participated in the 18-day Capitol occupation — got the crowd motivated with the chant: “You go, we go!”