Largest protest ever in Madison backs public workers

The struggle of the poor and working people in Wisconsin against union-busting and anti-people attacks has ushered in a new period of fightback and resistance in the United States from coast to coast.

On March 12, in possibly the biggest progressive demonstration in Wisconsin’s history, tens of thousands of people from across the Badger state, the country and worldwide joined to protest the illegal passing and signing of a union-busting and anti-people bill at the state Capitol in Madison.

“In the biggest rally in Madison since the protests started [Feb. 14], hundreds of thousands of working families, small business owners, farmers, students, religious groups, women’s rights groups, environmentalists, private sector workers and public sector workers gathered to say that worker rights are human rights and they must be protected,” says the Wisconsin AFL-CIO on its blog (wisaflcio.typepad.com). The AFL-CIO estimated the crowd at 185,000.

The protest included a “Tractorcade” of thousands of farmers who drove their tractors to Madison and joined a mobile picket line around the Capitol for hours. The farmers carried signs such as “Don’t farm out our jobs,” “Wisconsin farmers support public employees,” and “Plowing forward for democracy.”

Students were also out in force as they have been all along. Students for a Democratic Society marched with a lead banner reading, “No cuts to education: No fees, no layoffs; education is a right!” SDS, with campus unions and community organizations, has organized numerous walkouts and other protests at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee over the past month.

TheUptake.org reports that on March 11 students across the country walked out of classes in response to a call from Madison students for a national strike.

Unionized teaching assistants at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, along with students from K-12 and higher education from all across the state and beyond participated on March 12.

Members of labor, student and community organizations from larger cities like Milwaukee to small, rural towns came to fight against union-busting and other political, economic and social attacks against poor and working people included in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012-13 budget proposal.

Speakers at the main rally also included Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub, star of ‘Monk;’ the Rev. Jerry Folk; Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin AFL-CIO president; Tom Buffenburgar, IAMAW president; Marty Biel, executive director AFSCME Council 24; Guy Costello, teacher in the South Milwaukee School District; Heather Terrill-Stotts, principal, Arena Elementary School; Christine Neumann Ortiz, Voces de la Frontera, executive director; Anna Zachow, SEIU Healthcare home worker; Mahlon Mitchell, firefighter president; Jeff Myers, AFT; Sheila Cochran, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; and Mary Bell, president of WEAC.

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Both within the U.S. and internationally, solidarity with the poor and working people of Wisconsin and across the country is on the rise.

On March 12, members of the German telecommunications union, ver.di, rallied to support bargaining rights for workers in the U.S., and the ver.di chairperson wrote a protest letter to Walker.

Wisconsin state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Stephanie Bloomingdale, spoke in Toronto on March 14 and shared her experiences with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO receives letters, donations and more on a daily basis from unions across the U.S. and beyond. Solidarity demonstrations have taken and are taking place across the U.S. and internationally. Egyptian workers, a beacon of hope and inspiration to the poor and working people of Wisconsin, have sent donations for food and other assistance.

Every day protest actions large and small are taking place throughout Wisconsin.

Union federations and locals worldwide are passing support resolutions such as the one entitled, “Support the Initiative for a General Strike in Wisconsin — and Prepare for Nationally-Coordinated Solidarity Job Actions,” adopted unanimously March 2 by the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 214. This resolution adds to one passed by the 46,000 member South Central Federation of Labor in Madison Feb. 21 (http://scfl.org/).

Stephen King, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others have spoken, marched, and/or raised funds for the workers in Wisconsin and other states under siege by the banks, the corporations and the Pentagon. Michael Moore, who spoke in Madison on March 5, gave a talk entitled, “America is Not Broke” demanding the rich pay up and calling for massive direct action resistance from poor and working people nationwide.

The National Nurses United, who have led marches in Madison and are participating in the fightback against the union-busting bills in Madison and nationwide, are circulating a leaflet which declares: “Just Say NO — no more concessions nor more cuts: Need Revenue? Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share.” (nationalnursesunited.org)

Background

Walker proposed his “budget repair bill” on Feb. 11, which called for virtually eliminating collective bargaining rights for up to 200,000 public sector workers in Wisconsin. Walker wanted the bill rammed through the Wisconsin Legislature in five days — but an 18-day mass occupation of the Capitol and massive demonstrations, and walkouts, sickouts and other student-worker rebellions statewide stalled the bill for weeks. Fourteen Democratic senators left the state to deny Walker a quorum in the Senate and delay the vote.

On March 9 Republicans claimed that only the budget measures required a quorum. They said they had separated out the anti-union measures from the rest of the bill and could now hold the vote. Using this maneuver, the state Senate rushed to ram it through. Hearing of this, “several thousand people arrived to protest outside the locked-down Capitol building, eventually forcing their way inside. One Democratic senator called the vote illegal, referencing an open meeting law that requires that the Senate provide 24-hour notice of such action, which the Republicans did not do.” (fightbacknews.org)

Later, tens of thousands descended upon the Capitol, reoccupying it and erupting into shouts of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “General strike!”

On March 10 the Assembly was unable to convene until afternoon as hundreds of mostly students occupied the lobby leading to the Assembly chambers; some also occupied the Assembly chambers. After a host of police physically dragged out the protesters, the Assembly convened and passed the bill.

Tens of thousands of protesters on the outside of the Capitol were illegally barred from entering the the Capitol by hundreds of police on March 10 — despite a court injunction won against Scott Walker’s administration the previous week stating that the public must have access to the inside of the Capitol from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

General strike!

On March 11, Walker signed the union-busting bill into law. Because of the illegal and criminal way the bill was passed through the Assembly and the Senate, some unions have called for injunctions and for other means to overturn it. Other protest actions include recall campaigns and ongoing demonstrations. Calls for and discussion of a general strike are also growing daily. Some educational information for local unions is posted at the South Central Labor Federation’s website: (www.scfl.org/?page=generalstrike)

After the Assembly illegally passed the illegal bill on March 10, Joe Conway, president of the Madison firefighters’ union, said that the political situation has grown so dire in Wisconsin, he’d support a general strike.

“We should start walking out tomorrow, the next day … See how long they can last,” he told reporters with The Uptake. “This is a nationwide movement to attack all working men and women in Wisconsin and the United States.”

For how you can help or for more information: http://www.wisaflcio.org; wisaflcio.typepad.com; and http://www.bailoutpeople.org


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