WISCONSIN SHOWDOWN — Workers, students defy union busting, layoffs

March 1 — In a back-and-forth struggle where the final result has still not been determined, the mass mobilization to stop Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s aggressive assault on workers is growing stronger as the confrontation continues.

On March 1, as Gov. Walker delivers his cutback budget speech, nearly 100 young protesters still occupy the state Capitol. Thousands continue to protest outside.

Last night we saw youth in sleeping bags start a “Walkerville” outside the Capitol, reminiscent of the “Hoovervilles” named after Herbert Hoover, the U.S. president who presided over the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression.

Enduring freezing temperatures, those outside supported those valiant workers and youth who remain inside the Capitol. The occupation of the building is into its third week now against the anti-union “budget repair bill,” which would sweep away collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers, slash public education and more.

Following a big Feb. 27 battle and victory (see below), Gov. Walker abruptly violated an agreement to open the Capitol normally on Feb. 28 after “cleaning.”

On the morning of Feb. 28, protesters who went out for coffee found themselves locked out, along with the general public and Capitol workers and elected officials. The building was abruptly sealed off. Workers were ordered to both weld and screw down ground floor windows. Only those with Walker’s OK were allowed inside. This appeared to be aimed at stifling protest at the governor’s March 1 budgetary address.

Cheryl LaBash, a Detroit activist who has participated in the occupation since Feb 19, told WW: “The governor has taken draconian measures that are constitutionally illegal. He has in effect shut down the Capitol to the public. We have been in constant touch with the brave youth who are continuing to hold out inside, who report that the hundreds of banners and signs taped to the wall remain intact and that they are strong.”

The Capitol belongs to the people

On Feb. 27, elated workers and students celebrated and danced filling the Capitol with chants of “People’s power — workers power!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” They sang “Solidarity Forever” and “We Shall Overcome.” The 4 p.m. deadline to vacate the ornate Capitol for “cleaning” passed. Many of the thousand remaining inside vowed to stay and be arrested.

Seasoned trade unionists from the Steel Workers union joined high school and college students. People facing their first-ever arrest came with their children. Hundreds who spent sleepless nights on the cold marble floors had forged bonds of friendship that kept them strong.

Before the 4 p.m. deadline a speak-out raged on, with participants describing why they came and what should be done.

Those inside heard that thousands of people were ringing the Capitol demanding to come in after the doors were shut.

Police from all sorts of divisions were deployed — local Madison police, state police and various sheriffs’ offices, including a SWAT team from northern Wisconsin. One Democratic legislator urged people to leave. He was ignored.

The two lower floors were filled with demonstrators. A majority went to the second floor — those who would defy the order to leave, including a delegation of local clergy and older union leaders. Firefighters and even some “cops for labor” joined, showing the depth and strength of this movement.

An older Wisconsin worker, who carried a homemade sign reading “Clean Walker out of the WI Capitol,” explained it this way: “We are just fed up and tired. Many of us are farmers who are holding down two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Walker says we are lazy. How can he call us freeloaders? Walker doesn’t know what he has done. We can stay here forever, as long as it takes.”

The sentiment of those protesting the union-busting bill has turned into a movement to recall Walker and a movement that has won wide and deep support.

As a local bartender stated, “This is class war. This is not just about Walker; it’s about a fight against the Tea Party and the rich.”

Armando Robles, president of the Chicago United Electrical Workers Local 1110 that conducted the successful occupation of the Chicago Windows and Doors workers, spoke to the crowd during the celebration in the Capitol. Ana Maria from FIST — Fight Imperialism, Stand Together — in North Carolina translated. Continue reading

Workers, students pour out in solidarity — Protests across U.S. support union struggle in Wisconsin

A mighty giant is beginning to awaken. The fighting workers and youth of Wisconsin, who are battling a right-wing offensive seeking to decimate collective bargaining in that state, have inspired and put in motion the multinational working class throughout the entire United States. Workers in unions, in non-union jobs and unemployed, along with students, youth and activists of all ages, have been galvanized by the electrifying struggle unfolding in Wisconsin where workers have taken a stand and said “Enough!”

Solidarity demonstrations involving many tens of thousands of people were held in all 50 states, in cities and towns large and small, on Feb. 26 and other dates since the Feb. 14 confrontation began in Madison. Here is a sampling of just a few of the demonstrations that occurred Feb. 26 and several days prior.

Thousands rallied at the Los Angeles City Hall. A delegation of Los Angeles union workers had just returned from Wisconsin and reported on staying inside the Capitol building in Madison. Thousands of union members, students and progressive community activists rallied in Sacramento, Calif., around the Bay Area and in San Diego.

More than 3,000 union members came out to a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Capitol building in Sacramento. Under the banner of “We Are One,” speaker after speaker expressed solidarity with their union sisters and brothers in Wisconsin. David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, drew loud applause when he said, “Working people did not create this economic crisis — Wall Street did!”

A small rally by the California Tea Party also on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento was dwarfed by the angry workers, who easily drowned them out with their rally for workers’ rights.

Hundreds of people rallied in downtown San Francisco. Even with a serious rainstorm threatening, a large assemblage of local unionists and supporters massed at the San Diego County Administration Building to proclaim their solidarity with their sister and brother workers on the front lines in Wisconsin.

Several thousand workers demonstrated in Chicago. At least 10 union buses also went from Chicago to Madison to join in the protests there. In New York City thousands demonstrated, including many members from Service Employees Union Local 1199 health care workers and janitors, Communication Workers union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37 workers, and teachers’ and other educational workers’ unions, among others.

In Buffalo, N.Y., the largest grassroots, pro-union, community-organized rally in decades brought hundreds to the steps of City Hall. A militant crowd of rank-and-file union members, students, community activists and politician allies sent greetings of support to Wisconsin. Continue reading

A youth’s perspective: ‘In Madison, we see our future’

Editor’s note: The writer is a youth activist and high-school senior from Detroit who took part in a solidarity delegation to Madison, Wis., from Feb. 20-22.

When you first step into the Capitol, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the feeling of inspiration and solidarity flowing through every corridor and hall. The sight of an ocean of people stirs a hope that is unknown to some and forgotten by many. The main part of the rotunda on the first floor is filled with students who have been organizing the occupation. They have a loudspeaker which everyone gets to use.

The students have played an integral role in this struggle, forming the base for the occupation by organizing sleep-over lists, food donations, medical staff and an information center all within the Capitol itself. Posters are set up, much like a sign in the mall or a building, pointing people toward their desired location.

The second floor has booths that give out information or free literature, and a reserve of food and beverages is at the end of one of the halls. The charging station, lined with people who are blogging the struggle to every corner of the world, is located on one of the hallways, open to all who need to juice their electronic devices.

At night, the second floor is packed with sleeping bodies of the students and workers who decide to “hold down the fort” and ensure they don’t lose their footing inside the building.

People sleep, find friends or make new friends during this time, allowing a sense of community to blossom within the building. After spending a day or two there, you develop a feeling of kinship with the other people — a respect. Occupying the Capitol has allowed me to understand the feeling of camaraderie that is possible among workers and youth.

The third floor is filled with sleeping bags and groupings of people having conversations. This is a great place to meet new people and exchange ideas, as it is a place to get away from the loud chanting and wonderful music and have talks. It also provides a magical view of the entire rotunda — only here are you allowed to see the entire size of the protest.

The diversity of the ongoing event is also quite incredible. Various groups of unions, students, activists and pro-worker organizations have traveled to Madison to show solidarity with the people of Wisconsin who are fighting the union-busting policies of the new right-wing regime. People from California to New York, Texas to North Dakota all have come to support the occupation.

This is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring aspects of the event. Not only do we have unionized and non-unionized workers from both the public and private sectors, but workers and students from every race, creed and sexuality all standing as one.

“The people united will never be defeated!” This common chant is brought to life before our very eyes. In Madison we see our future and the future of the labor movement in the United States, and it is awe-inspiring.