Throughout Wisconsin, people’s rebellion grows

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. Continue reading

No PATCO moment in Wisconsin

The great struggle of the Wisconsin public workers has galvanized union solidarity on a national level not seen since 1981. That was when the AFL-CIO organized the Solidarity Day demonstration of half a million workers in Washington, D.C., after President Ronald Reagan had fired 18,000 air traffic controllers, members of the PATCO union, and banned them from federal employment for life.

But Solidarity Day in 1981 was a one-shot, symbolic action that came and went because the issue was quickly abandoned by the top leadership after the demonstration was over. This time it’s different.

The determined and sustained stand by the Wisconsin unions, students and community supporters against the union-busting, right-wing Gov. Scott Walker and his corporate backers has aroused workers all over the country. It has raised hope that the unending nightmare of attacks on the working class, and the unions in particular, can be stopped. The direct action of occupying the Capitol building in Madison for two weeks has inspired unionists and their sympathizers from all 50 states — and even from other countries — who have rallied to the cause with donations and other expressions of solidarity.

Wisconsin has shown the potential power, not only of a united labor struggle, but of a budding alliance among unions, the community, and students and youth. Such a prospect can turn the nightmare that labor has been facing into a nightmare for the bosses and bankers.

A majority now favor union rights

Indeed, big business is extremely worried about what effect this eruption of union solidarity will have on the general population and has sent its pollsters to find out. All the polling outfits, including the Wall Street Journal/NBC, the right-wing Rasmussen Reports and several others, got the same results. Sympathy for unions is back on the map in the United States, with 60 percent and more favoring the defense of collective bargaining rights and a similar majority in favor of unions.

The Wisconsin struggle has overcome a decades-long campaign of slander against unions and has successfully countered the effects of all the big business propaganda against so-called “overpaid public workers.”

The defense of collective bargaining as a fundamental right in Wisconsin has strong implications for future campaigns against anti-union, “right-to-work” laws in the South and Southwest.

Despite the great progress that has been made and the great potential that this struggle holds, however, strong measures are going to be needed for victory.

Wisconsin’s public employees are facing a hard-right governor who has a hard-right majority in both houses of the Legislature. This is a struggle against the capitalist state, which has capitalist legal authority, judges, financial power and the instruments of force at its disposal to be used against the workers. This is far greater immediate power than any private corporation has at its disposal.

Up against bondholders and bankers

Equally important, the unions are not up against just Gov. Walker, the billionaire Koch brothers, who help to finance the anti-union slander campaign, and the Tea Party.

They are up against the rich bondholders, the bankers who stand behind them and the entire ruling class. These forces are hoping Walker can kill off collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. Of course, they want it to be done without provoking a great class struggle — they are fearful of such a development. But they are silently behind Walker.

Consider the following item that appeared in the Philadelphia Enquirer online on Feb. 22:

“Of all the Republican proposals for not paying retired teachers and state troopers the pensions promised in more prosperous times, investors prefer Wisconsin-style union-busting over the state-bankruptcy gamble proposed by ex-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

“State bankruptcy could let governments break their union contracts and cancel benefits, but it ‘is less desirable to the bondholder, because it creates a higher level of uncertainty that would increase borrowing costs for states and local municipalities,’ says Michael Crow, who manages $3 billion in clients’ bond investments in state and local governments for Glenmede, the Philadelphia trust bank.

“Barring unions from negotiating benefits, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to do, is more likely to improve states’ credit.”

Behind the bondholders stand the banks. Banks have guaranteed $53 billion in state and municipal bonds that come due in 2011 alone. Another $24 billion more come due in 2012, and so on.

While the Koch brothers may be cheering Walker on, their view coincides with the view of a large section of finance capital. These are the same financiers who were bailed out to the tune of $10 trillion, who are making record profits, and who are paying politicians like Walker to declare that there is no money, so the unions and the poor have to be sacrificed. Continue reading

Wisconsin: School for labor’s fightback

Editor’s note: The writer is a municipal worker, longtime union activist and past president of United Auto Workers Local 2334 in Detroit. He was in Madison, Wis., Feb. 19-21, with a solidarity delegation from Detroit and Chicago.

The struggle now unfolding in Wisconsin will go down in history as the beginning of the long delayed fightback of the U.S. working class. Union and progressive activists have been scanning the horizon for decades, really since the “Reagan revolution,” for signs of a labor resurgence against concessions, unemployment and union busting. Not a few have given in to demoralization, convinced that the working class of this country would not be able to rise to its feet. It has taken only a few days for the workers and students of Wisconsin to prove them wrong.

History has repeatedly shown that repression breeds resistance and that many important fights arose from the working class defending itself. In Wisconsin the cocky Gov. Scott Walker, egged on by his Tea Party cronies, went way beyond demands for concessions from public workers to propose ending any real collective bargaining rights for these 175,000 workers.

It may be that Walker overreached himself in his right-wing enthusiasm. It is more likely that the Wall Street corporate bosses and bankers, to whom Wisconsin and other states and municipalities are beholden to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars in loans, gave orders for this new phase of the attack on workers and their organizations. It is certainly no coincidence that bills with almost identical language are being introduced and discussed in other states at the same time.

Now tens of thousands of workers are in motion. They are meeting, discussing, marching, rallying and striking in unprecedented numbers to defend their collective bargaining rights. Special notice must be taken of the students, both in colleges and high schools, who took the advanced position of seizing, occupying and holding the state Capitol building in Madison. Their energy and enthusiasm are impressive. Their commitment to the struggle for union rights and against cuts to education has fired up the student movement across the U.S.

It can be said, with no exaggeration, that the United States has not seen anything like this mobilization since the 1930s or 1940s. Certainly there have been strikes, large and often bitter. There have been mass marches, like Solidarity Day that labor called in 1981 against PATCO union busting. But they are nothing in scope and depth like the developments in Wisconsin.

One can find many things missing in the Wisconsin struggle. The students lack organization and experience. The union leaders also have little experience to lean on to counter this plan to destroy the unions wholesale. This is inevitable after such a long hiatus in open class warfare. It is only in the struggle that this experience will be gained. New organizations and greater consciousness will emerge as the struggle continues.

‘Necessary cutbacks’ or general strike?

More attention must be paid to exposing the lie that “cutbacks are necessary.” It needs to be pointed out that there is plenty of money to cover the big deficits in municipal, state and the federal budgets. The profits of the corporations and banks are at a record high — tax them. Interest to the banks is draining the public treasuries — put a freeze on debt service payments. The Pentagon budget and imperialist wars abroad add up to over a trillion dollars a year — slash it. Not a penny has to come from the workers or from critical social service programs.

The Feb. 21 resolution by the Wisconsin South Central Federation of Labor — representing about 45,000 workers in six counties — for a general strike represents a new stage in the struggle. Even during the vicious union-busting attack on the Detroit newspaper strikers in 1995, the Metro-Detroit AFL-CIO central labor council rejected a motion from the floor to have all local unions “vote to authorize a general strike if the council decides it necessary.” The reason given at the time was that “it has never happened in U.S. history.” The fact is that U.S. labor history records many general strikes, like those in Seattle in 1919 and San Francisco in 1934. But union leaders in an era of relative labor peace often shrink from the thought of all-out class warfare.

A general strike would require education and preparation. It would be foolish to think that a mass across-the-board walkout would happen or succeed by just issuing the call. The Wisconsin resolution specified that education begin in all locals on the function of and preparation for a general strike. Serious and careful work in every local union must now begin.

The public, especially the students, must be informed and organized, too. The unions must have a plan — and let the public know — for emergency services. And union leaders and members must be ready for the inevitable attack from the government. Some of the media are already giving dire warnings against a general strike, citing the hated Taft-Hartley Act. It will be incumbent upon national union leaders to gather support and prepare action to show solidarity with the Wisconsin workers in the face of certain government retaliation.

Whatever the outcome of the battle of Wisconsin, the labor movement will never be the same. The growing resentment against all the many attacks on workers, the cutbacks in social services, the racism and oppression permeating society are making a massive fightback necessary and inevitable throughout the United States. Wisconsin workers and students have shown the way.

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.