Labor Unrest Rocks Wisconsin
[Saturday] Around 40,000 people surrounded the Capitol square in Madison by 1pm Saturday, continuing to demand "Kill the Bill". 500 police officers were reported to be stationed around the square, although the organized protests have largely cooprated with the police so far - the UW Teaching Assistants Association, for example, has urged protesters not to block bridges around downtown. Police have also been reported to be limiting entry to the Capitol.
A corporate-media hyped Tea Party counter-protest scheduled for noon has turned out fewer than 500 pro-Walker demonstrators so far. Students have set up an "information station" as a sort of protest HQ. At 5pm Monday, Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine will play at the capitol. Walker, meanwhile, has postponed a schedule budget addresss until March 1.
[UPDATE 9pm Thurs] Democratic state senators depart for Illinois to prevent quorum on vote; Protests continue across state including Hudson Saturday; UW Walkout called for 11:11am Friday, Capitol Rally 12pm Friday; Call for actions outside of WI; Madison schools to close Friday; TheUptake.org will report from Madison; follow on twitter #wiunion #killthisbill @DefendWisconsin ]
The largest protests in Wisconsin in years continued Thursday at the state capitol in Madison, which was occupied by upset state workers earlier this week in response to Governor Scott Walker's proposal to cut salaries, benefits and collective bargaining rights and his threat to call in the National Guard against the workers. On Wednesday, Walker's measure was advanced in committee, and the State Senate is expected to take up the measure today.
Related: Capitol Times: Protests Build on Square, in Capitol Again; Streets Shut Down | Dave Zirin: Green Bay Packers Sound Off Against Scott "Hosni" Walker | AFL-CIO: Rally Grows to 30,000 | The Nation: Largest WI Protests Since Vietnam | Joined by Students | Wisconsin AFL-CIO Blog | In St. Paul: MN Capitol Echoes with Chants of "Jobs Now"
Photo: Hundreds spent the night inside the State Capitol (WI AFL-CIO)
Below -- Workday Minnesota reports: Thousands Protest, Close Schools in Response to Wisconsin Governor's Plan
16 February 2011MADISON, Wis. - Schools in Madison were closed Wednesday as hundreds of teachers joined thousands of people at the state Capitol to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip workers’ rights. The Wisconsin State Journal reported schools had closed because many teachers called in sick so they could participate in protests for a second day. On Tuesday, some 15,000 people massed inside the Capitol and on the grounds to oppose the Republican governor’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s public employees.
Hearings were under way Wednesday on Walker’s proposal in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
People marched in Madison Wednesday to protest Governor Scott Walker's plan to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Photo by Melissa Ryan
Under Walker’s plan, unions could still represent workers, but could not seek pay increases above the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum. Unions also could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized. Local police, firefighters and state troopers – all of whom endorsed Walker in the 2010 election – would retain their collective bargaining rights.
Walker said he will not negotiate any changes to his plan and if the Legislature doesn’t pass it, he will force massive layoffs, crippling state services and costing thousands of jobs. He has also threatened to call in the National Guard against workers.
Many protesters drew a comparison between their struggle to retain their rights and the efforts of Egyptians to fight autocratic rule. Signs compared Walker’s actions to ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s iron rule of Egypt, including “Hosni Walker,” “Don’t Dictate, Negotiate,” and “Dictators Will Fall.”
Mike Oliver, a retired member of the Communications Workers of America told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “I am here to support my fellow union members. I am all for the governor balancing the budget, but not on the backs of state workers.”
Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to grant public employees collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt says Walker is “using the Trojan horse of a budget bill” to change the long-standing state workers’ rights policy. He also says the Walker’s plan will hit at the private sector as well.
“This is an attack not just on unions, but the entire middle class,” Neuenfeldt said. “Because as we fare around wages and benefits, so do those workers who are not represented.”
Along with eliminating collective bargaining rights, Walker’s budget plan calls for big pay and benefit cuts for state workers. A report by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future released Monday estimates the cuts in take-home pay will cost the state $1.1 billion in reduced economic activity annually and cost some 9,000 private sector jobs.
This article includes information from the national AFL-CIO’s news blog.
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