Aongus Ó Murchadha 


Wisconsin saw its biggest labor rally in memory Tuesday as an angry crowd estimated at as many as 20,000 turned out to oppose Republican Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to gut public-sector unions of their bargaining power, break them financially and force workers to pay for the state budget deficit.


The rally–one of several labor protests scheduled for the state capital of Madison–was intended to build momentum for an even bigger labor demonstration set for the following day.


Mike Imbrogno, a shop steward in American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSMCE) Local 171, described how union members surged inside the capital building, chanting their demands:


I’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t just teachers and union members from the University of Wisconsin (UW), where I work. There were Steelworkers, Teamsters, Pipefitters, building trades unions and more–unions I’ve never seen at a rally in 10 years.


The most amazing thing is when the firefighters came in a delegation. Along with police, Walker has exempted firefighters from the legislation–but they came with signs that said, “Firefighters for workers’ rights.” People were crying.



The mood was angry, but also optimistic–almost jubilant. More than one person said to me, “The whole country is looking at us now. If this happens here, it will go everywhere else.”


Following the rally, there was a panel discussion of activists that drew about 120 people. There were a number of high school students from immigrant families who spoke. They said they were there to support the unions, because they saw unions as helping their parents and being key to their livelihood.

So they said, “We will walk out tomorrow.” The people in the room who were in their 50s, who’ve been in union struggles since the ’70s, responded like mad. There’s some knitting together of common class interest on a scale that indicates something to come.


After the protests, union members signed up to testify before the legislative committee that is holding hearings on the bill prior to the vote. The UW graduate employees union, the Teaching Assistants’ Association, planned to keep testifying all night, which legally compels legislators to remain in session.


But Walker is sticking to his hard line. Elected as part of sweeping Republican victories in November as a result of low turnout and disillusionment with Barack Obama and the Democrats nationally, Walker is confident enough to take on every single public-sector union at once, demanding not only that workers pay more for their health care and pensions, but that any demand not related to wages alone be taken off the negotiating table, that unions be forced to recertify every year, and that automatic

dues deductions ended.


What’s more, Walker has informed the Wisconsin State Employees Union, an AFSCME affiliate, that on March 13 the state would cancel contract extensions for five union bargaining units that had been in place before the old contract expired in mid-2009.


And for good measure, Walker ordered the Wisconsin National Guard to prepare to intervene in case of any strike action by unions. In short, Walker wants the destruction of organized labor in Wisconsin.




(February 16, 2011, slightly abridged)

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