Demonstrations in Wisconsin Over the Worker’s Rights
Tens of thousands of workers and students are occupying the Capitol Building in Madison, Wis., trying to stop Gov. Scott Walker and his allies from passing legislation designed to strip public-sector workers of collective bargaining rights, and to bust their unions. Walker has announced that he is preparing to call out the National Guard and other law enforcement officers. In response, March Forward!, an organization of active-duty service members and veterans, has issued the following open letter to the Wisconsin National Guard.
We are writing to you as veterans and active duty troops, who are watching closely the growing protests in your state.
Your governor, Scott Walker, is preparing to use you to smash the right of your family, friends and neighbors to peacefully demonstrate.
There are two sides in this fight.
On one side stand thousands of teachers, high school and college students, public sector workers, steelworkers, janitors, firefighters and nurses.
On the other side stands a tiny group of multi-millionaire business executives and corporate fat cats, represented by their good friend Scott Walker.
Those protesting are from the same neighborhoods and communities we all come from. They work the same jobs and attend the same schools. Many of you probably have family and friends demonstrating.
We know why most of us joined the military: for a job, access to health care and the ability to go to college. That is the very same reason why over 10,000 people have risen up in protest—for jobs, decent benefits and education. Those rights are under attack. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin families are at risk
There is an economic crisis in Wisconsin, just like the rest of the country. And like his counterparts in the rest of the country, the Governor of Wisconsin wants to make working families shoulder the cost instead of cutting into the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent.
We have nothing in common with Walker and his millionaire buddies. None of us own any factories or take home million-dollar bonus checks. In fact, unemployment for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 15 percent, nearly double the national average. We have everything in common with those exercising their right to demonstrate—because we are dealing with the same economic hardships that they are. Their struggle is our struggle.
The Wisconsin National Guard already has a dark history of acting against their own communities. Over the years they have been ordered to enforce racist segregation laws, intimidate and attack civil rights demonstrations and crush workers on strike, including the Milwaukee firefighters union in 1973.
The workers and students in Wisconsin are making history right now. If you are called upon, you will make history too—either notoriously, by following bogus orders from corporate lackeys to rob your community of their right to demand a better life; or heroically, by standing with your brothers and sisters and refusing to use force to defend the bonus checks of a few CEOs.
Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the students, teachers, and working families who are corageously fighting for their lives, not against them! They are not our enemies; our enemies are the ones pulling the strings from corporate boardrooms. It is your right to enter the history books as heroes who stood with your community, not as thugs for big business.
Demonstrations outside and inside the Wisconsin State Capitol Building are now in their fourth day. Tens of thousands of workers and students have taken dramatic actions to protest the bill promoted by Gov. Scott Walker that would strip public-sector workers of the right to bargain collectively.
This eyewitness report was sent today by activists at the center of the labor demonstrations in Madison, Wis.
Today is the without a doubt the biggest day of demonstrations yet since workers and students took to the streets a week ago to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on the public sector’s collective bargaining rights.
The streets were filled with chants of “Kill the Bill!” as tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of downtown Madison. Virtually every union from not only the public but also the private sector is present at the demonstration; among them the SEIU, AFSCME, UAW, IBEW, Teamsters, iron workers, plumbers, firefighters, various teachers unions and many more. High school and college students have come out in large numbers to support the workers’ struggle.
The State Capitol has been completely taken over. Students have been occupying the building around the clock and workers have returned each day to press their demands. Security and police have been largely standing aside while workers and students direct protesters coming in and out of the building. All four floors of the rotunda are presently packed with demonstrators. Banners and signs supporting the workers are hanging throughout the building. A morning rally on the steps of the capitol was followed by a march around the building.
A strong sentiment of solidarity has been forged between the community, students and workers from various unions. Placards with messages such as “United we bargain, divided we beg” and “Ironworkers support teachers” are seen everywhere. Handwritten signs in support of the workers covered the windows of restaurants, cafes and other small businesses around the capitol. A plane flew overhead with a banner stating, “We support working families.” Similar messages of solidarity were seen all around.
The Tea Party, which had scheduled for today its first “big rally” in support of Walker and his legislative assault on labor, mustered only enough support for a minuscule demonstration that was completely dwarfed by the mass presence of labor and its supporters.
The resilience and fighting spirit of the workers have been an inspiration to all who have come out, and given a real-life lesson on the power of organization. Spirits are high in Madison.
21st Feb 2011
Daily demonstrations in Madison, Wis., began their second week today. Thousands gathered for a rally outside the State Capitol as the demonstrations inside the building continued in response to the right-wing effort to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers. Below is a report from ANSWER coalition volunteer Austin Thompson, who was at the scene of the labor protests for several days.
New eyewitness report from Austin Thompson
Over the last week, I have been a witness to the historic workers’ struggle in Madison, Wis.
Through the eyes of a person who recently joined the labor movement believing in its potential to be the cornerstone of a broader social justice movement, the events in Madison have been affirming. The courageous actions of the nurses, firefighters, teachers, plumbers, steelworkers and many, many other workers who participated in this week’s demonstrations should compel us all to become more effective fighters for social justice.
The era when union leaders pursued a strategy that seeks collaboration and avoids class conflict must come to an end. Corporations and the super-rich have declared all out war on workers and the poor. Now is the time to fight back.
Throughout the massive demonstrations we have experienced a range of strong emotions: anger at politicians callous disregard for workers’ rights, sadness about the potential effect of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s bill on families should it succeed, and jubilation when it became apparent that we physically prevented the bill from coming to a vote last Thursday, Feb. 17.
However, there was one emotion that was present from the very beginning and preserved for the duration of the protests, which may get lost in media coverage of the minutiae of bourgeois politics: There has been an overwhelming sensation of solidarity between the thousands of workers and students who have flooded the Capitol Rotunda, marched through the streets and pressured legislatures to reverse course. Although we are often divided by our gender, nationality or religious beliefs, this feeling of solidarity has reminded us that we are all members of the same class. The old union saying “an injury to one is an injury to all” has taken on a renewed significance.
The emotion of solidarity was created by solidarity in practice. Workers, representing many different unions or no union at all, have spent days together in cooperation, mutual respect and unified militant action dispelling conventional notions of an individualistic, greedy human nature.
Through their actions workers have also dispelled notions of the U.S. political process. In politics, working people are usually spectators as corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers—billionaires who provided substantial funding to Gov. Walker’s campaign—use their vast wealth and economic power to guide and control elected officials toward advancing the interests of the super-rich.
But in Wisconsin we have witnessed workers directly intervening in the political arena and taking a central role in deciding the future of the state.
Without the direct intervention of thousands of workers who packed the state Capitol Thursday, blocking passageways, storming the Senate Chamber and shouting down Republican lawmakers, the Democrats would not have left the state and Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill would have already passed. This is a lesson that will not soon be forgotten by those who have witnessed the historic events taking place here. Workers can never again watch passively as both Republican and Democratic politicians use the cover of “fiscal responsibility” to cut vital public services and undermine our rights altogether.
Around the world many governments and companies have used the economic crisis that Wall Street and corporations created as a pretext to weaken and undermine unions. This is because unions exist to safeguard workers’ safety and compensation from employers who are constantly trying to diminish it. As capitalists seek to maximize profits around the world, they are hostile to movements demanding a portion of the wealth be used to support workers and their families.
The anti-union “Budget Repair” bill proposed by Gov. Walker has taken the mask off of the political system and showed that U.S. workers are not exempt from these attacks.
In this regard, Gov. Walker has much in common with U.S.-backed dictators like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who are bought and paid for by the super-rich and promote anti-union hysteria. Workers in both Egypt and Wisconsin are well aware of this connection. Yesterday, a local pizza place in Madison reported orders from Cairo to be distributed to the protesters here!
Gov. Walker’s bill, and pending pieces of legislation in Ohio and other states, will make it impossible for public workers to negotiate benefits and working conditions. These are rights that workers in the United States have fought over a century to gain. To give them up now, when corporations are making record profits, would be treacherous. The fight-back movement in Wisconsin is beginning to spread to other states and is inspiring workers around the world.
Today—Mon., Feb. 21—Madison there will be one of the strongest demonstrations yet at the Capitol in Madison. State workers who have a furlough day are expected to join the mix along with busloads of workers and students from around the United States. In addition, there will be solidarity demonstrations in 38 states across the country. Our message will be about protecting workers’ rights and stopping Gov. Walker’s anti-union agenda. There will also be a message of clarity: workers did not create this crisis and they should not have to pay for it.
Now is the time to directly intervene in shaping the future and to stand with the workers’ struggle in solidarity!
For more information about the protests, go to facebook.com/wiscworkersrights!
United National Antiwar Committee
Calls for Solidarity with Wisconsin Workers
From Cairo to Madison, we must raise high the old union slogan:
“AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL!”
UNAC salutes the heroic workers of Wisconsin and calls on all who stand for social justice to initiate or join local actions in support of this historic struggle. By doing so, we will send a message to our own state (and federal) governments that similar union-busting attacks will be met with more mass upsurges, inspired both by the workers of Wisconsin and the courageous peoples of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
The historic labor upsurge in Wisconsin is sending shock waves through the political establishment, as tens of thousands of union members and their supporters stage a people’s rebellion against the country’s most aggressive anti-union attack by a state government. Using the pretext of a budget deficit, Gov. Scott Walker and his right-wing allies in the state legislature are attempting to strip public worker unions of their right to collectively bargain over wages, benefits and pensions. This isn’t “fiscal reform” – it’s a naked attempt at mass union-busting.
Wisconsin workers show the way!
Rather than fight this attack only through the legislature, Wisconsin’s teachers, firefighters, university employees and local public workers have taken a page from the ongoing people’s rebellions in Northern Africa and the Middle East, massing in Madison’s own version of Cairo’s Liberation Square and occupying the State Capital itself. High school students have staged walk-outs in support of their teachers. Thousands of workers, organized and unorganized, as well as university students have responded to a call by the statewide teachers union for all Wisconsin residents to come to the Capitol. In this way, the workers of Wisconsin are showing the rest of the country how to beat back these reactionary attacks: first organize the mass actions, which then make the legislative victories possible.
Every working person has a stake in this struggle. Gov. Walker’s attempt at mass union-busting was meant to set off a chain reaction in other states, first on public workers, now the majority of the unionized workforce, and then, inevitably, on private-sector unions. Similar attacks in other states will fall disproportionately on workers of color, who nationally make up a high percentage of public workers.
But this attempt to ignite a national wave of union-busting is backfiring. Walker assumed the ongoing economic crisis and high unemployment would make workers afraid to fight back. But the immediate and fierce mass reaction by Wisconsin’s unions has inspired workers in other states. Mass protests have broken out against similar attacks in Ohio and Michigan, while across the country solidarity actions are being organized by union, community and anti-war forces.
“Money for Jobs, not for War!”
A $3.9 billion budget deficit in Wisconsin was cited as the reason for attacking the public worker unions. That claim is phony. What Walker did not say was that Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to pay billions to fund U.S.-led wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, send drones to Pakistan, support dictators and maintain more than 800 military bases worldwide (costofwar.com). In addition, more billions have been given to the wealthy and powerful in massive bailouts and tax breaks. Truly, the demand “Money for Jobs, not for War!” has never been more appropriate or timely.
The United National Anti-War Committee is a coalition of organizations and prominent individuals that grew out of a mass anti-war conference held last July in Albany, New York. On April 9 and 10, UNAC will sponsor national protests in New York City and San Francisco to demand an end to the wars overseas and a redirecting of war funding to domestic needs.
From its beginning, UNAC has promoted unity between the anti-war and labor movements, recognizing that it is working people who pay for these unjust, endless wars with our blood and tax dollars. Our fight is here – for decent jobs at union wages; an end to evictions and foreclosures; universal access to health care and higher education; a society free from racism, sexism and homophobia; and the right of every worker to join or organize a union so together we can defend our rights.
United National Anti-War Committee (UNAC)