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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 11      March 21, 2011

(lead article)
Union actions spread,
labor solidarity grows
Wisconsin workers, farmers lead way
Militant/Zena Jasper
Workers, farmers, and young people from across Wisconsin and beyond mobilized in Madison March 5 protest state government attacks on public workers and their unions.

MADISON, Wisconsin—Some 30,000 gathered at the state capitol here March 5 as mobilizations to defend public workers continued for the third Saturday in a row. The state AFL-CIO union federation has called on unions everywhere to turn out for another rally March 12 at 3:00 p.m. A farmer-labor tractorcade will precede the rally starting at noon.

Demonstrations supporting public workers and responding to attacks on unions have been spreading to other states. On March 6, some 1,500 teachers and other workers rallied in Indianapolis, Indiana. On March 8, some 3,000 workers filled the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, protesting antiunion legislation. There were more than 30 actions across Florida March 8 against provisions of the new state budget. And thousands of workers rallied in Nashville, Tennessee, to protest attacks on teachers.

The demonstrations in Wisconsin are protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill,” which takes away the legal right of public employees to collective bargaining on everything but wages. The bill mandates wage cuts for public workers by increasing deductions for pensions and health insurance.

Walker declared March 4 that since his bill has not been voted on, layoff notices would be sent out to 1,500 public workers.

Support from farmers for the next labor mobilization is a blow to Walker’s attempt to turn working people—particularly those from rural areas—against state workers. Groups supporting the March 12 action include Family Farm Defenders (FFD), Wisconsin Farmers Union, and the Land Stewardship Project.

“Busting unions will only make all of us more desperate,” FFD board member and farmer Tony Schultz, who helped organize a prounion rally in Wausau, Wisconsin, March 6, told the press. “This struggle is all about human rights,” added Joel Greeno, FFD vice president and a dairy farmer. “If you lower the bar for anyone, you ultimately lower it for everyone else.”

News agencies have reported talks between Walker and some of the 14 Democratic Party senators who left the state February 17 to prevent a vote on the bill. In the framework of “shared sacrifice,” these senators and many union officials have already agreed to Walker’s proposed wage and benefit cuts.

More union contingents participated in the March 5 action than in the previous protests. Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) came from across Wisconsin and Illinois. “The aim of Walker is to eliminate unions, be able to fire workers for no reason,” Joe Moss, a member of IBEW Local 14 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, told the Militant.

Transit workers from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Minnesota were part of an Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) contingent. Glenn Talbert, who came on a bus of ATU Local 26 members from Detroit, said, “Wisconsin workers have made a great start, we stand with them.”

Two busloads of hotel workers came from Chicago with Unite Here Local 1. There were signs identifying union pipe fitters and steamfitters. Laborers union members from Wisconsin and surrounding states were there in brightly colored T-shirts. Fifty workers from the sheet metal workers union at the Greenheck Fan plant in Wausau, Wisconsin, came. It was their first time at the capitol protests. United Auto Workers members from the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, truck plant joined the protest.

Along with union members there were many workers who aren’t organized. Carmen Healy came from Sterling, Illinois, and carried a sign saying, “Non-union and pro-union.” On March 6 thousands again gathered in the capitol. Many members of the National Association of Letter Carriers came from nearby states, including three busloads from Minnesota, 150 from Chicago, and 50 from Des Plaines, Illinois.

In his budget report Walker proposed ending insurance coverage for birth control. “It’s a war on workers’ rights, a war on women’s rights,” said Madison teacher Richard Moran. “Under Walker’s bill health insurance no longer has to cover contraception. Firefighters and cops are exempt from the bill, but teachers and nurses are not, and the majority of them are women.”

“It’s taking away from those that have the least voice,” said Lori Brown, a nurse from Weyauwega, Wisconsin.

A national group that backs the Walker’s budget bill, Americans for Prosperity, organized a 10-city bus tour through Wisconsin to drum up support. Called “Stand Against Spending. Stand with Walker,” the tour drew 100 people to a March 5 event in Hudson, Wisconsin. Some 350 pro-union counterprotesters outnumbered them.

AS WE GO TO PRESS March 9, the Wisconsin State Senate adopted union-busting legislation. All the more reason for a large turnout in Madison Saturday, March 12.

Related articles:
All out for rallies in Wisconsin, other states!
The ‘Militant’—A voice for workers to defend our unions
Rallies across the U.S. defend rights of unions
Trade unions: their past, present, and future
3,000 protest antiunion legislation in Ohio
On the Picket Line
UK action protests government austerity
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