Wisconsin waking American workers
IN the biggest demonstration Wisconsin has seen since the Vietnam war, tens of thousands of working people and students marched in the state capital Madison yesterday, in snow and freezing temperatures, to oppose cuts and attacks on trade union rights.
Republican Governor Scott Walker, supported by the reactionary middle-class Tea Party, wants to cut health and pension entitlements and increase contributions for public service workers, effectively slashing take home pay, and to take away rights to union representation and collective bargaining.
Saturday's demonstration was supported by a wide range of public service and other workers, teachers and firefighters being joined by teamsters and building trades, with placards saying "An Injury to One is an Injury to All".
Students were another lively section. Off-duty police too have joined the protesters at the state capitol, marching as public service union members although they have been promised exemption from Walker's attacks.
The Republican governor has been questioned by police after a telephone prankster posing as billionaire Tea Party backer David Koch caught him admitting that he thought of hiring provocateurs to cause trouble in the public service marches. Madison mayor David Ciesewicz said the demonstrators had all been well-behaved, even cleaning up the capitol and its lawn after their rallies, and he considered it a "serious matter" that the governor considered hiring outsiders to disrupt peaceful demonstrations.
Firefighters on march in Madison, February 16:
Students marching on Saturday:
The Wisconsin workers' stand is being backed by other trade unionists across America, with demonstrations from Oakland to New Jersey.
Solidarity in Springfield, Illinois:
...and in New Jersey
“Make no mistake about it, we are in the middle of a well-funded, well-orchestrated war on organized labor and public education,” said Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
The New Jersey rally had been called in solidarity with Wisconsin workers, but also in readiness to fight off attacks in their own state. Jersey governor Chris Christie wants to cut pensions and health-care benefits for public workers, though he says he supports vigorous collective bargaining. He tied several pieces of his proposed budget to cuts, saying he would make a required payment into the state’s retirement fund in 2011 if the pension changes were passed. The state faces a $54 billion pension hole, and past governors have consistently failed to fully fund the system.
Christie has also said he would pay for higher property-tax rebates only if the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed his cuts to workers’ health care. He wants workers to pay 30% of the cost of their premiums; currently they put 1.5% of their total salaries toward health care. Democrats, in turn, argue that would be overly burdensome on the lowest-paid workers with families.
Christie's education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, proposed a new tenure system for teachers in which they would need to earn good evaluations for three straight years to keep tenure. Cerf also proposed doing away with the “last in, first out” policy, which is also being debated in New York City.
Karen Iorio, 48, of North Brunswick, "a stay-at-home mom" said she came to support the teachers’ union on behalf of her father, a retired middle-school algebra teacher. “We’re going to go back to the 1920s, when there were robber barons and there were a lot of people who were extremely poor,” she said. “I just think that doesn’t leave a lot of hope in the future for my children to get decent-paying jobs.”
Big Business billionaires behind Wisconsin Walker's attack on unions