Wisconsin hangs tough

Hundreds of people camped inside of the Wisconsin State Capitol for the last two weeks in support of Wisconsin public workers under attack from their governor refused to leave the building after Gov Scott Walker set a 4:00 P.M. Sunday deadline for their removal. Gov Walker said that those inside who refused to leave would be arrested.

Those inside the building and millions of others across the country have been protesting Gov Walker’s proposed legislation that would effectively end collective bargaining for Wisconsin’s public sector workers. The ultimate purpose of the bill is to bust public sector unions and take away public workers’ on-the-job voice.

“People are realizing that if they want their voice heard, they’ve got to yell loud,” Maya Madden told Bloomberg News inside the Capitol. Madden, a 66-year-old small business owner, said that she was prepared to be arrested for refusing to leave.

“We are here and we will remain here until the middle class is protected,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO from inside the Capitol.

Those inside the building were joined by local clergy, who also vowed to be arrested if police tried to clear the building. As those inside prepared to be arrested, thousands of supporters outside chanted, “We are Wisconsin, the whole world is watching!”

At the same time, The AFL-CIO set up sound equipment and prepared to broadcast when arrests began Dr Martin Luther King’s final speech before he was assassinated to striking Memphis sanitation workers.

But about 8:00 P.M. Sunday night, Capitol police decided that no arrests would be made and that those remaining in the building would be allowed to stay through the night. The stay-in participants,  mainly students, have been holding a vigil inside the Capitol since February 15.

“They are allowed to stay tonight, but we are going to go back tonight and evaluate our procedures,” Charles Tubbs, head of Capitol Police, told reporters. More protests in Madison are scheduled to begin again on Monday morning.

For two weeks now, public workers, their supporters, and their unions have not only managed to keep their fight against Gov Walker’s union busting efforts alive, they’ve kept it growing.

On Saturday after 12 straight days of marches, protests, and demonstrations, Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, saw its biggest demonstration yet in support of public workers and public worker unions. About 100,000 people marched through lightly falling snow to demand that Gov Walker end his efforts to dismantle public worker unions.

Public sector workers were joined by thousands of autoworkers, construction workers, communication workers, and dozens more private sector union members in the march. Two van loads of workers from Metropolis, Illinois who belong to United Steelworkers Local 7-669 traveled through snow to show their support. Local 7-669 members have been locked out by their employer Honeywell since June. 

“After all the support we have seen from around the country, it would be a disservice not to join our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and give some of that support back,” said Darrell Lillie, President, USW Local 7-669.  “Without collective bargaining rights, workers in both the public and private sector would be devastated and lose their voice in the workplace.” (Those wishing to support Honeywell workers can get more information at www.experiencematters.usw.org)

Support rallies were held across the country as well. In Austin about 1,000 people gathered on the grounds of the State Capitol.”It was quite wonderful,” said Anne Lewis, an instructor at the University of Texas and member of the Texas State Employees Union. “There were all kinds of union folks  — Education Austin, TSEU, Treasury
Workers, Firefighters, Sheet Metal Workers, AFSCME. We even signed up four new members.”

Last week, the South Central Federation of Labor, the Madison-area labor council composed of about 90 unions representing 45,000 workers in four counties voted to endorse a general strike if Gov Walker signs his union busting bill. The resolution endorsing a general strike says that the council’s Education Committee will “immediately begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike.”

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