Tens of thousands liberate state Capitol in Madison to oppose anti-worker legislation
Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published Feb 17, 2011 11:52 PM
WW photos: Bryan G. Pfeifer
Feb. 16 — Since Feb. 14, tens of thousands of students, workers and other
community members have liberated the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison in response
to Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair” bill, which would
eliminate collective bargaining rights for 175,000 public sector union workers
Gilbert Johnson, president of the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees Local 82 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told
this reporter: “We’re repulsed by the efforts of the current
administration to strip us of our rights and dignity. The increasing protests
statewide, and especially at the state Capitol, are exactly what’s needed
to kill Gov. Walker’s bill, which is a union-busting and anti-worker
attack. The resistance by the people of Wisconsin is inspiring and instilling
hope in poor and working people all over the country. We need a constant stream
of people going to the Capitol to stop this bill and for all to come out to the
emergency rally Thursday.”
As of this writing, Walker’s budget bill is in the Joint Finance
Committee, while hundreds of students and others are camping overnight inside
the Capitol. A people’s filibuster took place for more than 20 hours Feb.
15-16. On one occasion in the late evening of Feb. 15, when the committee
attempted to shut down public comment, hundreds of angry protesters led by
students chanted “We will speak” and “Let us in.” They
won more time -- public comments continued until 2:30 a.m.
If the committee approves Walker’s bill, it goes to the Senate, where it
is expected to be passed, and then on to the Assembly. The bill could come
before the Senate as early as tomorrow. Those protesting have pledged the
Senate and Assembly will be faced with mass resistance of various kinds if they
attempt to pass the bill.
Both yesterday and today, hundreds of buses traveled to Madison from all across
the state for noon rallies at the Capitol. The thousands who traveled to
Madison occupied the Capitol building both days, taking over all four floors,
encircling the Capitol in moving pickets and holding candlelight vigils.
Inside, thousands more lobbied legislators, joined protests and drumming
circles and sang. The Wisconsin AFL-CIO says that 20,000 descended on the
Capitol Feb. 15 and 50,000 today. On Feb. 17 union and student organizers
expect even bigger crowds to come from across Wisconsin and beyond.
Today all the K-12 teachers and students in Madison walked out and joined in
solidarity at the Capitol. There have also been “teach-outs” at
UW-Madison. Delegations of firefighters also joined the protests yesterday and
today in a notable act of poignant solidarity, as they are exempt from the dire
effects of Walker’s bill. They received an electric response from the
crowds, as have the youth and students, who are playing a critical role in
The week started with pickets at legislators’ homes Feb. 13. The next day
simultaneous protest actions as the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants
Association-American Federation of Teachers at UW-Milwaukee sponsored a rally
and the Teaching Assistants Association-AFT at UW-Madison rallied on campus and
then marched to the Capitol.
Support builds from labor & community groups
On Tuesday, union teachers and others picketed Walker’s house.
Leading forces in the protest are youth and students, AFSCME, Wisconsin
Education Association Council, Wisconsin AFL-CIO and AFT Wisconsin. An
impressive media communications network of web pages, email, Twitter, YouTube,
texting, phone trees and more is spreading the word about the resistance and
encouraging people to come to the Capitol.
Chants such as “Kill the bill,” “Hands off workers, make the
banks pay,” “Who’s got the power: We’ve got the
power” and many others are echoing off the walls inside and outside the
Statements and resolutions of support for Wisconsin workers and students are
coming in from across the country. The San Francisco Labor Council, the Tucson
May 1st Coalition, United Electrical Workers Local 150, Black Workers for
Justice, South Bronx Community Congress, Michigan Emergency Committee Against
War and Injustice, Students for a Democratic Society, Fight Imperialism, Stand
Together, Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions &
Utility Shutoffs, and scores of other unions, student and community
organizations have pledged support.
A Bail Out the People Movement solidarity statement issued on Feb.14 declared:
“What the rich and the powerful want to do is strip us all of our rights
and to make all workers into virtual slaves, both in the public sector and
private. The so-called deficit crisis is being used as an excuse to attack
workers in every sector, from private to public. We say no! Make the banks get
off of the money they are hoarding. Tax them and the rich! Take the trillions
of dollars wasted on war and propping up dictatorships and spend it on the
people. We should tell Gov. Scott Walker: Hands off the public workers or we
will do what the youth and people of Egypt did! Come and stay at
Wisconsin’s Capitol in the thousands until they listen! We will take up
the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and march, sit-in and link arms
with our sisters and brothers until justice is won.”
For ongoing updates and information, www.wseu-sepac.org, www.wisaflcio.org and
Bryan G. Pfeifer is a former Wisconsin resident and is presently the Staff
Organizer with the Union of Part-Time Faculty-AFT Local 477 at Wayne State
University in Detroit, Michigan.
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