Largest protest ever in Madison backs public workers
Published Mar 16, 2011 4:08 PM
Tens of thousands of workers from the public and private sectors, students, farmers and progressive activists from many parts of Wisconsin converged at the state capitol in Madison on March 12 to protest the anti-union bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Photo: Sue Ruggles, AFT Local 212
The struggle of the poor and working people in Wisconsin against union-busting
and anti-people attacks has ushered in a new period of fightback and resistance
in the United States from coast to coast.
On March 12, in possibly the biggest progressive demonstration in
Wisconsin’s history, tens of thousands of people from across the Badger
state, the country and worldwide joined to protest the illegal passing and
signing of a union-busting and anti-people bill at the state Capitol in
“In the biggest rally in Madison since the protests started [Feb. 14],
hundreds of thousands of working families, small business owners, farmers,
students, religious groups, women’s rights groups, environmentalists,
private sector workers and public sector workers gathered to say that worker
rights are human rights and they must be protected,” says the Wisconsin
AFL-CIO on its blog (wisaflcio.typepad.com). The AFL-CIO estimated the crowd at
The protest included a “Tractorcade” of thousands of farmers who
drove their tractors to Madison and joined a mobile picket line around the
Capitol for hours. The farmers carried signs such as “Don’t farm
out our jobs,” “Wisconsin farmers support public employees,”
and “Plowing forward for democracy.”
Students were also out in force as they have been all along. Students for a
Democratic Society marched with a lead banner reading, “No cuts to
education: No fees, no layoffs; education is a right!” SDS, with campus
unions and community organizations, has organized numerous walkouts and other
protests at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee over the past month.
TheUptake.org reports that on March 11 students across the country walked out
of classes in response to a call from Madison students for a national
Unionized teaching assistants at UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, along with
students from K-12 and higher education from all across the state and beyond
participated on March 12.
Members of labor, student and community organizations from larger cities like
Milwaukee to small, rural towns came to fight against union-busting and other
political, economic and social attacks against poor and working people included
in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012-13 budget proposal.
Speakers at the main rally also included Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub, star
of ‘Monk;’ the Rev. Jerry Folk; Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin AFL-CIO
president; Tom Buffenburgar, IAMAW president; Marty Biel, executive director
AFSCME Council 24; Guy Costello, teacher in the South Milwaukee School
District; Heather Terrill-Stotts, principal, Arena Elementary School; Christine
Neumann Ortiz, Voces de la Frontera, executive director; Anna Zachow, SEIU
Healthcare home worker; Mahlon Mitchell, firefighter president; Jeff Myers,
AFT; Sheila Cochran, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; and Mary Bell,
president of WEAC.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Both within the U.S. and internationally, solidarity with the poor and working
people of Wisconsin and across the country is on the rise.
On March 12, members of the German telecommunications union, ver.di, rallied to
support bargaining rights for workers in the U.S., and the ver.di chairperson
wrote a protest letter to Walker.
Wisconsin state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Stephanie Bloomingdale, spoke in
Toronto on March 14 and shared her experiences with the Canadian Union of
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO receives letters, donations and more on a daily basis
from unions across the U.S. and beyond. Solidarity demonstrations have taken
and are taking place across the U.S. and internationally. Egyptian workers, a
beacon of hope and inspiration to the poor and working people of Wisconsin,
have sent donations for food and other assistance.
Every day protest actions large and small are taking place throughout
Union federations and locals worldwide are passing support resolutions such as
the one entitled, “Support the Initiative for a General Strike in
Wisconsin — and Prepare for Nationally-Coordinated Solidarity Job
Actions,” adopted unanimously March 2 by the National Association of
Letter Carriers Branch 214. This resolution adds to one passed by the 46,000
member South Central Federation of Labor in Madison Feb. 21
Stephen King, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others have spoken, marched,
and/or raised funds for the workers in Wisconsin and other states under siege
by the banks, the corporations and the Pentagon. Michael Moore, who spoke in
Madison on March 5, gave a talk entitled, “America is Not Broke”
demanding the rich pay up and calling for massive direct action resistance from
poor and working people nationwide.
The National Nurses United, who have led marches in Madison and are
participating in the fightback against the union-busting bills in Madison and
nationwide, are circulating a leaflet which declares: “Just Say NO
— no more concessions nor more cuts: Need Revenue? Make Corporations Pay
Their Fair Share.” (nationalnursesunited.org)
Walker proposed his “budget repair bill” on Feb. 11, which called
for virtually eliminating collective bargaining rights for up to 200,000 public
sector workers in Wisconsin. Walker wanted the bill rammed through the
Wisconsin Legislature in five days — but an 18-day mass occupation of the
Capitol and massive demonstrations, and walkouts, sickouts and other
student-worker rebellions statewide stalled the bill for weeks. Fourteen
Democratic senators left the state to deny Walker a quorum in the Senate and
delay the vote.
On March 9 Republicans claimed that only the budget measures required a quorum.
They said they had separated out the anti-union measures from the rest of the
bill and could now hold the vote. Using this maneuver, the state Senate rushed
to ram it through. Hearing of this, “several thousand people arrived to
protest outside the locked-down Capitol building, eventually forcing their way
inside. One Democratic senator called the vote illegal, referencing an open
meeting law that requires that the Senate provide 24-hour notice of such
action, which the Republicans did not do.” (fightbacknews.org)
Later, tens of thousands descended upon the Capitol, reoccupying it and
erupting into shouts of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “General
On March 10 the Assembly was unable to convene until afternoon as hundreds of
mostly students occupied the lobby leading to the Assembly chambers; some also
occupied the Assembly chambers. After a host of police physically dragged out
the protesters, the Assembly convened and passed the bill.
Tens of thousands of protesters on the outside of the Capitol were illegally
barred from entering the the Capitol by hundreds of police on March 10 —
despite a court injunction won against Scott Walker’s administration the
previous week stating that the public must have access to the inside of the
Capitol from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
On March 11, Walker signed the union-busting bill into law. Because of the
illegal and criminal way the bill was passed through the Assembly and the
Senate, some unions have called for injunctions and for other means to overturn
it. Other protest actions include recall campaigns and ongoing demonstrations.
Calls for and discussion of a general strike are also growing daily. Some
educational information for local unions is posted at the South Central Labor
Federation’s website: (www.scfl.org/?page=generalstrike)
After the Assembly illegally passed the illegal bill on March 10, Joe Conway,
president of the Madison firefighters’ union, said that the political
situation has grown so dire in Wisconsin, he’d support a general
“We should start walking out tomorrow, the next day ... See how long they
can last,” he told reporters with The Uptake. “This is a nationwide
movement to attack all working men and women in Wisconsin and the United
For how you can help or for more information: www.wisaflcio.org;
wisaflcio.typepad.com; and www.bailoutpeople.org
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