Fifteen thousand Wisconsin workers and their supporters rallied at the state capitol in Madison on Tuesday to protest legislation aimed at both public employee and private sector union activity. Teamsters, teachers, university workers, nurses, high school students, and state workers of all kinds flooded the streets and the capitol grounds. The crowd cheered as firefighters showed their solidarity. Five hundred students walked out of Madison East High School to join the demonstration. Seven hundred protestors staged an overnight sleep-in in the Capitol Building.
Recently elected Republican (and Tea Party darling) Governor Scott Walker has wasted no time since his inauguration in advancing legislation to make it illegal for public sector workers to bargain on anything other than wages. The bill would make it easier to get rid of public sector unions by mandating annual votes of the membership. And it would allow private sector employers to fire workers who are trying to organize unions. To make his point perfectly clear, the Governor has threatened to call out the to take anyone’s job that refuses to go along.
Tuesday was the second day in a row of demonstrations, and those union members and their supporters say they’ll be back again Wednesday and every day for as long as it takes to make their voices heard and stop Governor Walker’s budget bill. The crowds in Madison are expected to swell Wednesday, as city schools are closing, with teachers taking sick days to join the protests.
The protests, unprecedented in recent Wisconsin history, are being organized by union—the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Wisconsin Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin and others—in anticipation of a Thursday vote on whether to give the governor powers that the senior member of the state legislature describes as nothing short of dictatorial.
Many of those who showed up for one of the first of what are expected to be days of ever-expanding protests borrowed themes language and themes from the crowds that filled the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities to call for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial reign. Signs at Tuesday’s rally referred to the governor as “Hosni Walker” and declared: “Protest Like an Egyptian.”
Another asked: “If Egypt Can Have Democracy, Why Can’t Wisconsin?”