As conservatives in eight other states moved to limit collective bargaining this week, union supporters throughout the United States are organizing rallies in support of the Wisconsin protestors. Rallies are scheduled in 38 states over the next couple of days.
San Diego got off to an early start on Friday, as about 150 people gathered in Mission Valley in the late afternoon despite very short notice and heavy rains. Although it seems to be that any gathering of more than a dozen Tea Party supporters will draw TV cameras these days, the labor council rally was largely ignored.
Speakers Lorena Gozalez (Central Labor Council), Bill Freeman (SDEA), Richard Barerra (School Board President), Assemblyman Ben Hueso and others voiced their support for the Wisconsin labor movement. There was general agreement among all the speakers that what is at stake here is much larger than the issues at play in Wisconsin.
I got soaked to the bone getting there as I walked the last mile after just missing the bus on the the rather infrequent Route 18. I signed a poster to be delivered to the unions in Wisconsin to show solidarity with their cause. Why? Because it’s dawned on me that this battle may be the fight of a lifetime.
If you take a look at what going on nationally, it doesn’t take much to figure out that the right is launching an all-out assault on institutions and ideals that stand in the way of the goals of their corporate overlords. In Washington DC, republicans voted for legislation that would de-fund Planned Parenthood. The San Diego newspaper today (Monday) featured a prominent op-ed claiming that America is ruled by the AARP (last week it was unions), as a means for urging the further cutbacks to Social Security and Medicaid.
What’s going on in Madison is not just about unions trying to protect their members’ hard-won rights. It is also about teachers who are fed up with attacks on their profession. A large group of National Board Certified teachers — teachers from many states who have passed rigorous examinations by an independent national board — is organizing a march on Washington in July. The events in Madison are sure to multiply their numbers. It should also be noted that states with strong anti-union legislation all find themselves grouped at the bottom of the heap when it comes to any measure of educational achievement.
Today could be the biggest protest day yet. As a furlough day for state workers, union organizers are planning to bring in protesters by bus from across the state. A Rock for Your Rights concert, featuring former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, is expected to start on Capitol Square at 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, Around the Rest of America…
The demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin doubled down Saturday, with a noon-time rally featuring various Tea Party speakers bracketed by morning and afternoon rallies sponsored by union groups.
The noontime Tea Party rally was planned by the billionaire Koch brothers- funded Americans for Prosperity, the Sam Adams Alliance-funded American Majority, and several Wisconsin Tea Party groups. Speakers included: Andrew Brietbart (promoter of the Acorn and Planned Parenthood video smear campaigns), Tim Phillips (President of Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity), Jim Hoft (of the “Gateway Pundit” blog, who recently blamed CBS reporter Lara Logan for her sexual assault in Egypt), Joe the Plumber, with a special message read from none other than Sarah Palin (former Alaska Governor who quit halfway through her term).
Although there were widespread fears that there would be violence as the result of the pro and anti Governor Walker forces being in close proximity, a well organized system of monitors seems to have worked well at keeping the hot heads at bay. Estimates of the crowds surrounding the State Capital exceeded 70,000, with observers agreeing that the Tea Party types were heavily out numbered. Reports indicated that the Pro-Walker forces ranged between two and five thousand people.
It’s imperative to understand the significance of what’s going on here. The confrontation in Wisconsin is NOT about wages, benefits or pensions. The State had a budgetary surplus just a few weeks ago until their new Tea Party Governor created a deficit by giving tax breaks to corporations. Despite that, the State’s public employee unions have all said that they are willing to agree to various austerity measures. But what the Governor and his reactionary allies really want is nothing less than the destruction of the unions, both public and private. During Gov. Walker’s campaign last fall, he boasted that he would, in fact, decertify the State’s public employee unions. Then he learned, upon taking office, that those powers weren’t his to utilize. So now he’s proposing legislation that will remove the right of unions to engage in collective bargaining. And just to make sure the workers get the message, private business will gain the right to fire employees for union organizing.
Should these reactionaries succeed in the anti-union campaigns, the flood gates will be opened for things like repeal of child labor laws (already moving through the Missouri Legislature), civil rights legislation and attacks on virtually every progressive cause out there. The attack on unions is an important first step because of the role they play in funding for the Democratic Party. The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood are yet another example of the real agenda of these right wingers.
It’s become almost chic in recent years for people outside the labor movement (even so-called progressives) to fail to recognize the historical significance of what unions have done and continue to do for those of us who don’t happen to be wealthy. While it is almost too easy to say that they’ve outlasted their usefulness, it’s very clear to me what a world without unions would look like, and it won’t be a very nice place.
The fight in Wisconsin is a fight for human rights, a fight for civil rights, a fight for the environment, a fight for gay rights, a fight for women’s rights, and a fight for family values. Don’t let the Koch Brothers and their billionaire stooges distract you with false arguments and “concern trolls”. Do the right thing. Draw a line in the sand and stand with your Union brothers and sisters.