UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Massive public sector cuts and threats to workers' rights ignite protests in Wisconsin

Report from a UNISONActive reader in Washington DC: Last week massive labor protests overwhelmed Wisconsin’s state capitol.

On Thursday 30,000 teachers, students, and state and municipal workers took part in a noontime rally at the state house in Madison: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2011/02/obama-republicans-face-off-over-unions-in-wisconsin/1

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker is attempting to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for most public workers as well as slash their pay and benefits.

Another 20,000 people took part in a rally Thursday night at the state capitol. Firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses, steel workers, and students have been standing together in historical unity against the proposed cuts. Public schools in Madison were closed for three days in a row as teachers continued to protest.

The Republican-controlled State Senate was scheduled to vote on the measure Thursday. But Democratic senators took an extraordinary move by refusing to show up for the vote – leaving the Republicans without a quorum. The Democratic senators have now left the state.

The chain of events that led to these protests should not be surprising. In January, the Republican-led legislature passed a whole host of tax cuts for multinational and out-of-state corporations. In early February the state government then announced it was suffering an enormous budget deficit, and in response proposed a plan that would ultimately cut the pay, cut the benefits, and cut the pensions of public employees – and do so by eliminating their collective bargaining rights.

This proposal would not just affect state employees, but also county and city employees, and teachers. The sweeping bill – largely unanticipated – came forward on Friday, February 11, and was going to be voted on this past Thursday. The wave of protests from such a broad spectrum of workers made the Democrat senators take heed. By leaving the state the vote cannot take place.

In the state where AFSCME - the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees - was founded, there is now a bill on the table that would dramatically disempower unions. While the political parties themselves are not as strong in Wisconsin because of an independent tradition in that state, the unions play a significant role in shaping the debate on behalf of a public sector. They are institutions that defend a very strong public education system in Wisconsin.

Here are additional facts about Scott Walker’s attempt to bring massive cuts to the state’s public sector and break its unions:

1. Governor Walker's reckless proposal to limit collective bargaining for nurses, teachers, EMTs, and other workers in Wisconsin would mean fewer nurses at the bedside and more crowded classrooms. There would be fewer workers to process unemployment claims or make sure seniors receive their Social Security checks on time.

2. Workers are already sacrificing to keep Wisconsin running. Workers agreed to take 16 furlough days equal to a three percent pay cut. These furlough days and other cuts have already saved Wisconsin taxpayers over $100 million.

3. Scott Walker created the budget shortfall himself with giant tax breaks to corporations.

4. Teachers, nurses, bus drivers, and other workers in Wisconsin earn 4.8% less than their private sector counterparts. Wisconsin's pension, which workers pay into, is also fully funded. And many public employees do not collect Social Security.

5. Walker's attacks are part of a nationally coordinated campaign by political attack groups funded by big banks, big oil, big insurance companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and right-wing billionaires. These attacks are political payback to these groups for spending billions on last year's elections.

6. Scott Walker's proposal will destroy 10,000 private sector jobs. And Walker already destroyed more than 13,000 jobs by rejecting funding for a high-speed rail line.

7. Instead of scapegoating teachers, firefighters, and nurses, Wall Street and greedy corporate CEOs need to pay their fair share. 60 percent of Wisconsin corporations with revenues of $100 million or more pay no corporate income taxes. If large corporations in Wisconsin were paying taxes simply at the U.S. average, this would annually generate nearly $1 billion dollars in additional revenue.

See videos of the protest here:

Also watch this video from Madison - note the children who are marching and think what an impact it will have on their lives, like young people in the civil rights movement: