University of Wisconsin-Madison student protesters, including shouting Teachers Assistant Association (TAA) members swarm outside the Wisconsin Capitol's Mifflin and State Street corner, their chanting growing more impassioned as the clock nears 1 p.m.
This week's protests are a revolt in defense of the right of public employees to self-organize. But not all the protesters here are public sector workers, or their family members. Many have recognized the role of college and high school students in initiating and energizing these protests. But few journalists have yet noted the efforts of Hmong, African American, Latino, and other activists of color to deepen and broaden the protests.
Monica Adams of the Madison-based community justice organization, Freedom, Inc., is one activist who has tried to add some color to the standard portrayal of this uprising. In an unpublished submission to the Wisconsin State Journal, earlier this week, she wrote that:
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker alleges that dismantling public sector collective bargaining rights is made necessary by a $3.6 billion deficit in the next budget, and a $137 million shortfall this year. Setting aside the fact that the ability to negotiate shifts, seniority, benefits and conditions of employment would have a negligible impact on the deficit, and looking beyond Walker's deceptive claim that the alternative to union-busting is to kick 200,000 children off Medicaid (called "false" by Politifact), how deep is the state's economic crisis?
9:30 p.m. - IN THREE WORDS: DECEPTIVE, DISHONEST, DESTRUCTIVE
Mary Bottari: Outside the capitol, I bumped into UW Professor (Law, Political Science, Sociology, Public Affairs) Joel Rogers and asked him to explain the budget number to me. The national media can't seem to decide if Wisconsin has a budget deficit or not, or whether $30 million in concessions being demanded from workers is significant or not. Rogers explained that the $3.5 billion shortfall projected over the next biennium is about half what the one projected last time, which Wisconsin survived, and that $30 million was both trivial and dwarfed by new concessions unions had already offered to make. Says Rogers, "you just can't make sense of this as a deficit reduction strategy. It's a political strategy. Destroy public sector unions and you destroy the campaign organization of your opposition, Democrats. Of course he won't ever just say this." Rogers thinks the budget repair bill is "in three words: deceptive, dishonest, destructive. Deceptive because its not what people elected him to do. He's got no mandate to take away worker rights. Dishonest because unions are really not the source of our budget problems. A lousy national economy is, and unions are anxious to work with him in surviving in it. They're really not the problem, but can be part of the solution. And it's destructive because their help is needed. Nothing is gain by blowing up a 50 year tradition of public sector collective bargaining that was born in Wisconsin and gives a lot of people a great deal of civic pride."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is trying to end collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin, and thousands have converged on the state capitol in protest of what many consider a radical and blatantly political move. Walker's plan threatens the rights of all Wisconsin workers, and if it prevails in this state, could threaten the rights of working people across the nation. It would also reverse the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who have fought for economic justice through the power of organizing.
Although federal collective bargaining laws protect private sector employees, Wisconsin has been a leader in extending those rights to the public sector. The American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) formed in 1932 in Madison, Wisconsin. The "dairy state" was the first to pass collective bargaining rights for local government workers and teachers in 1959. The push for public sector unionization extended through the sixties.
10:10 p.m. - GOOD OLE DAYS
Mary Bottari reports that another protestor says she yearns for the good old days when republicans were somewhat reasonable.
10:00 p.m. - WEAC INVITES TEACHERS AND CITIZENS TO CAPITOL
Wisconsin's largest teacher's union, Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), announced that its 98,000 teachers and citizens across the state are invited to the state capitol tomorrow to visit their state legislators. This means that schools across the state will be closed. Check your local TV listings for news on your local school district. Madison Schools are closed.