Momentum continues a week into the protests in Wisconsin, as the capital city’s public schools were closed for the fourth day and protesters prepare for the reconvening of the State Assembly.
Demonstrations against governor Scott Walker’s proposed bill to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees reached a peak level of some 80,000 Saturday, and included a counter Tea Party rally with a few thousand people. The night before, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. addressed a crowd of several thousand, telling them that they were living a “Martin Luther King moment.”
According to a statement released Sunday by the Teachers Assistants Association (TAA), one of the primary organizers of the protests on the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s campus, “The Assembly is expected to pass the union-busting budget repair bill, even as tens of thousands of people demonstrate against the anti-worker provisions in the bill. “
The State Democratic senators who left the state last week in boycott of Republican attempts to hurriedly push through the bill, still remain in Illinois. Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald indicated that the Senate will meet Tuesday to pass non-fiscal measures, which can be done without the Senate Democrats, putting additional pressure on the Democrats to return to Wisconsin.
What has become clear to the protesters over the past week is that, beyond an assault on unions, Walker’s bill is part of a wider attack on working families and public education.
“The second reason that this fight matters is the future of public education,” The Nation’s Chris Hayes said. “What’s driving it is the ultimate aim of permanently scrapping the model of public education that has sustained this country for years. Teachers unions are the stewards of preserving public education, which is the core element of our civil life.”
Walker’s track record illustrates his lack of support for public education. Before he was governor, he was the executive of Milwaukee County, where the nation’s first mass-scale private school voucher experiment was implemented. He then campaigned for governor on expanding these vouchers, Hayes said.
Under the widely disputed bill, local police, firefighters and state troopers would retain their collective bargaining rights—their unions generally supported Walker during his campaign. Teachers unions, who sided with Democrats in last fall’s election, and other public workers would lose that process.
The proposed bill, according to Walker, is intended to balance the state’s budget and avoid layoffs. But despite an offer by public workers to give financial concessions instead of relinquishing collective bargaining, the governor refuses to drop the plan.