Wisconsin’s Democratic Senators have skipped work today in boycott of a bill that threatens to dismantle the state’s fifty-year-old collective bargaining process for public employee unions. The proposal, by new Republican Governor Scott Walker, has brought tens of thousands of students, government workers and citizens to swarm the capital building for the third consecutive day of protests.
The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association TAA called for a “teach out” today, asking for all activity to cease on campus so that the university can stand as unified front against the draconian bill.
Last night, the state’s largest teachers union asked its 98,000 members to leave schools and attend rallies in Madison, which resulted in many of the area’s school districts cancelling classes for the second day.
Demonstrations have exploded across the state over the last few days, with the epicenter in Madison, the state’s capital. Students have played a central role in organizing, including a sleep-in at the state capitol building for the last two nights and walk-outs on campuses and high schools across the state.
“While students haven’t been the source of this protest, they have definitely been the soul of this protest,” TAA Co-president Alex Hanna told The Nation. “Students of all ages have shown up. They’ve stayed up late on little sleep—they are really working the night shift to keep this movement going.”
One of the groups documenting the protests, Defend Wisconsin, reports that the Capitol building is packed today, music is blaring and firefighters with bagpipes are playing “America the Beautiful.”
Instead of taking the day off, students gathered yesterday at schools throughout Madison and marched miles along the city’s main thoroughfares to join the some 30,000 protesters, the largest mass demonstration the city has seen in decades—perhaps since the great protests of the Vietnam War era, The Nation’s John Nichols reports.
Protestors chanted “What’s disgusting? Union Busting!” and teachers carried signs that read “Will the National Guard teach my class?” in response to Walkers threat to call out the National Guard.
“It isn’t as if these types of attacks on unions are new; what’s different is their scale, intensity and real possibility of success. After outspending unions in November’s election by an estimated 4-to-1 margin, corporations and their allies are exploiting the fiscal crises across the nation to drive a stake into the heart of what is left of organized labor—public workers’ unions,” Jane McAlevey wrote in The Nation.
Not only is Walker attacking unions but one of the local newspapers, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, revealed last night that he is attempting to pull the University of Wisconsin–Madison from the state system, a move that has the quiet backing of the university’s Chancellor Biddy Martin. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards warned this week the governor is also likely to announce $900 million cuts in general state school aid, a nearly 10 percent reduction for the two year period.
Noam Chomsky appeared on Democracy Now! this morning to discuss Wisconsin’s Resistance to Walker’s assault, where he said this has the potential of becoming the start of a pro-democracy movement in the United States.
Follow John Nichols, for ‘Live Reports From Ground Zero for Labor Rights’.