A war on unions in Wisconsin

February 14, 2011

Mike Imbrogno, a steward and executive board member of AFSCME Local 171 in Madison reports on the governor's unprecedented scorched-earth assault on labor.

MADISON, Wis.--Newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker has declared open war on public-sector unions and working people throughout the state.

Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion deficit, and Walker and his right-wing cronies are determined to balance the budget on the backs of working people. But the response from labor is starting to build and gain momentum.

On February 11, Walker called a special session of the legislature and proposed a budget repair bill that would destroy collective bargaining for public employees. This bill would also require state workers to pay 12.6 percent of their health insurance benefits and to put 5.8 percent of their pay toward their pension. It eliminates automatic deductions for union dues, limits all future collective bargaining agreements to one year in length and requires union members to vote each year to "recertify" bargaining units.

Walker wants the bill passed by the state legislature--there are now Republican majorities in both houses--by next week, which makes the proposal unprecedented both in the scope of the attack and in the speed with which Republicans are trying to push it through.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

On top of this, the governor's office sent a letter to all state employees unions that the expired contracts employees have been working under won't be extended after March 13. This essentially means unions will cease to exist in any real way after that date unless a new agreement is worked out.

The intentions of Walker and the Republicans couldn't be clearer, nor the stakes higher. They want to turn Wisconsin into a laboratory for right-wing fantasies about gutting living standards for ordinary people. By attempting to crush unions for state workers, these zealots want to set an example for driving wages and benefits for all workers to make businesses more profitable.

WALKER AND his team they can get away with this all-out assault because of the recession. One of his staff told a New York Times reporter that "a few people will be upset about the contracts, but the vast majority won't care."

But it sure doesn't feel that way down here in reality. Last week, when Walker introduced the new world champion Packers football team in Green Bay, he was greeted by boos. In Appleton on the day of his announcement, 75 teachers greeted his Walker's SUV with chants and pickets decrying these new proposals--and that protest took place on an hour-and-a-half's notice.

The anti-union offensive has stirred a rapid increase in organizing the resistance. There are reports of people engaging in organizing and spontaneous activity from all corners of the state. For example, fliers have gone out calling for a picket of the governor's mansion in Madison.

Big rallies are planned for this Tuesday and Wednesday, February 15 and 16, at the capitol building in Madison, sponsored by all the public employees unions, including AFSCME, the Wisconsin Education Association Council/NEA, the American Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union.

The rallies are supposed to be followed by time for "lobbying" members of the legislature to vote no on the worst aspects of these attacks. But this battle won't be won in the offices of these right-wing pigs. It will be won by framing these political questions in the streets.

Organizing together across unions, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods is the only way we can push back against this onslaught and make it clear to Scott Walker and his ilk that working people shouldn't bear the brunt of the crisis.

Together, we have power. To exercise that power, we have to organize and fight.

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