Wisconsin’s budget battle begins

June 13, 2011

Aaron Hess and Katie Zaman report on plans for another week of protest in Madison.

A NEW showdown is shaping up in Wisconsin as Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the legislature try to force their two-year budget through the State Assembly and Senate in the days ahead.

But it isn't happening without a fight. This month has seen the revival of grassroots mobilization, led by union members and students who want to reinvigorate the movement that took over the Wisconsin Capitol and shook U.S. politics in February and March.

On June 4, activists established Walkerville, a makeshift tent city running along the side of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison. Walkerville became a base camp for demonstrations the rest of the week, including a rally of 1,000 on June 6 as demonstrators announced their return to the Capitol.

One high point of last week was the June 9 protest in front of the Fluno Center on the University of Wisconsin campus to protest Walker's keynote speech at the Wisconsin Real Estate and Economic Outlook Conference. When Walker could no longer ignore the distracting sound of protesters banging on the door, he said lamely, "That's opportunity knocking."

Protesters revive a street-level opposition to Gov. Scott Walker and his proposed budget
Protesters revive a street-level opposition to Gov. Scott Walker and his proposed budget

Opposition to Walker and the Republicans is as bitter as ever with the budget up for a vote in the legislature. Walker's proposal includes an estimated $1.7 billion in cuts to publicly funded health care, K-12 and higher education and environmental protections, as well as a wish list of right-wing Tea Party legislation. The Republicans will also try to reintroduce their bill to dismantle collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers, currently in legal limbo, if the Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn't rule in their favor.

Faced with mass opposition around the state and fearful that they could lose seats in upcoming recall elections, the Republicans are using every dirty trick they can to make sure they get their way. That includes running fake Democratic candidates in recall elections and bringing at least 300 additional state patrol officers to Madison.

The Assembly is scheduled to take up the budget on Tuesday, June 14, and the Senate two days later. The Assembly Organization Committee, led by brothers Jeff and Scott Fitzgerald, is putting special "extraordinary session" rules into effect for the votes. This undemocratic maneuver is designed to fast-track the budget and expand Republican legislators' power to add new provisions, while silencing public opposition and allowing virtually no time for debate within the legislature.

Featured at Socialism

Hear Wisconsin trade unionists and other activists at Socialism 2011 in Chicago, speaking at the panel meeting, "Wisconsin: The end of the one-sided class war." Check out the Socialism 2011 website for more details.

Unions, community organizations and networks of activists are organizing to fight back. Over 50 representatives from a broad range of organizations met on June 11 at a "Solidarity Table" to begin charting a plan. One of the first actions of the week: On Monday, June 13, demonstrators will protest at the headquarters of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's main corporate lobbying institution, which has backed Walker and his agenda with millions of dollars. Further protests and civil disobedience are planned in the following days.

"People who are calling this a state of emergency are right," said Ben Ratliffe, a steward in AFSCME Local 60. "There are a lot of people who want to get back into the street and disrupt the undemocratic way that the budget is being pushed through. A lot of groups will be taking action, and we hope the big unions are going to get involved, too."

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