Wednesday, February 23, 2011

At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Solidarity for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond


Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society. . . . Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these . . . things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid.

– Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower,

My, how things have changed since the Republican Eisenhower spoke these words! Sadly today, those seeking to eliminate labor laws and workers' rights in the U.S. are no longer "a tiny splinter group." Yet resistance to their efforts are growing across the country.

Yesterday afternoon, for instance, I participated in a very spirited rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in solidarity with public workers in Wisconsin who, along with their allies, are opposing Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits.

I've been to numerous rallies at the Capitol Rotunda over the years but this one was by far the most well-attended (and thus boisterous!). I've since heard that approximately 1,000 people gathered yesterday to show and voice their support for workers' rights.

Following are photos I took at yesterday's rally accompanied by quotes and links related to the situation in Wisconsin and beyond.

More than 1,000 Minnesota union workers [and their families and allies] raised the roof of the state Capitol, raised their arms and raised their voices Tuesday to chant: "We are one."

In one of the building's larger rallies in recent memory, the workers came to the Capitol to declare their solidarity with unions in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, unions are battling a proposal to virtually eliminate collective bargaining and cut their pay. The moves brought the Wisconsin Legislature to a standstill, made 14 Democratic Senators leave the state to stall the proposal and tens of thousands to the Madison Capitol to rally day after day.

Such measures, Gov. Mark Dayton assured the cheering St. Paul crowd Tuesday, will not become law in Minnesota.

"Drastic extreme measures will not become law here. They won't become law here because I'm here," Dayton said to chanting, applauding masses, who beat on drums and filled the Capitol's rotunda and upper floors."Working men and women's basic rights to organize . . . will not be taken away here, because I'm here. . . . We will not become Wisconsin."

– Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
"Union Rally in Minnesota: 'We Are All Citizens of Wisconsin'"
Star Tribune
February 23, 2011

The uprising that swept Tunisia, Egypt, and parts of Europe is showing signs of blossoming across the United States.

In Wisconsin, public employees and their supporters are drawing the line at Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits. School teachers, university students, firefighters, and others descended on the capital in the tens of thousands, and even the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers have weighed in against the bill. Protests against similar anti-union measures are ramping up in Ohio.

Meanwhile, another protest movement aimed at protecting the poor and middle class is in the works. Cities around the country are preparing for a February 26 Day of Action, “targeting corporate tax dodgers.”

The strategy picks up on the UK Uncut campaign, begun when a group at a London pub — a firefighter, a nurse, a student, and others — came up with an idea that is part flash mob, part sit-in. In an article published in The Nation, reporter Johann Hari tells the story of the group’s frustration about government cutbacks. If Vodafone, one corporation with a huge back-tax bill, paid up, the cutbacks wouldn’t be needed. The group spread the word over social media, and held loud, impolite demonstrations. The idea quickly went viral, and flash mobs/sit-ins materialized at retail outlets across Britain, shutting many of them down. . . .

– Sarah van Gelder
"Wisconsin: The First Stop in An American Uprising?"
February 18, 2011

. . . [W]hat’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side. . . .

– Paul Krugman
"Wisconsin Power Play"
New York Times
February 20, 2011

The escalating confrontations in Wisconsin and Ohio are ultimately about preventing the United States from becoming a full-on fascist state.

The stakes could not be higher – or more clear.

As defined by its inventor, Benito Mussolini, fascism is "corporate control of the state." . . . [I]t's time to end all illusions and call what we now confront by its true name.

The fights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and in numerous other states are about saving the last shreds of American democracy.

– Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
"Fighting the Five Fascisms in Wisconsin and Ohio"
The Free Press
February 21, 2011

The demonstrators in Madison, Wis., are fighting to preserve American hopes for opportunity and security that conservative Republicans are trying to destroy.

Republican efforts in Washington, D.C., and Madison go hand in hand. The union members in Madison are fighting an effort by the Republican governor and Legislature to take away public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights. Elimination of such rights in public- and private-sector unions would leave workers without protection, leading to a widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor or those of moderate income. In Washington, right-wing Republicans in power in the House of Representatives are demanding cuts in education and other programs that help working people’s chances of bridging that gap.

Let’s hope the efforts of the Madison demonstrators will stir the liberal grass roots to fight the GOP with the energy the protesters are displaying at the Wisconsin Statehouse. Not enough people see the connection between Madison, Washington and the oppression of working people. . . .

– Bill Boyarsky
"The Madison-Washington Connection"
February 22, 2011

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class — pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.

By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.

Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to shrink the pie even further with additional tax cuts for the rich — making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estate tax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent. . . .

Class Warfare in Wisconsin:
10 Things You Should Know

By Josh Healey
February 17, 2011

1. The deficit is a made-up crisis.

Like most states, Wisconsin is struggling in the recession, but the state government isn’t actually broke. The state legislature’s fiscal bureau estimated the state would end the year with a $121 million balance. Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — but it is not because of an increase in worker wages or benefits. According to the Capital Times, it is because “Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for corporate and special-interest groups in January.” Nice. A man-made “crisis” as an excuse to push neo-liberal cutbacks: Shock Doctrine, anyone?

2. Even if there was a deficit, blame Wall Street — not the workers.

The economy isn’t crumbling because state workers in Madison have decent pensions. It’s because Wall Street bankers stole our money, Bush and now Obama have us in two trillion-dollar wars, and states like Wisconsin keep spending more on prisons than schools. What do the rich pay? According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, corporate tax income has fallen by half since 1981 and over two-thirds of Wisconsin corporations pay zero taxes.

3. The Green Bay Packers are with the people.

They won the Super Bowl. They’re owned by the people of Green Bay, not some schmuck billionaire. And now the Pack is standing in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters. If only Brady Poppinga would tackle Scott Walker like that. If the green and gold are down, you already know what side to roll with. (I heard Walker is a Vikings fan, anyway.)

4. This is not “just another Madison protest.”

Madison is famous for its progressive tradition, but this is more than just another march down State Street. This struggle is engaging people across the state — not just Madison and Milwaukee, but LaCrosse, Eau Claire, and outside Gov. Walker’s home in Wauwatosa. This struggle is multi-racial, multi-generational, and multi-issue. Working- and middle-class white folks (the majority population) might finally realize that long-term unity is stronger than short-term tax relief. Looking for the progressive antidote to the Tea Party? They’re brewing something in the Badger State.

5. Public worker unions were founded in Wisconsin.

The first union for public employees was actually started in Madison in 1932, to ensure living wages for the workers and end political patronage for government jobs. The biggest public union, AFSCME, was born right where the protests are happening today in Madison. Wisconsin has always had a dual legacy — home to the last Socialist mayor in the country (Frank Zeidler of Milwaukee) and the ultimate anti-Communist himself, Joe McCarthy; more recently, both progressive Sen. Russ Feingold and immigrant-basher Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner — but the Dairyland’s populist ethos can be traced back to the Progressive Era and its public unions.

6. Hurting public workers will not help you get a better job.

Many conservatives, and even some liberals, argue that we need to “bring public workers’ benefits down to the level of private workers.” First off, it’s not true that public workers are better off — they usually get lower wages in exchange for better benefits. More important, though, is the idea that we should raise all boats, rather than continue this race to the bottom. Russ Feingold said yesterday that “Republicans are trying to pit private workers against their public counterparts.” No more divide and conquer. Yes, people with a private-sector job (or, people who like 50% of black men in Milwaukee don’t have a job at all) have a right to be angry: but that anger should be reserved for the companies who are downsizing and outsourcing those jobs, not for middle school teachers and the lunch lady.

7. This is about more than unions.

This is about public education, affirmative action, immigrant rights, stopping foreclosures, and basic human rights. This is about how much the Radical Right thinks they can get away with. This is about drawing a line in the sand — if first they come for the unions, who will they come for next?

8. The country is watching Wisconsin.

What happens this week in Madison has national ramifications. Right now, everyone’s eyes are on Wisconsin. The governor of Ohio and Tennessee are threatening to adopt similar legislation — and Obama has his own conservative budget proposal at the federal level. If they can force it through relatively liberal Wisconsin, your state could be next.

9. Wisconsin was watching Egypt.

News travels fast, and uprisings inspire each other across continents. The protesters out on the Madison streets watched the millions of Egyptians who successfully, nonviolently took down their dictator. Many of them are now carrying signs like the one below calling Scott Walker “the Mubarak of the Midwest.” And while the American media loves the union workers that toppled a dictator in Egypt, CNN has little sympathy for the workers that will be silenced right here in the heartland.

10. Whose Capitol? OUR Capitol!

This is our moment. Our state. Our growing movement to change the course of the country. The legislature could vote as soon as today on Walker’s bill — unless the real Badgers stand up to stop him.

The protests are escalating every day, inside and outside the Capitol. To all my Madison folks, stay strong and know that we’re with you. To the rest of the country, spread the word, donate to the legal defense funds, and make sure your own states don’t go down this same road.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Recommended Links:
Uprisings: From the Middle East to the Midwest – Amy Goodman (, February 22, 2011).
On Wisconsin! – Jay Walljasper (On the Commons, February 21, 2011).
The 100 Best Protest Signs at the Wisconsin Capitol – Matt Stopera (, February 20, 2011).


Sage said...

Excellent coverage of this important event in American history, Michael. Your photo essay, which so represents the core issues in Madison, is both poignant and beautifully presented here.

Carol Masters said...

Hi Michael! Great images, great signs! hope to be there today via bus...Carol M