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21 Feb, 2011 21:00

US union protests intensify as thousands rally

US union protests intensify as thousands rally

Over 70,000 protesters took their fight to the capitol of Wisconsin expressing opposition to an anti-union bill aimed at dissolving collective bargaining rights of public union workers.

Now, Tea Party supporters have joined the protests in support of the bill, while angry parents took to the streets calling on protesting teachers to return to the class room to teach their kids. The absence of teachers forced the closures of many schools. In Wisconsin lawmakers need to secure quorum in order to hold a vote on the measure, however the Democratic lawmakers have refused to show up at the legislature and have fled the state to avoid being brought to the capital. Gov. Walker has warned state employees may begin receiving layoff notices as early as next week if the bill is not passed soon.The Republican controlled Senate dispatched state troopers to find the Democrats, but they were unsuccessful. A group of them have opted to stay in a hotel just on the other side of the state line in Illinois. Without quorum a vote cannot be held. Opposition to cuts to workers and labor rights continue to be met with opposition, opposition which appears to be speeding across the country.Caroline Heldman, a professor of politics at Occidental College said it is likely protests will continue to spread as more and more anti-union and broader austerity measures are proposed across the US.“If we were to see across the board cuts in social services affecting a lot of Americans I think that we would see more people taking to the streets,” she commented. “What’s happening in Wisconsin is not isolated.” She explained the Federal government however will never be in the same position as state governments because they can print money and run deficits, whereas state governments cannot and must balance their budgets.

The State legislature in Tennessee has proposed a bill that will dissolve the collective bargaining rights of the state’s teachers and proposed police layoffs in Hartford, Connecticut were met with hundreds of police marching in the streets expressing their opposition. Teachers in Idaho took to the picket line across the state angry over proposals to layoff hundreds of teachers and restrict collective bargaining rights. In Michigan, union leaders are calling on supporters to lobby against proposals that would give emergency financial managers the power to remove elected officials and break labor contracts in schools and cities. Democratic lawmakers in Illinois have, like their counterparts in Wisconsin, fled their state to avoid a vote on anti-unions measures in that state as well. In Ohio crowds of hundreds have descended on the state capitol to protest legislation that would strip all state employees of their collective bargaining rights. US Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich from Ohio has even left Washington to join the protests. “There is an atmosphere of determination, people are not going to let their rights to collective bargaining, their right to be able to discuss with their employers how much their wages should be, what kind of working conditions they have, they are not going to let those rights go way without a fight,” Kucinich told RT. “We have to do everything we can to let workers know they have advocates.”He said collective bargaining is a fundamental right for all in Ohio and across America; it’s required of a free society.The protests are a sign of a reawakening in the labor movement and unions in America. People are now seeing a rise in corporate interests and bushing back, he argued. “Workers are going to fight back,” Kucinich remarked. “They have to defend their economic interests.” People are losing their homes, he explained, while Wall Street is profiting. This needs to be addressed across America. Union supporters in a number of other states have also gathered  in their home state capitals to protest in solidarity with union workers across the country fighting to keep their labor rights. Tony Katz, the host of The Tony Katz Radio Spectacular explained no group of people speaks for everybody, and the union supporters speak for their specific group; not the population as a whole. “You have the unions, the public employee unions, that actually believes that they’re entitled to everything they get because of their own existence and then you’ve got the majority of people of Wisconsin, the tax payers, who know they can’t afford the bill anymore,” he said. “It’s about the unrealistic expectations of the public employees union vs. the reality of the pocketbook of the people of Wisconsin.” Thom Hartman, the host of The Big Picture on RT said the union workers have ceded to all the demands of the governor, except the loss of collective bargaining. “What the governor is trying to do is what Tony is complaining about in China, which is if somebody stands up and speaks out, we’re going to threaten them with the National Guard. This is insane.” he explained. “The right to collective bargaining is the core right to a union, without it there is no reason for it to exist.”Hartmann argued the proposal is a direct attack on the existence of unions, the middle class and the funding of the progressive movement. The overall goal of the Republican Party and the anti-unions corporate movement is the destruction of the unions.Looking to the big picture, growing protests are a sign of bigger things to come, remarked Derrick Crowe the political director of Brave New Foundation. He said the spending priorities across the county are not in line with what the American people want, and the people are expressing their frustration.He argued America has the money and resources to solve the budget problems, the problem is, and the government is not spending the money in the right ways. “If you brought just 150 troops home from Afghanistan you could beat Gov. Walker’s savings on his plan,” he said. “In two years you’d beat his savings.” America’s elected officials are spending money heavily on goals the American people do not regard as priority, he said, citing Afghanistan as a prime example. “Why don’t you end the Afghanistan war, which nobody loves in the United States, and use that money to reinvest here at home,” Crowe commented. Katz however argued the comparison to the Afghanistan war did does not hold up because the war is a federal issue and state budgets are not.“The federal government is going to deal with the war in Afghanistan and Gov. Scott Walker is going to deal with the $3.6 billion dollar budget gap in Wisconsin,” he said. There are many people who support the governor and his plan, but why aren’t on the streets screaming about it; they are at work, Katz commented. Unions once had a place in America, but their time is up. They are no longer there to make things better or protect America kids, he argued. “The expiration date is up,” Katz remarked. “They are there to take more money and take more power, that’s what they do. They longer help, they hurt. “Unions are still the one thing that is standing between absolute corporate power and their power over our politicians and them middle class,” contended Hartmann. “What Tony is arguing for is returning to Charles Dickens’ England, it’s an oligarchy.” The anti-union crowd wants a kingdom with few in power and everyone else under them, he argued. “That’s not how it should be, that’s not the American way. That’s the Chinese way!” Hartmann added. “Gov. Scot walker is trying to protect 10,000 to 12,000 jobs in Wisconsin. It’s the employees unions that won’t come to the table,” Katz challenged. He argued that union workers are not entitles to endless benefits and luxuries; they are not entitled to anything and everything because they are no more important than any other people on in the state. Crowe added that in his home state of Texas similar cuts are being proposed, including firing teachers. His wife, a teacher will soon lose her job. “The state would rather give tax cuts than they would educate our children with highly qualified teachers, the same thing is happening in Wisconsin,” he said.He reiterated that the way American leaders are choosing to spend does not fit with the national priorities of the people. Katz said teachers are important and do great work, but they are not special class that special treatment. He argued teachers deserve more and greater respect, but that unions are the cause of their problems. “One of the worst things that unions do is protect bad teachers because they want to keep collecting those union dues and therefore the good teachers actually get marginalized and pushed out,” he said. “There is a problem here that must be fixed.”To the contrary, Thom argued attacks on the unions and an end to public sector unions would be “the end of democracy in America.”Rose Aguilar, a radio host and the author of Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland explained unions are great for America; then ensure higher wages, healthcare, and collective bargaining. She argued the loss of unions would be horrible for workers. It would hinder wages and workplace respect.“Look what we’re seeing overseas. These people in places like China, and India and Vietnam, name it, they are barely making a living wage of $3 a day,” Aguilar said. “If you don’t have collective bargaining rights, because the bottom line is the only thing corporations care about, multinational corporations, you won’t be able to make a decent wage. There is no possible way.”Union workers in Wisconsin are happy to negotiate, accept pay cuts, but do not want to lose their bargaining rights, she explained. However, the governor has refused to negotiate. Other states are protesting as well, people are taking to the streets to protect their labor rights, Aguilar added.

With all eyes turned to Wisconsin, many have begun to use their clout to put pressure on the state government.A number of athletes, public leaders, musicians and more, including Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, are hosting a rally in favor of the union protesters hoping to call attention to the right of “working people to collectively call for a better life” On top of the rally, Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson has come out in support of the protesters. “Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work,” he said in a statement. “I am also honored as a member of the NFL Players Association to stand together with working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against this attempt to hurt them by targeting unions. I hope those leading the attack will sit down with Wisconsin’s public workers and discuss the problems Wisconsin faces, so that together they can truly move Wisconsin forward.”