Massive crowd gathers to protest Wisconsin union law

MADISON, Wis Sat Mar 12, 2011 5:46pm EST

1 of 3. Protesters return to the Wisconsin State Capitol the day after Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) signed the bill that eliminated almost all collective bargaining for most public workers at the state Capitol in Madison Wisconsin March 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Hauck

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MADISON, Wis (Reuters) - A massive crowd gathered at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Saturday, one day after Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law union restrictions that have sparked a national confrontation with organized labor.

Madison Police predicted the 27th consecutive day of demonstrations against the law to severely restrict the power of public sector unions would approach the 70,000 to 100,000 on February 27, which was the largest demonstration at the state Capitol since the Vietnam War.

Though an official count was not yet available, the crowd Saturday seemed to surpass those numbers.

Democratic state Senators who left Wisconsin for Illinois, and stayed for three weeks to block the measure's path to approval, appeared at the afternoon rally. Though they ultimately failed to stop Republicans from passing the law, they received a hero's welcome from union members and their supporters.

"It's so good to be home in Wisconsin," said Democratic Senate minority leader Mark Miller, speaking to demonstrators, who chanted "welcome home" and "we're with you."

"Our fight to protect union rights has become a fight to protect all our rights -- a fight to protect Democracy," said Miller. "You have inspired the nation with your passionate and peaceful protests."

In a statement, Republican Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, who was instrumental in shepherding the proposal through the legislature, said the 14 Democratic senators "pretend to be heroes for taking a three-week vacation."

"It's an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois -- with pay," Fitzgerald said.

Protests were held across the state on Saturday in addition to those in Madison.

In a major setback for organized labor, the state Assembly on Thursday voted 53-42 to approve the controversial bill. The state Senate had earlier approved the measure despite the boycott of Democratic senators.

While Walker signed the bill into law on Friday it will not officially take effect until later this month.

The new law will strip public sector labor unions of collective bargaining rights except for wages, and with increases limited to the level of inflation. Pay rises above inflation would have to be put to a referendum of voters. Unions would have to be recertified annually and public servants would pay more for health insurance and pensions.

Restrictions on public sector unions have been introduced in recent weeks in a number of other U.S. states with Republican governors, including Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Florida. This has raised concern among Democrats that the effort, which Republicans have said is needed to close gaping deficits, is really the opening salvo of the 2012 presidential election.

In Wisconsin, a state where collective bargaining for public employees was born more than 50 years ago, the loss this week seems to have roused Democrats and organized labor, who are focusing their anger on an effort to remove eight vulnerable Republicans in the state Senate through recall elections.

Bill opponents have also vowed to recall Walker, though state law makes that impossible before he hits his first anniversary in office in early January 2012.

Several booths were set up at the rally collecting signatures to recall Walker and the eight Republican senators who are eligible for recall.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher, Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)

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Comments (19)
JamVee wrote:
Now maybe the Liberals know how the Conservatives felt last year when the Democrat Congress rammed Obamacare through (without even reading it).

Mar 12, 2011 11:57am EST  --  Report as abuse
libertyville wrote:
The majority of attendees will be students looking for a life and out of state professional unionists who are protecting their perks. Wisconsinites and assorted cheeseheads will be celebrating St Pat’s day elsewhere and have no time for this special interest feathering its bed.

Mar 12, 2011 12:55pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ginchinchili wrote:
JamVee: You have to learn to quit soaking your brain in propaganda. First of all, even though FOX News reports that our healthcare system is the best in the world, the facts show that it is the worst among industrialized nations. It’s the most expensive per capita; it covers the fewest people; and it’s the #1 reason for personal bankruptcies in America. The point is, our healthcare system is horrendous.

Secondly, the Republicans don’t want to do anything to fix our healthcare system because the executives in charge who contribute heavily to Republican campaigns are making tons of money.

The Democrats have been trying to improve our system for years now. Obama is just the latest. The Republicans had every opportunity to work on this legislation, but they just refused to. Not only did they refuse to, but the were against tampering with our healthcare system from the start. They want to keep the status quo. Republicans are always free to craft and promote improvements to our healthcare system, but they don’t want to, obviously, or else they would.

The bill the Democrats passed was hardly what progressives in this country wanted, but it was a small step in the right direction. Insurance companies can’t dump you when you get sick. Are you against that? I bet you won’t answer that. You can’t be refused insurance for a pre-existing condition. Are you against that? Parents can keep their children on their insurance plans until they are 26. Is that a bad thing?

My point is this: The Democrats wanted very much to work with the governor of Wisconsin on their budget bill. They even agreed to all of the monetary demands of the governor’s regarding the public unions. Democrats were bending over backwards trying to appease the governor, but the governor, spitting in the face of our Founding Fathers, ignored his duty to represent all the people of Wisconsin, and demanded that the entire bill must be everything he wants. Period. It wasn’t even all or nothing, because nothing wasn’t an option. You just witnessed an example of totalitarianism.

This is nothing like the passage of the new healthcare law, on which the Republicans, in typical selfish, undemocratic fashion, refused to participate. Furthermore, the healthcare bill wasn’t passed to weaken Republicans’ ability to raise money for their campaigns. This undemocratic act of Walkers was a power grab, an attempt to weaken the voice of the working people in America. So don’t compare the two legislative events. Obama and the Democrats tried to work with Republicans, obviously showing a willingness to compromise, but the Republicans refuse to work with them and instead just lied about the bill, e.g., death panels. In Wisconsin, the Democrats WANTED to work on the bill, but the Republicans weren’t letting them. The governor crafted the bill and that was the way it was going to stay. Furthermore, the healthcare bill was in no way an attack on Republicans. The Wisconsin bill was certainly an attack on Democrats. There is no comparison between the two.

If you had the kind of personal integrity that a good American should have and REALLY cared about democracy, you too would be upset with Gov. Walker. Why bother having a legislature with members of different parties if you’re going to govern like Walker is? Why not just elect a governor and let him or her run everything? And keep in mind that the next governor might be a Democrat. Would you be okay with that? This is what should scare you. It may be the teachers today, but at some point they’ll be coming after you or your children until America is the only industrialized nation in the world that has a feudal style economic system, the slaves and the masters.

One last point, cutting into teacher’s pay and education funding is just one of many ways of destroying the Middle Class. Rising insurance rates and healthcare costs is hurting us much more than taxes. There’s no end to the rising cost of living. The Middle Class is getting squeezed while the wealthy are taking what little we have left. They are the only segment of our society whose income continues to grow. Everyone elses’ is shrinking. Why are you defending that dynamic? It’s a bigger threat to our way of life than terrorism. Think about it.

Mar 12, 2011 1:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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