More than 30,000 people circled the state Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, last Saturday in a continued show of outrage against governor Scott Walker.
The struggle against Walker’s anti-worker policies has maintained itself for three full weeks.
Postal workers, firefighters, “cops for labor,” nurses, teachers, prison guards and their families protested against a proposed law that would annul 50 years of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Wisconsin.
Protesters peacefully left the Capitol building, which they had been occupying, on Thursday of last week under court order. But they still hold rallies inside every day—and the struggle continues.
Award winning film-maker Michael Moore spoke for 30 minutes to the crowd last Saturday. He said, “America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash.
“It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.
“The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on.”
Thunderous applause interrupted his speech several times as people broke into chants of “Kill the bill!” “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” “The whole world is watching” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
The same day there were over a dozen other rallies throughout the state, including four different simultaneous events in Milwaukee, the largest city. These included meetings organised by the African-American and Latino communities.
Meanwhile, several hundred teachers and parents gathered in a working class suburb to discuss the fightback.
Part of Walker’s plan is to significantly expand school “choice” at the expense of public (government-run) schools. Milwaukee has been the centre of the largest publicly-funded private school voucher programme in the nation—and it is now likely to expand.
Much of the money to fund it comes from the Milwaukee school district, costing $50 million a year. The schools have virtually no accountability.
Activists hope that public pressure and pending recall votes will convince three Republican senators to decide to vote against Walker’s bill.
Meanwhile the 14 Democratic senators remain outside the state in Illinois, preventing the state senate from achieving a quorum and forestalling any action on the anti-worker legislation.
Most activists agree that it is only because of the grassroots organising and huge demonstrations that the Democratic senators left the state in the first place, and now feel politically secure in remaining away.
The radicalisation of the population is even including some of those politicians who historically have been very much in the centre.
As one activist said, “It’s pretty amazing to hear so many Democratic politicians talk so openly about ‘Wall Street’ as being the source of our problems and how they strongly support the rights of working people.”
Dozens of protests are planned throughout the state this coming week, and there is a major mobilisation under way for a massive rally this Saturday at the state Capitol.
Family Farm Defenders, Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Land Stewardship Project have organised a tractorcade to show solidarity between small family farmers and workers.
Walker has threatened to send out “pink slips”—layoff notices—to around 1,500 workers in the next few days.
He says the sackings are needed to save money and blames the Democrats and public sector unions because they won’t agree to his bill.
But we know it is tax breaks for the wealthy that are really to blame and we will not back down.
Bob Peterson is a teacher in Milwaukee and editor of Rethinking Schools. Go to www.rethinkingschools.org