Daily demonstrations in Madison, Wis., began their second week today. Thousands gathered for a rally outside the State Capitol as the demonstrations inside the building continued in response to the right-wing effort to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers. Below is a report from ANSWER coalition volunteer Austin Thompson, who was at the scene of the labor protests for several days.
New eyewitness report from Austin Thompson
Over the last week, I have been a witness to the historic workers’ struggle in Madison, Wis.
Through the eyes of a person who recently joined the labor movement believing in its potential to be the cornerstone of a broader social justice movement, the events in Madison have been affirming. The courageous actions of the nurses, firefighters, teachers, plumbers, steelworkers and many, many other workers who participated in this week’s demonstrations should compel us all to become more effective fighters for social justice.
The era when union leaders pursued a strategy that seeks collaboration and avoids class conflict must come to an end. Corporations and the super-rich have declared all out war on workers and the poor. Now is the time to fight back.
Throughout the massive demonstrations we have experienced a range of strong emotions: anger at politicians callous disregard for workers’ rights, sadness about the potential effect of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s bill on families should it succeed, and jubilation when it became apparent that we physically prevented the bill from coming to a vote last Thursday, Feb. 17.
However, there was one emotion that was present from the very beginning and preserved for the duration of the protests, which may get lost in media coverage of the minutiae of bourgeois politics: There has been an overwhelming sensation of solidarity between the thousands of workers and students who have flooded the Capitol Rotunda, marched through the streets and pressured legislatures to reverse course. Although we are often divided by our gender, nationality or religious beliefs, this feeling of solidarity has reminded us that we are all members of the same class. The old union saying “an injury to one is an injury to all” has taken on a renewed significance.
The emotion of solidarity was created by solidarity in practice. Workers, representing many different unions or no union at all, have spent days together in cooperation, mutual respect and unified militant action dispelling conventional notions of an individualistic, greedy human nature.
Through their actions workers have also dispelled notions of the U.S. political process. In politics, working people are usually spectators as corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers—billionaires who provided substantial funding to Gov. Walker’s campaign—use their vast wealth and economic power to guide and control elected officials toward advancing the interests of the super-rich.
But in Wisconsin we have witnessed workers directly intervening in the political arena and taking a central role in deciding the future of the state.
Without the direct intervention of thousands of workers who packed the state Capitol Thursday, blocking passageways, storming the Senate Chamber and shouting down Republican lawmakers, the Democrats would not have left the state and Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill would have already passed. This is a lesson that will not soon be forgotten by those who have witnessed the historic events taking place here. Workers can never again watch passively as both Republican and Democratic politicians use the cover of “fiscal responsibility” to cut vital public services and undermine our rights altogether.
Around the world many governments and companies have used the economic crisis that Wall Street and corporations created as a pretext to weaken and undermine unions. This is because unions exist to safeguard workers’ safety and compensation from employers who are constantly trying to diminish it. As capitalists seek to maximize profits around the world, they are hostile to movements demanding a portion of the wealth be used to support workers and their families.
The anti-union “Budget Repair” bill proposed by Gov. Walker has taken the mask off of the political system and showed that U.S. workers are not exempt from these attacks.
In this regard, Gov. Walker has much in common with U.S.-backed dictators like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who are bought and paid for by the super-rich and promote anti-union hysteria. Workers in both Egypt and Wisconsin are well aware of this connection. Yesterday, a local pizza place in Madison reported orders from Cairo to be distributed to the protesters here!
Gov. Walker’s bill, and pending pieces of legislation in Ohio and other states, will make it impossible for public workers to negotiate benefits and working conditions. These are rights that workers in the United States have fought over a century to gain. To give them up now, when corporations are making record profits, would be treacherous. The fight-back movement in Wisconsin is beginning to spread to other states and is inspiring workers around the world.
Today—Mon., Feb. 21—Madison there will be one of the strongest demonstrations yet at the Capitol in Madison. State workers who have a furlough day are expected to join the mix along with busloads of workers and students from around the United States. In addition, there will be solidarity demonstrations in 38 states across the country. Our message will be about protecting workers’ rights and stopping Gov. Walker’s anti-union agenda. There will also be a message of clarity: workers did not create this crisis and they should not have to pay for it.
Now is the time to directly intervene in shaping the future and to stand with the workers’ struggle in solidarity!