Monday, June 6, 2011
Ground Zero from the New Labor Movement
Today I went to my first protest in over 2 months and what better place to do it than Madison, Wisconsin, the very heart of this country's new labor movement.
I'm sure you are all aware of the recent attacks that Governor Scott Walker has brought upon workers in Wisconsin. For those of you who are not aware, Walker and state Republicans motioned to pass a "Budget Repair" Bill that would get rid of collective bargaining rights for public workers such as teachers, as well as be able to privatize public utilities, discriminate LGBT people, cut Badger Care, and the list could go on and on. Basically it is an all out attack on ordinary Wisconsinites. However Walker did decide to give $140 million worth of tax breaks for corporations and changing the slogan for the state to "Open for Business". Not to mention that $140 million is about the same amount of money that is the budget gap.
I'm sure also many of you know of the fight back that ordinary Wisconsinites did in February and March with the occupation of the State Capitol. I had the opportunity to go there as well and you can read my blog post about my experience there.
This week was the restart of this as they the State Legislature has to vote on the budget by the end of the month. Right now people are camping around the square, which they call Walkerville and protesters will be staying until the budget is or isn't passed.
Today was a march/rally/blockade that looked to recapture that energy from the winter. About a thousand were lead by local fire fighters, farmers and nurses in a march from the station to around the capitol. They were demanding to tax the rich, a living wage, for universal health care and of course against the budget. It was a hot day but the energy was high as it seemed that this was the first protest since the capitol occupation. Chants of "Walker we won't back down, this is a union town" rang through the air. This was clearly the left wing of the current labor movement and we were successful in shutting down the square and briefly occupied the lobby of the M&I Bank (large donors to Walker) and closed it down chanting, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."
After some confusion in the crowd we headed to the capitol to get back in there. As we got to the door and people were going through the metal detector and as all police were distracted by that, a bunch of us ran to the other door that was unguarded and we all got in the capitol chanting in the rotunda. Police arrested 5 people, 2 were journalist with credentials. Protesters tried to prevent the arrest by chanting "let her go" as they were trying to get into the elevator we continued to hold it open. Eventually the police pushed us out of the way. This was definitely one of the most militant actions that I have been a part of and the tension was thick.
After some discussion we left the capitol. The general feeling was that this was a success, with a need for better coordination. But the bigger deal is this action shows that this fight is far from over, whether they pass the bill or not, this fight has awakened a sleeping giant in this country called the working class. As austerity measures are being pushed by Republicans and Democrats around the country it becomes much more clear on who is on who's side. Especially when Wall Street got us into this economic crisis and they were given handouts while ordinary people are being asked to tighten their belts. There always seems to be money for war and tax cuts, it's time to continue to build a new labor movement that is independent of the Democrats calling for money to go to jobs and education, not war and occupation.
As I said these austerity measures are not special to Wisconsin, so look to see what is building in your community and how you can resist cuts!
For more details about the action, check out the report from Socialistworker.org.