Friday, February 18, 2011

The Fight For the Economic Security of American Workers and the Political Rights of Unions to Organize is The Very Foundation of Democracy

Narayan Mahon for The New York Times
Angry public workers, facing cuts, crowded into the Capitol on Wednesday in Madison, Wis.


I have been fervently waiting for this very moment in U.S. politics for many years now. My hope and desire was that after four brutal decades of intense conservative and reactionary domination by the right (1968-2008) the American working class and their unions would finally wake up and begin to seriously organize on a national grassroots level to DEMAND their democratic rights against the onslaught of the relentless national rightwing coalition of ruling class billionaires and multinational corporate sponsors (and whitecollar criminals) like the Koch Brothers and their endless number of viciously demagogic authoritarians, political/ideological flunkies, and venal braindead acolytes like the Republican party, the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Michael Savage, Karl Rove, FOX News, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, et al ad infinitum, ad nauseum...

What's truly significant about this new wave of ORGANIZED SPONTANEITY on the part of the poor as well as the working and middle classes in this country is that they are fighting back in the midst of the worse economic crisis in the country since the Great Depression. With well over 20 million people now unemployed nationally and the severe economic and fiscal meltdown of the great majority of state and local municipalities throughout the country, workers and their active supporters, friends, and colleagues among both Democratic Party liberals and independent radical leftist groups across the country recognize that the right led by the Republican and Tea Parties is deeply committed to destroying unions and all other forms and vestiges of collective worker solidarity and unity in the United States. Make no mistake about it: If we cave in to the bullying tactics, pathological lies, and intimidation strategies of the right at this point in our history we and everything Labor has fought and died for to achieve our human, civil, and political rights over the past century will have certainly been in vain. Needless to say WE CANNOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN. It's way past time to draw a clear red line in the sand and say in ONE LOUD UNITED VOICE: NO MORE!!

What's important now for us all to remember and hold close to our hearts is that this is our historical time and opportunity to do what we should have doing on the left now for many years: Wage a clear and relentless battle to protect, defend, and expand our democratic rights and freedoms in every sphere of American life, culture, political econony, and civil society. While it is our hope that our ever temporizing President will somehow find the independent will and political/ethical backbone to join and support us in this quest (exactly like we in the millions openly campaigned and voted for him in 2008!!), we cannot wait on him or his tottering administration to finally make up their minds to get off the self delusional fence they insipidly and rather cowardly call "the center." There is no such place or thing in American politics or life, and it is especially at historical moments like this that we experience most clearly the blowback from the venemous LIE of the media concocted "center-right" mythology. Like always the fight for all of us including the President can only be properly and accurately described in the form of an immortal five word question in all major political, moral, and ideological conflicts from time immemorial: WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?


Democrats Missing, Wisconsin Vote on Cuts Is Delayed
February 17, 2011
New York Times

MADISON, Wis. — The fury among thousands of workers, students and union supporters rose to a boil on Thursday, as state lawmakers prepared to vote on landmark legislation that would slash collective bargaining rights for public workers. Protesters blocked a door to the Senate chambers. They sat down, body against body, filling a corridor. They chanted “Freedom, democracy, unions!” in the stately gallery as the senators convened.

Then the surprising drama in Madison this week added a new twist: the Democrats disappeared.

That left Republicans, who control the Capitol and had expected to push through the bill, in limbo. Although Republicans control the State Senate by 19 to 14, 20 senators — and thus, at least a single Democrat — must be in the room to call a vote on such fiscal matters.

“It’s disgraceful that people who are paid to be here have decided to skip town,” Senator Michael Ellis, the Senate president, said shortly after the roll was called. Said another Republican leader, Senator Scott Fitzgerald, “This is the ultimate shutdown.”

And so, as the Republicans fumed and waited, and the protesters (who were buoyed by the vanishing act) went right on protesting, a desperate search was begun for 14 missing senators — one more topsy-turvy chapter in a saga that has, in a single week, turned Wisconsin into a national battleground over public workers, unions and budget crises.

Democrats, along with the thousands of workers and protesters, oppose the bill, which would weaken unions by limiting collective bargaining for state employees and many local employees, including teachers, to base wages, and would require workers to pay more for pensions and health care. Without enough votes to stop the bill’s passage, Democratic senators apparently concluded that leaving the building would stop the vote from taking place.

“The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” Senator Jon Erpenbach, one of the missing Democrats, told The Associated Press by telephone. (He refused, of course, to say where he was.)

By noon, the sergeant-at-arms, Ted Blazel, was climbing past the crowds in the Capitol, searching for senators through the mazelike hallways, in offices, under desks — a task he has rarely been called to carry out.

“Nothing yet,” Mr. Blazel said at one point, his forehead glistening with sweat.

By dusk, Senate Republican leaders had decided to adjourn, at least temporarily, as supposed sightings of Democrats — and rumors of supposed sightings of Democrats — were alleged by seemingly everyone. Among the claims: They had been seen leaving on a bus altogether. They were in Iowa. Or Illinois. Or both.

“They’re in Rockford!” Mr. Fitzgerald called out excitedly at one point, as he rushed between chambers. Some of the Democrats conducted interviews from what they described as “secure locations,” and others posted messages on social networking sites.

Over three days, protesters’ backpacks, sleeping bags, water bottles and homemade signs have come to jam the marble halls of this Capitol, and on Thursday evening the rallies against the bill grew. People screamed: “Shut it down! Shut it down!” Drums pounded. Students, some barefoot, danced. Extra law enforcement workers now pepper the building, trying to guide officials through the thick, chanting crowds.

Many among the protesters said that they had no plans to leave, and that they would wait, as long as it took, to end the proposal, which was introduced only a week ago by Scott Walker, the new Republican governor here. Regarding the claims by Mr. Walker that the changes were forced by gaping budget deficits, some protesters here question his figures and his motives.

National leaders, including President Obama, have weighed in with criticism.

“That’s not the real fight,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, who flew here on Thursday morning. “It’s a politically motivated attack. It’s not about the money. What he wants to do is destroy the voice of educators and public employees.”

For his part, Mr. Walker, who appeared before reporters from his office even as chants from beyond security barriers echoed into the room, had no apologies and said he had no intention of changing the bill. And he chastised the Democratic senators for leaving.

“We’re certainly looking at all legal options out there, but I have faith that after they do their stunt for a day or two — it’s more about theatrics than anything else — that they’ll come back and realize again they’re elected to do the job,” Mr. Walker said. “Show up, debate the bill, offer amendments, have a healthy debate, but you don’t have that debate if you hang out down in Rockford or Dubuque.”

By 5 p.m., Senate Republicans said they were adjourning for the night. They had no immediate plans for sending law enforcement officers after the missing senators (it was unclear whether the Wisconsin State Patrol could pursue them across state borders anyway, one senator said). But they said they planned to be back on Friday, ready to vote. They hoped, they said, that the Democrats would choose to come, too.

And if they do not? No one here seemed to know. As the senators went home, the protesters, some of them bearing pillows, did not.

Monica Davey reported from Madison, Wis., and Steven Greenhouse from New York.


Gov. Walker’s Pretext
February 17, 2011
New York Times

In a year when governors across the country are competing to show who’s toughest, no matter what the consequences, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin stands out as the first to bring his State Capitol to a halt.

Like many governors, he wants to cut the benefits of state workers. But he also decided a budget crisis was a good time to advance an ideological goal dear to his fellow Republicans: eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Not surprisingly, thousands of workers descended on the Capitol building, pounding on windows and blocking doors, yelling “shut it down.” So many teachers called in sick that public schools in Madison and more than a dozen other districts had to be closed. On Thursday, the Democrats in the State Senate refused to show up, vowing to prevent any action until the governor drops his plan. The state police were sent to find them.

Mr. Walker has decried the chaos, but it was entirely self-inflicted. His plan to undermine the unions, which would have no direct impact on the budget, would take away nearly all of their rights to negotiate.

They would be barred from bargaining about anything except wages, and any pay increase they win would be limited by the consumer price index. Contracts would be limited to a year, and union dues could no longer be deducted from paychecks. As President Obama correctly put it on Wednesday, that “seems like an assault on unions.” (The archbishop of Milwaukee and players for the Green Bay Packers have also come out in support of the workers.)

Benefits for Wisconsin’s state workers are currently quite generous, but they weren’t stolen. They were negotiated by elected officials and can be re-negotiated at the bargaining table if necessary.

Most pay only 6 percent of their health care premium costs and Governor Walker wants to double that. The average employee contribution to premiums around the country, public and private, is 29 percent. Most state workers contribute almost nothing to their pensions; he wants them to pay 5.8 percent, which is a little less than average for government workers around the country.

Meanwhile, the governor is refusing to accept his own share of responsibility for the state’s projected $137 million shortfall. Just last month, he and the Legislature gave away $117 million in tax breaks, mostly for businesses that expand and for private health savings accounts. That was a choice lawmakers made, and had it not been for those decisions and a few others, according to the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state would have had a surplus.

Wisconsin is certainly not as bad off as California, Illinois, and several northeastern states that are making tough budgetary decisions without trying to eliminate union rights. Nonetheless, the union-busting movement is picking up steam, with lawmakers in Ohio, Indiana, and several other states. On Thursday in Washington, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, weighed in on Mr. Walker’s side.

Keeping schools closed and blocking certain public services is not a strategy we support and could alienate public opinion and play into the governor’s hand. Short of that, the unions should make their voices heard and push back hard against this misguided plan.

Also See: Noam Chomsky | "Democracy Uprising": Wisconsin's Resistance to Assault on Public Sector, the Obama-Sanctioned Crackdown on Activists and the Distorted Legacy of Ronald Reagan. (Democracy Now! VIDEO):

Wisconsin Crowds Swell to 30,000; Key GOP Legislators Waver
by John Nichols | Thursday 17 February 2011

Published on Truthout (

"I have never been prouder of our movement than I am at this moment," shouted Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, as he surveyed the crowds of union members and their supporters that surged around the state Capitol and into the streets of Madison Wednesday, literally closing the downtown as tens of thousands of Wisconsinites protested their Republican governor’s attempt to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.

Where Tuesday’s mid-day protests drew crowds estimated at 12,000 to 15,000, Wednesday's mid-day rally drew 30,000, according to estimates by organizers. Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, a veteran of 27 years on the city’s force, said he had has never see a protest of this size at the Capitol – and he noted that, while crowd estimates usually just measure those outside, this time the inside of the sprawling state Capitol was “packed.”

On Wednesday night, an estimated 20,000 teachers and their supporters rallied outside the Capitol and then marched into the building, filling the rotunda, stairways and hallways. Chants of "What's disgusting? Union busting!" shook the building as legislators met in committee rooms late into the night.

For continuing updates on Wisconsin protests, follow Truthout's blog.

The country was starting to take notice, as broadcast and cable-news satellite trucks rolled into town. The images they captured were stunning, as peaceful crowds filled vast stretches of the square that surrounds the seat of state government.

Republican legislators -- who had been poised to pass the governor’s plan Thursday, and might yet do so – were clearly paying attention. Two GOP senators broke with the governor, at least to some extent. Dale Schultz from rural southeastern Wisconsin and Van Wanggaard from the traditional manufacturing center of Racine, proposed an alternative bill that would allow limit bargaining rights for public employees on wages, pensions and health care for the next two years but allow them to continue to bargain on other issues.

While that’s hardly an attractive prospect to state workers – as it would also require them to make significantly higher pension and health-care contributions – the measure rejects the most draconian component’s of the governor’s plan. Other Republicans resisted the proposal, however, offering only minor amendments to the governor's plan.

If Schultz and Wanggaard actually vote "no" Thursday, when the measure is to be taken up, just one more Republican senator would have to join them in order to block the bill.

That the first real movement by Republicans came after Wednesday’s rally was hardly surprising, as few state capital’s have seen the sort of mobilization that occurred at mid-day, and that is likely to reoccur at nightfall as teachers from across the state are expected to pour into the city for a rally and candlelight vigil.

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In some senses, Wednesday’s remarkable rally began Tuesday evening, when Madison Teachers Inc., the local education union, announced that teachers would leave their classrooms to spend the day lobbying legislators to “Kill the Bill” that has been proposed by newly-elected Republican Governor Scott Walker.

The teachers showed up en masse in downtown Madison Wednesday morning.

And then something remarkable happened.

Instead of taking the day off, their students gathered at schools on the west and east sides of Madison and marched miles along the city’s main thoroughfares to join the largest mass demonstration the city has seen in decades – perhaps since the great protests of the Vietnam War era.

Thousands of high school students arrived at the Capital Square, coming from opposite directions, chanting: “We support our teachers! We support public education!”

Thousands of University of Wisconsin students joined them, decked out in the school’s red-and-white colors.

Buses rolled in from every corner of the state, from Racine and Kenosha in the southeast to Green Bay in the northeast, from La Crosse on the Mississippi River to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

Buses and cars arrived from Illinois and Minnesota and as far away as Kansas, as teachers and public employees from those states showed up at what American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union president Gerald McEntee says is “ground zero “in the struggle for labor rights in America.

The moms and dads of the elementary school kids came, and the kids, carrying hand-lettered signs:

“I love my teacher!”

“Scott Walker needs to go back to school!”

“Scott Walker needs a time out!”

And, “We are Wisconsin!

“I’ve been here since the 1960s, I’ve seen great demonstrations,” said former Mayor Paul Soglin, a proud former student radical who was nominated for a new term in Tuesday’s local primary election. “This is different. This is everyone – everyone turning out.”

Everyone except the governor, who high-tailed it out of town, launching a tour of outlying communities in hopes of drumming up support for his bill. Most of the support Walker was getting was coming from national conservative political groups, such as the Club for Growth, which have long hoped to break public-employee unions. But the governor held firm, saying after a day of unprecedented protests – in Madison and small towns and cities across the state – that he still wanted to pass his bill. He’s got strong support in the overwhelmingly Republican Assembly. But he cannot afford to lose one more Republican state senator. And the unions and their backers are determined to find that one Republican who is smart enough and honest enough to recognize that the governor's assault of public employees is an assault on Wisconsin itself.

We're Not Backing Down

URGENT: You are needed in Madison. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, workers, students, community members, religious groups and concerned citizens are flooding the Capitol to tell Gov. Walker to stop the attacks on Wisconsin workers and save Wisconsin’s middle class. Please join us as we rally for our rights. Click on the headline above for a Schedule of Events for Friday, February 18, and other ways you can help.

Thousands Continue Wisconsin Action for Workers’ Rights

After day-long protests yesterday drew as many as 30,000 people in Madison, hundreds of Wisconsin workers, students and allies camped out last night in the Capitol Rotunda as a hearing on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) budget bill that eliminates collective bargaining rights for nearly all of the state’s public service workers went past midnight. The state Senate is set to vote on the bill today. It was approved last night by the Joint Finance Committee on a straight party line vote with all Republicans backing the attack on worker’s rights. Today thousands workers and their supporters from around the state enter the third day of a massive protest against Walker’s plan.

Labor Movement United in Solidarity Against Budget Repair Bill

Tuesday's rally at the capital in Madison had an estimated crowd of 15,000 people, and additional actions are taking place statewide. In order to stop Governor Walker's efforts to take away the rights of Wisconsin workers, we are going to have to keep the pressure on. In fact, our goal is to kick it up a notch. Governor Walker and his allies are trying to ram this bill through as quickly as possible; it could be passed as soon as this Thursday. We’re doing all we can to stop this.
Click the headline above to read just some of the many letters to legislators urging a "NO" vote and showing the broad support of solidarity of Wisconsin workers and their unions. Also find out what you can do to help.

Voice Your Opinion NOW! Stop the move in Madison to take away the rights of workers.

We are reaching out to the citizens of Wisconsin. We ask the people who support our nurses, our EMTs, our teachers, to call their legislators and ask them to support the right to fair bargaining.

Be connected to your Senator by dialing 1-877-753-5578 and tell him or her to stop this radical budget proposal to impose drastic cuts. It isn’t about trimming the budget. It’s the first step in what promises to be a full-on assault on the middle class and all unions. If the voice mailbox is full, click here for assistance in contacting your Senator via e-mail.

Republican Budget Proposal Attacks Middle Class, Destroys Jobs
How bad is the Republican federal budget proposal? AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel describes it as an “all-out assault against middle-class Americans.” In a letter to House members, Samuel summarizes some of the most egregious elements of H.R. 1, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011. Among them, is a proposed funding level for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that is so draconian, it potentially would defund the agency completely through the end of the fiscal year in September. Click the headline to read more>>

Community Services Conference - Sign Up and Make a Difference!
March 24-26, Holiday Inn - Manitowoc
ALL affiliates are encouraged to send at least one participant to the conference. The "investment" will be well worth it. Click HERE for registration information.

Unemployed Can’t Get Jobs Because They Are…Unemployed

As if finding a job isn’t hard enough, unemployed workers now face the added hurdle of being discriminated against because they don’t have a job. Speaking today before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said that practices barring the unemployed from job availabilities have been growing around the country—and place a disproportionate burden on older workers, African Americans and other workers facing high levels of long-term unemployment.

Right to Work for Less? Not in OUR State!

Did you hear Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt on the Joy Cardin Show this morning? The calls and comments from listeners were overwhelmingly in favor of the rights of workers who want to form strong, effect unions. If you missed your chance to call in, you can still make your voice heard.

Click here to read more: