Thousands of union supporters from all over the state rallied and marched in Manitowoc, WI, Saturday in support of International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local 516’s strike to stop the spread of “Walkeritis” to Wisconsin’s private sector unions. Crowd estimates range from 2,500 to 3,500.
Machinists have been on strike at Manitowoc Company since November 15 after reaching a bargaining impasse over employer demands emulating Governor Scott Walker’s assault on public sector unions.
Manitowoc Company is a prosperous global enterprise, manufacturing cranes and other products. It enjoyed relative labor peace with the IAM for 60 years—until it hired a new, union busting law firm and insisted on a “Freedom of Choice” plan requiring the union to hold annual representation elections and, further, to let members stop paying dues virtually at will. Machinists, in turn, exercised their “Freedom of Choice” by rejecting the demand 180-2 and going on strike.
The company’s proposal included a sweetener of an 8 percent pay raise over the life of the contract, a classic divide and conquer tactic. But, as striking machinist J. C. Schultz, 61, put it: “It’s not about me. It’s about our children and grandchildren and society in general. You’re going to have two classes: the few at the top and the many at the bottom. We have to hold together.”
Schultz added a biblical message to the powerful multinational from Psalm 33, verse 16: “No king shall be saved by the size of his army.”
Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt capsulized the dispute that brought so many to Manitowoc: “There’s just too much union busting stuff going on. This is not about wages or benefits but that fundamental right, that civil right we should have as Americans to have a union in the workplace.”
Joining the rally and march were supporters from the community and members and officials from the Firefighters, Police, Steelworkers, Teachers, Building Trades, and many other unions.