Thousands of people gathered for a rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol at noon today, joined by state and national organized labor leaders, including the President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka. He announced that the Michigan governor has apparently decided not to pick a fight with workers in his state after seeing what is happening in Madison. This is about "protecting the right to bargain for a better life," he said, noting that this is "a bogus crisis, manufactured by Walker."
It is "a basic freedom to have a voice on the job," Trumka said, adding "we won't give it to you and you can't take it from us." He told Scott Walker to "turn around and work for the state."
"When you target working people, you're targeting Wisconsin," the nation's top labor leader said.
Trumka's message to the protestors was preceded by inspiring addresses from leaders and members of organizations such as the Eau Claire Teachers Union, the Wisconsin State Employees Union, the Wisconsin Educational Association, the Professional Firefighters Association of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, some of whom are not even affected by the bill being protested.
This fight is not about money, unionists declared, but about rights, dignity, and respect. You cannot address economic issues by stripping workers of their rights, they said.
Public employees are everyday heroes, labor activists proclaimed. One shared an anecdote about county workers and nurses staying at their jobs caring for veterans in nursing homes for a 32-hour long shift during the recent blizzard. It is public employees who are fulfilling the promises of politicians, he stated. Another said that this is "the kick in the ass that the Wisconsin labor movement needed."
The executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, James Palmer, voiced support for the ongoing labor fight: "Police and Fire are here to show you that we stand united; dividing labor will not work."
The executive Director of the Wisconsin State Employees' Union, Marty Beil, said that the union is "willing to sit down with the Governor to address budget concerns," but that "we will not be denied our rights to collectively bargain" and will not give up the "god given right to join a real union."
Russ Feingold made an appearance though he did not speak at the noon rally. The former United States Senator and leader of the recently formed PAC Progressives United joined the rally with several firefighters from across the state.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson will be speaking at a rally on the Capitol today at 5 pm, but he also made an unannounced appearance at the Capitol rotunda around noon.
In the true spirit of civil disobedience, the rally today was, as in days past, peaceful. There were people of all ages and from all walks of life at the Capitol. The protesters continued to be upbeat and positive, seemingly willing to come back to fight for their rights for however long it takes to defeat this bill. There were chants of "one day longer," "this is what democracy looks like" and "don't legislate, negotiate." There were also several creative, inspiring signs. "Jesus was a carpenter, Pontius Pilate was a governor" was one that definitely stood out.