This weekend marked the year anniversary of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signing disastrous anti-union plans that undermined collective bargaining rights for employees in his state.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of union activists and supporters rallied at the state Capitol in Madison to mark the macabre commemoration.
Democratic state senator Jen Shilling reflected on Republicans pushing through Walker's bill.
“The senate Republicans in a matter of minutes eliminated 50 years of worker rights with no debate.”
The series of events that led to the anti-union bill's passage a year ago were truly bizarre and unprecedented. All fourteen of the Senate's Democrat fled to Illinois in an attempt to prevent the chamber from having enough members present to consider Walker's bill. In response, Republicans split from the legislation the proposal to attack union rights, even though collective bargaining provisions don't affect the budget.
During a special conference committee, state lawmakers approved the bill, and the lone Democrat present at the conference committee, Rep. Tony Barca, erupted and shouted that the surprise meeting was a violation of the state's open meetings law. As the leaders left the room, the observing crowd chanted “shame.”
“What you just saw isn't a violation of the rules. It's a violation of the law,” Barca said.
What followed was the beginning of what some protesters term the American Spring: a series of uprisings across the country in defense of the “99 percent” beginning in Wisconsin and stretching to Wall Street.
“We're baaaack!” Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said Saturday before the crowd at the Capitol Square, who roared in approval. Neuenfeldt went on to say that Walker sold out Wisconsin residents to benefit big business, and he additionally called for those present at the protest to continue their efforts to recall Walker.
Pam Davidson, a retired public school teacher from Mequon, held a sign showing a cartoonish shark biting teachers and students. She said it reflected her feelings toward Walker's cuts to education.
“I've just been so angry about everything that's been going on,” she said. “It's actually fulfilling for me to be here, to see so many people feel the same way I do. I feel like I'm a part of history.”
Larry Christianson, a retired consultant from Madison, held a sign that read, “Fire the Liar,” and said he had at least 40 other signs at home.
“I've been here about 100 times in the last year. There's a good crowd here. People are motivated. They're motivated to get Walker out of office,” he said.
There are two crucial dates coming up in the recall effort. Today, the Government Accountability Board will meet in Madison to discuss a timeline for the recalls. If the GAB has its way, the recall primary will be held May 15 and the general election on June 12. Those dates are an extension the GAB is expected to formally request in Madison today.
GAB has until March 19 to verify the nearly 1.9 million recall signatures against Walker and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefish, but the GAB feels that is an inadequate timeline to review the signatures. The group wants until April 6 to finish the review process.
The Conservative blogosphere momentarily erupted recently when a man named Kent Wainscott claimed he signed the recall petition for Walker 80 times. Clearly, such an act would be a case of fraud and contribute towards discrediting the petition. However, a memo released last week by GAB said that in a search by state election officials the man's name didn't show up. At all. Not even once.
“Our staff has done a search for his name on recall petitions. The name does not show up on any recall petitions offered for filing,” the memo reads.
The global solidarity movement certainly didn't begin with the protests in Wisconsin, but the backlash there reinforced the idea of a need for the oppressed everywhere to band together.
Following Walker's signing of the anti-worker bill, Kamal Abbas, the General Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services in Egypt, told Wisconsin protesters, “We stand with you as you stood with us.”
Michael Whaites of the New South Wales Nurses' Association, who flew to Wisconsin to participate in the anniversary, emphasized that need for unions to show solidarity.
“We know that unless we have a global response to these global attacks we're not going to win, but we do know that because we do have a global response we we will keep fighting, and we will prevail, ” he said.