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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Wisconsin Protest Coverage

Here are some links to stories and footage from last Saturday’s massive rally in Madison against the draconian anti-union legislation.

John Nichols of The Nation, who has spent considerable time in his home state of Wisconsin, penned this very good piece after the rally. He’s been on this from the beginning, and has rightly received a lot of air time to discuss the mounting protests. He pegs the number of protesters at over 100,000.

There is some very good video worth watching from the World Socialist Web Site of workers on the general strike, Wisconsin protests and the growing chasm of social inequality in our country.

This is an excellent article from The Cap Times on Saturday’s protests, including some great quotes from people in the massive crowd, and a strong speech from actor Tony Shaloub (“Monk” et al.) supporting Wisconsin protesters. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, Madison has rightly received the lion’s share of headlines and attention for the outpouring of organic activism, but Milwaukee and especially the students, teachers, and workers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, had a large protest yesterday. FightBack!news is an excellent site with regular updates from around the country on labor, workers, and resistance.

While Eric Kleefeld at TPMDC is right to be wary of who comprises the signatures thus far, there is no question that the recall effort in Wisconsin against the eight eligible Republican state senators is proceeding quickly. Democrats claim to have already amassed 45% of the signatures necessary for a recall.

Please be sure to say some prayers and send what assistance you can for the poor people devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami, and now facing the very real, terrifying threat of radiation exposure from several failing, destroyed reactors. It is beyond harrowing.

–Jason Kozlowski

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March 12 Labor Hour Available

Thanks to Illinois World Labor Hour co-host, WEFT factotum, technical guru, blues maven, and all-around good guy Bob Paleczny, the latest edition of the Illinois World Labor Hour is now up and available at radio4all.net. It was a good show with Gloria Hays, who has been heavily active in the Wisconsin protests, calling in with a live report from the massive rally Saturday. Also, Tom Thomas read his latest poem, Bill Gorrell expressed his typically good thoughts on the possibilities of a general strike, and yours truly offered some commentary as well as a bit of labor history on the 99th anniversary of the successful conclusion of the IWW’s Lawrence, MA “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912, and the labor activist and feminist Leonora O’Reilly.

Be sure to tune in every Saturday morning at 11 a.m. CT to the Illinois World Labor Hour on WEFT 90.1 FM, Champaign, IL, also streamed online at www.weft.org, for the latest news and analysis on the labor movement, in the US and around the world.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

SEIU 73 Rally and March March 16

SEIU Local 73, representing building and service workers on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fighting for a fair contract, will hold a rally and march on Wednesday, March 16 from noon until 1 p.m. It will begin at the Alma Mater at the corner of Wright and Green streets, then will proceed to the Henry Administration building for some noise. Come out and support this union and their members, which has been strung out in bargaining for months with the University. Many make less than $30,000 per year despite providing vital services to the University community, many are laid off during the summer, and many lack adequate job security provisions. Theirs is not just a good cause; it is our cause. They need and deserve as much support as they can get.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

Photos of Riot Police Evicting Wisconsin Protesters

Because they’ve been such a menace…

 

Wisconsin Union Contracts Expiring; Recall Efforts Underway

The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that union contracts covering about 39,000 workers, which had been extended for nearly two years, are set to expire Sunday March 13. Included among the nearly 20 expiring agreements are contracts covering non-building trades workers, administrative and technical support staff, security and public safety, and professional social services workers represented by the Wisconsin State Employees Union (WSEU). Various provisions of the recently passed anti-union legislation will be phased soon and in over the next few months, such as the termination of dues deduction, greater deductions from paychecks for pensions, and higher health insurance premiums.

Currently, recall efforts targeting Republican state senators are underway, with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee spearheading and raising funds for the effort. Eight Republicans in all are eligible for recall, though six are likely targets. Should three lose recall votes and Democrats replace them, the balance of power in the state senate will dramatically shift.

Not to be overlooked, with the eventuality of legal challenges to the terms of the anti-union bill and how it passed the senate, it is essential to note that there is an election on April 5, less than a month away, for a seat on the state supreme court. The election is between Republican David Prosser and Democrat JoAnn Kloppenberg. Expect this to be a hotly contested, well attended, and expensive election for the seat, since currently four Republicans and three Democrats comprise the state supreme court.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

Walker Admits the Obvious: Union Bill’s Changes “Are Indeed Fiscal”

In what should be a surprise to few if anyone, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker acknowledged what most, especially the critics of the state’s anti-union bill, understand–the bill that the Wisconsin Senate passed yesterday without having the necessary quorum or allotted time beforehand to vote on it is inherently fiscal in nature. In a highly debatable preface to yesterday’s controversial actions, in which the Senate stripped down the overtly fiscal provisions yet left the clearly implicitly anti-union fiscal provisions in place to pass the anti-union bill, Governor Walker stated at a press conference this morning, “We followed the law, and yet it allows us to move forward with these reforms — which are indeed fiscal.”

Since a Senate quorum is necessary to vote upon measures that are fiscal in nature, and given that Governor Walker has acknowledged the essentially fiscal nature of these anti-union measures ostensibly meant to cut state pension costs while, in actuality, the GOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald has admitted that the bill is meant to curtail the rights and political power of unions, it will be more than interesting to see how the eventual legal challenge to this act will stand up, if at all, in court. This is all the more so since Republican lawmakers claim to have acted within the rights of the conference committee not to have needed 24 hours advanced notice for the proceedings to legally occur.  However, this claim is highly debatable and subject to legal challenge.

Meanwhile, justice is served in the capitol as a score or so of nonviolent protesters were forcibly removed from the hallway leading to the capitol’s Assembly chambers.

As the late, great author Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” We’ve clearly moved into the ranks of professional political weirdness.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

GOP Rams Through Anti-Union Provisions Without Quorum; People Seize Capitol

In what can generously be described as a highly dramatic day in Madison, the GOP-controlled Senate stripped down pending legislation of the overtly financial elements to include the anti-union provisions stripping public-sector workers of most of their collective bargaining rights and organizational power. This was done to try to sidestep the requirement stipulating that the Wisconsin legislature must have a quorum present to vote on any legislation that has fiscal implications. With the prolonged absence of the 14 state Democratic Senators, the apparently desperate GOP Senators took matters into their own hands, quite likely illegally, and passed a bill, 18-1, essentially aimed at gutting the union rights and political power of the state’s public-sector unions and their members Wednesday night.

This precipitated a rapid, massive wave of public protest in Madison Wednesday night, with thousands of people taking to the streets on foot and in vehicles to protest the draconian anti-union bill, which Governor Scott Walker (Tea Party/R) is expected to sign into law and soon. There are reports that some protesters entered the well-guarded capitol by smashing windows, while many hundreds of other protesters stormed the capitol doors after police ceded ground and let the throngs in, chanting “We’re not leaving. Not this time.” There is also the mounting threat of strikes, including a general strike, as throngs of thousands of workers flood the capitol area, and anger has surged. There seems no end in sight to this increasingly tense struggle in defense of workers’ rights.

Via the Wisconsin State Journal:

Some union leaders interviewed Wednesday night at the Madison Labor Temple indicated that strikes — which are illegal in Wisconsin for public-employee unions — are possible.

“Senate Republicans have exercised the nuclear option to ram through their bill attacking Wisconsin’s working families in the dark of night,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. “Tonight’s events have demonstrated they will do or say anything to pass their extreme agenda that attacks Wisconsin’s working families.”

Regardless of how one feels about stripping workers of their rights and their allegedly causing (in oft-refuted charges) Wisconsin’s state coffers to bleed white, it strains credulity to the breaking point to think that the stripped-down bill somehow does not have fiscal implications. The conservative Weekly Standard implicitly acknowledges so in its, perhaps generous, assessment of the possible “benefits” for the state in imposing wage and benefit cuts on public-sector workers:

The legislation being voted on tonight has few changes from the bill as initially proposed. The bill removes a refinancing provision and doesn’t count savings during this fiscal year accrued by requiring public employees to pay more for their pensions and health insurance.* But it would still save the state $300 million over the next two years by requiring state employees to contribute about 5% of income toward their pensions and by requiring state workers to pay for about 12% of their health insurance premiums. It would also save $1.44 billion by requiring public employees in school districts and municipalities to pay 5% of their salaries toward their pensions and by removing collective bargaining for benefits, thus giving school districts and municipalities the option of requiring their employees to pay about 12% for their health insurance premiums.

Clearly, these issues and the “savings,” regardless of the eventual number, would affect the state’s budget, making the bill nothing if not fiscal in nature. To say the very least, it strains credulity to the breaking point to think otherwise. What will transpire in an expected legal challenge, I do not know. However, I do know that this result reveals what a good many of us already knew–that the real targets were the unionized public-sector workforce, their union rights, and their political power. The obvious fiscal implications may be relevant for any legal challenges that might come. It would be ironic for Wisconsin right-wingers if they did, for the rhetorical smoke screen for their anti-union thrust would be more than revealed to have been hooey. Indeed, it might in good part be their undoing, for it was Walker and his fellow Tea Party Republicans who repeatedly attempted to fixate people on an alleged connection between public-sector workers’ pay and benefits and the state’s budget shortfall. He made workers’ pay and benefits a fiscal issue from the get-go. Yet, in their haste to smash unions, the Wisconsin GOP may have overreached by not only inciting popular anger and opposition toward Walker’s proposals, but also by trying to ram through his blatantly anti-union bill by ignoring long-established state legislative procedures.

Stay tuned for more on this crucial, developing story. You can also watch the live feed from the loud, vibrant, and tumultuous capitol building here. (N.B. The feed has been intermittent tonight, for whatever reason.)

–Jason Kozlowski