New Voice in Wisconsin Protests: No Concessions, No Cuts

With the largest protests in Wisconsin history unfolding, labor activists are drawing on a new sense of power to reject both their union leaders' concessions and the massive service cuts the governor proposes. Photo: Sue Ruggles.

A day after 100,000 people demonstrated in Madison—one of the largest protests in Wisconsin history—labor activists gathered to strategize with a new-found sense of power. Andy Heidt of AFSCME Local 1871, a union of county workers, repeated a recurring theme of the day: “One hundred thousand people do not need to beg.”

About 70 people gathered in Madison for an emergency meeting called by National Nurses United under the banner of “No Concessions.” Panelists and attendees were unhappy about public employee union leaders’ signals that they would concede on all pay and benefit take-backs demanded by Governor Scott Walker in exchange for preservation of collective bargaining rights. The givebacks would amount to 8 percent pay cuts for state workers.

Participants also viewed Walker’s proposed social service cuts as unacceptable. The state budget the governor introduced Tuesday contained $1.5 billion in cuts to education and local government. This included sweeping changes to the state’s Medicaid program providing health care coverage to low-income families. The income benchmark for enrolling in the program would drop from $1,800 per month to $1,100—and 70,000 people could lose coverage. Walker’s bill could also force forfeiture of more than $46.6 million in federal transit aid, more than half the state’s federal transit aid.

The consensus was that these attacks on Wisconsin’s poor and working class are designed to divert attention from the real culprits behind the state’s fiscal problems—tax cuts for corporations and the rich, whose profits and incomes have continued to soar during the recession.

Jan Rodolfo of National Nurses United reviewed panelists’ main points: Blame should be placed on Wall Street for the country’s economic woes, not on workers. The solution to budget challenges lies in taxing the rich and closing loopholes—not in Walker’s budget cuts. Gains for workers must be considered as much a priority as saving collective bargaining rights.

Rodolfo asked the group to consider what result would qualify as a victory in the rapidly evolving landscape of Wisconsin’s labor battles. The group offered several ideas.

“We should involve the public in a participatory budgeting process and put forward an alternative budget that relies on increased taxes on the rich rather than cuts in social services for the poor and cuts in pay and benefits for public workers,” said Patrick Barrett, a University of Wisconsin staff member.



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Participants spoke of the need to maintain momentum and keep up the unprecedented unity in the labor movement that has emerged over the last two weeks. Speakers advocated reaching out to non-union workers, emphasizing how Walker’s plans will affect them.

Others spoke of redirecting public resentment of union benefits and wages by showing how political leaders and their corporate supporters manufactured the budget crisis for their own benefit. While the image of shared sacrifice is often invoked by political and union leaders, corporations and rich people have not contributed their fair share to Wisconsin for years. Currently, Wisconsin allows the exclusion of 30 percent of capital gains income from taxation.

In 2010, this tax break amounted to $151 million, according to a report from the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The $82 million in tax cuts proposed in Walker’s budget would exclude even more capital gains from taxes.

Participants have scheduled a “No Concessions” event for Thursday at 5 p.m., which will include a New Orleans jazz funeral procession protesting Walker’s planned program cuts, with a rally after that at the Capitol.

Colette Brown is a Wisconsin state employee and member of the Wisconsin Professional Employees Council, AFT Local 4848.


Charles T Smith (not verified) | 03/03/11

The AFL/CIO is the pinnacle of Labor organizations. Its leadership is paid very well to represent us. The AFL/CIO is powerful with lots of resources. While its leadership hobnobs at Washington parties and makes pep rally speeches, our members are being attacked by Democrats, Republicans, the media, and right wing voters. Our Public Worker Unions are accused of causing the current economic crisis engulfing the nation. The AFL/CIO refuses to fight against the worst orchestrated attack on Labor since the great depression.
After Wall Street and the Banks conspired to defraud the world economies, selling debt that would never be paid back, the US went into economic free fall. Ultimately taxpayers were told to “tighten our belts” and shoulder the debt or we would find ourselves in a depression. There was no concern for how we felt about this debt, how it should be repaid or what to do about the criminals responsible for the crash. Congress shackled the debt to the workers, people who didn’t profit from the crime but were instead the victims of the crime. To add insult to injury, the Congress and the President promoted the thieves to even higher government positions allowing them to continue to control the financial machinations of the economy.
Today people are losing their homes by the thousands, workers are being forced to accept pay and benefit cuts and furlough days, contracts are being renegotiated and concessionary bargaining is the rule. Hiring freezes and layoffs reduce the workforce but not the workload. For transportation workers, health care workers, teachers, public safety workers and others serving the public, their jobs have become untenable. As the workloads increase, the public blames the workers for poor service. The public starts to believe that government isn’t worth funding and that government workers are overpaid and lazy.
This is but the first stage of a much bigger strategy. The real goal is to eradicate workers’ benefits and our Unions. The current discourse is not about wages. The Bosses have already lowered workers’ wages. They did so in collusion with Union leadership. But this is not enough for the ruling class. The current target is our defined benefit pensions and, in some cases, health care plans: our right to a retirement with dignity. By forcing workers into 401(k) defined contribution plans they are forcing us to gamble our retirement security in the biggest casino in the world: Wall Street. There can be no doubt after the recent financial collapse how the ruling class uses Wall Street to fleece small investors and the public.
But the real target goes even farther. The ruling class wants TO GET RID OF UNIONS ALTOGETHER. This is already happening. The percentage of unionized workers has been dropping dramatically. The public sector unions are the last bastion of union power and that is the reason they are being targeted. The ultimate goal of the capitalists is to reduce all Labor to the status of working for low-pay, without benefits or union representation, to the kind of working conditions endured today by the workers at Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the United States, with just over 1.1 million U.S. employees.
This process is already well under way. Politicians use a divide and conquer strategy, initially excluding police, firefighters, prison guards and the military from their current proposals for salary and pension reforms. This results in alienating the public safety workers and military from their natural allies’ in the rest of the working class. In addition to the division of public safety workers and the military from the rest of working class, the ruling class is fomenting artificial divisions between public and private sector workers. Public services, such as water, parks, health care, and schools, are being privatized, giving what has traditionally been better paying, unionized public sector work to lower paying, mostly nonunionized workers while reducing public accountability. Another gambit is to create two tier benefit packages resulting in new employees paying more for benefits and getting less in return. It is in the interest of the ruling class to create conflicts of interest between public and private sector workers and to fan the flames of mutual distrust and enmity. This is how the ruling class has always worked to destroy organized Labor. As the 19th century American financier Jay Gould, explained, by hiring strikebreakers, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half."
It is wishful thinking to believe that all of this is going to get better as soon as there is a full economic recovery. The foundation of the U.S. economy is consumption. As workers’ wages, benefits and credit continue to decline, the very foundation of the economy is undermined. As workers are forced to wait longer to retire there are fewer opportunities for young people to enter the workforce. No, this situation will not turn around. It will only get worse.
Without resistance organized Labor will become a thing of the past. We are moving to a reality similar to that in a 19th century novel of Charles Dickens. Some may feel that they have enough financial security to live comfortably until death. But they are fooling themselves if they think they can escape the bleak reality that will come as a result of this pauperization of the working class. No one can escape crime in the streets, friends and family who suffer without health care, children without quality education, depleted public services, destitute senior citizens and living in an oppressed society fighting endless wars of aggression.
The United Public Workers for Action asks all of you, unemployed, employed, retired, Union member or not, to take the demand for a General Strike to the front door of the leaders of the AFL/CIO Western Conference. Time is running out. The attacks on Public Workers and Organized Labor are increasing exponentially. With each passing day somewhere in this country workers are getting wage cuts and losing benefits. Courts are making precedent-setting rulings empowering the Bosses to legally crush the working class. This must stop.
Voting will not stop it; empty promises from politicians will not stop it; lawyers will not stop it; signing petitions will not stop it; Jesus will not stop it; good intentions will not stop it; Ron Paul will not stop it; tax reform will not stop it; the environmentalists will not stop it; the GBLT community will not stop it; nor will peace rallies, the Green Party or the Peace and Freedom Party. Only workers acting in their own interest can stop it. Choose the General Strike over general slavery.


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