Wisconsin Dems Take a Hike as Protests Swell

Teachers, police officers, firefighters, ironworkers—every kind of union you can imagine has members out today in Madison, Wisconsin, protesting the governor’s bill to strip us of our bargaining rights. Photo: Emily Mills.

The last the demonstrators in the Wisconsin Capitol heard, the 14 Democratic senators have left the state, leaving the Senate one vote shy of a quorum and unable to consider Governor Scott Walker’s bill to strip us of our bargaining rights.

Teachers, police officers, firefighters, ironworkers—every kind of union you can imagine has members out today at Madison’s Capitol building protesting Walker’s budget bill. People are marching in a ring around the Capitol continuously as well as filling the rotunda inside. One chant from demonstrators inside the chambers, where the Republican senators convened, rang out: “Freedom, democracy, unions.”

The surrounding streets are shoulder to shoulder with protesters, thousands of people everywhere you look. Everyone understands it's a once-in-50-years moment.

The rotunda has been a peaceful but absolutely loud and raucous protest scene for hours on end. Teachers have stayed up all night to testify and write letters. And students from all high schools in Madison have had walkouts. At East High School 800 students walked out and walked together more than two miles to the Capitol.

Two of the Westside high schools had students coordinate over Facebook to meet up and march together today and yesterday. The approximately 600 students were met by their teachers as they marched up State Street to the Capitol building.

Madison teachers staged a sick-out on Wednesday and rallied at the Capitol, and today, following a call from President Mary Bell of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (NEA), teachers from across the state are out in force, filling the rotunda and chanting “Kill the Bill.” Many signs urge the recall of Walker and delineate the process for doing so.

In the last few hours, protesters are hearing that police officers and firefighters were added to the list affected by this bill. They were previously exempt—and would have kept their bargaining rights—but still they had been involved in the protests from the beginning, showing solidarity with the teachers and other state workers.

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Today Madison police and firefighters will march in their dress uniforms to the Overture Center to vote on a new contract that the mayor is signing. Other city unions will also sign contract extensions through 2012, to ensure their health insurance and pensions at least till then.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau had something to say about Walker’s bill. The fiscal bureau is a nonpartisan state agency that advises lawmakers on how legislation affects state revenues. It said “more than half” of the $137 million deficit that is Walker’s excuse for attacking unions is due to tax breaks that he pushed through the legislature (PDF).

While the Republicans have a clear majority, the protests have been galvanizing and energizing, with teachers and students banding together to fight for public education and fair wages for families.

Being a teacher myself, I’ve used this as an opportunity to teach my own children, who of course are off from school, about political action and unions. Last I heard via text, my daughter, a cross-country runner, was jogging around the Capitol with fellow students, with a sign that read “Running Against Walker.”

Lynn Glueck is a member of the Madison Teachers Incorporated, the NEA affiliate that represents teachers and other school workers in the city.

Editor’s note: You can listen to the voices of student and union protesters recorded from inside the Capitol today on Madison’s community radio WORT (mp3).


IUPAT troublemaker (not verified) | 02/17/11

We need this kind of movement in every city across this country. We must fight back against this age of austerity. Unions are the only organized force that can lead the movement to get what we're owed, and make the rich give back the money we made for them!