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Protests, teacher walkouts mount in Wisconsin

What is happening in Wisconsin is a model for this entire nation. Organize, organize, organize now!
February 19, 2011 04:10PM EST [general.addtranslation] Download Article (PDF) [ insert language bar ]
Protests, teacher walkouts mount in Wisconsin

What is happening in Wisconsin is a model for this entire nation. Organize, organize, organize now!

By Tom Eley with General Joe
"f you like so many people of good will in this nation have been wondering when the spark of a "people's fight back" would rise, this might be the moment you have been waiting for. And it's time to make this fire burn high! From the failed military adventures in the mideast, to the looting of main-street by wall-street, crowned by the "pre-programed capitulation" of Obama and the democrats on practically every positive issue we had entrusted to them. It is time to resist this effort of the rich to impose a perpetual servitude on the middle class and working people of our land. This is class war!!! Let's see it, say it, and proclaim it loudly, while the light of freedom and justice still shines. Surely the right wing will put it out forever if we let them.
All support to the students and teachers of Wisconsin! All truth to the American public!
We have been lied to long enough. Good hard working people have been robbed of too much treasure and blood to allow it to continue without bursting the bubble of the "fantastic collusion." It was worked upon us by the politicians, "republicrats" all. They have betrayed us for sure. But surely we will expose them. And just as certain we will soon end they're deceitful reign. What is happening in Wisconsin is a model for this entire nation. Organize, organize, organize now! Let's take them down. We must. We simply must!!!"

Protests, teacher walkouts mount in Wisconsin
By Tom Eley 
19 February 201


Milwaukee schools closed
Protests, teacher walkouts mount in Wisconsin


The movement of Wisconsin workers and youth against budget-cutting and attacks on government workers continued to spread on Friday, with tens of thousands more teachers and students walking out of their classrooms, while the major demonstration in Madison continued unabated.

Demonstrations that began on Monday with an unexpectedly large march of 1,200 University of Wisconsin graduate and undergraduate students have since drawn hundreds of thousands more into struggle. The crowd surrounding the capitol building on Tuesday grew to between 13,000 and 20,000, and demonstrations have been estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. A major demonstration is also expected today.
Friday may have been the largest demonstration yet. Buses brought an estimated 11,000 students and university workers to Madison from the University of Wisconsin campuses at Milwaukee, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Superior, River Falls, Green Bay, and Stout, while teachers and government workers continued to arrive in large numbers.
Inspired by the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square that brought down Egypt's US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak, thousands of occupiers, mainly students, have continuously occupied the capitol building since Tuesday.
The largest demonstrations in the history of Madison, and perhaps in the history of the state, have been peaceful, but there is a heavy police presence, and behind that the threat of Governor Scott Walker to deploy the National Guard.
Right-wing Tea Party groups have called for a counter-protest on Saturday near the state capitol in Madison. One Tea Party announcement for the gathering told supporters to "bring cleaning supplies to clean up the pigsty the liberal union goons left behind at OUR house."

Walker, the newly-elected Republican governor, is pushing a bill that would force government workers to more than double their out-of-pocket contributions to health care and pensions funds, resulting in pay cuts of between 8 and 20 percent, according to various estimates. Workers would lose the right to negotiate the terms of their work, and pay raises would be locked at or below increases in the Consumer Price Increase. The measure also arrogates to the governor new powers to fire workers if he declares a state of emergency.
In a bid to delay passage of the bill—under conditions where this would have set up an explosive political confrontation between the legislature and mass public opposition to Walker's cuts—Democratic state senators fled Wisconsin yesterday. This maneuver stripped the Republicans of the three-fifths-present quorum required to vote on bills.
This is mere grandstanding by the Democrats, however, as they and the trade unions support similar social cuts as those proposed by Walker in other states, as well as in Washington—where President Barack Obama is preparing a budget call ing for over $1 trillion in cuts overwhelmingly directed against the working class. The Democrats' maneuver aims to stabilize the political situation and allow negotiations to continue between the big-business parties and the trade unions, to secure passage of the cuts.
However, on Friday thousands more workers and youth from across the state joined a growing wave of walkouts and school closures, effectively refusing to hand over their struggle to the state Democratic Party and union heads.
On Friday, the walkout movement of Wisconsin school teachers forced the closure of Milwaukee Public Schools, by far the largest district in the state. Even before the start of the school day Friday, nearly 600 teachers had declared sick days in this city of 600,000 in order to attend demonstrations, forcing the shutdown of over 200 schools in the city. Only a day before, Superintendent Gregory Thornton had boasted to the media that he had succeeded in blocking the movement from reaching Milwaukee by threatening teachers with "disciplinary action."
For the third day in a row, the second-largest school district in the state, Madison Public Schools, was also totally shutdown by the teacher strike. Fifteen other school districts in the Madison area remained closed. Teachers also walked out in Janesville, an industrial city of 60,000, hard hit by the 2010 closure of a decades-old General Motors assembly plant. Dozens of other school system were closed by teacher absences Friday.
To date there is not a published list of the number of schools that have been shut down by what is, in all but name, a strike wave, but it numbers at least in the hundreds—there are over 200 schools in Milwaukee alone. It has encompassed upwards of 10,000 teachers, and has affected at least 200,000 students.

At the same time, a movement of student walkouts affecting cities, small towns, and college campuses across the state has continued. Dozens of schools have been hit, and tens of thousands of students have been involved. By all accounts the walkout movement has been organized by students themselves, via Facebook and other social media, as well as word of mouth.
Students in the University of Wisconsin system, both undergraduate and graduate, have played an important role in the demonstrations. Graduate students, who typically work as teaching and research assistants, could see their tuition waivers and benefits cut under Walker's plan. Undergraduates and their families are suffering under the weight of spiraling tuition costs that began under Walker's Democratic predecessor Jim Doyle, and which could increase by as much as 10 percent next year.
The scope and intensity of the movement of workers and youth in Wisconsin has captured the attention of the national media and the Obama administration. They fear the rapid spread of similar demonstrations and strikes beyond Wisconsin.
There are signs this is already developing. Thousands of government workers have in recent days protested in Columbus, Ohio, against a similarly reactionary law being pushed by Governor John Kasich.
In Indiana, some 600 steelworkers descended on the capitol building in Indianapolis to protest against so-called "right to work" laws that would in fact further gut workers' rights.
Over 100 students walked out of Southeastern High School in Detroit yesterday, protesting against ongoing cuts in funding of the fine arts.

Protestors in Madison denounce attack on public employees
By Jerry White 
19 February 2011

The protests of workers and young people against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attack on public workers continued on Friday, even as the state Democratic Party and trade union officials worked feverishly to contain the outpouring of social anger during the week.
The mood on Thursday was militant and explosive as the Republican-controlled legislature prepared to vote on the governor's "Budget Repair" bill that would gut public employee bargaining rights, impose a de facto wage cut on workers and slash public spending. Tens of thousands of teachers and other public workers, joined by high school students who walked out of their schools and university students facing a 20 percent increase in tuition, descended on the state capital of Madison, occupying the capitol building and demonstrating around it.
If Republicans passed the bill, popular anger would have exploded with the potential of a confrontation in the state capitol. Walker has already threatened to deploy the National Guard to put down opposition. In an effort to diffuse the situation, Democratic state legislators walked out of the chambers in order to block a vote. On Friday, Walker announced he was postponing the release of a new two-year budget, originally scheduled for next Tuesday, until March 1.
In an interview with local television, Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach said the walkout was the only way to slow down the vote. "In the end, what is going to happen is the public employees are going to pay on their pension and pay on their health care. We all know that, they all know that. They're OK with that. They one thing the public employees do not understand is why (Walker) is going after the unions."
While workers have expressed opposition to further concessions, coming on years of stagnating wages and benefit cuts, union officials have announced their willingness to go along with severe givebacks and call off the protests if Walker allows the unions to retain their seat at the bargaining table.
At a rally on the capitol steps Friday, Marty Beil, the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, the largest state workers union, said, "We want to sit down with the governor to address broad challenges. Let me make this clear: we are prepared to implement concessions. Public service is not about money. We're willing to meet the governor half way, but we will not be denied the right to collectively bargain."
In a press conference Thursday night on Capitol Square, Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell said, "This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits. It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain." Earlier this month Bell agreed to teacher evaluations based on student test scores and performance pay for 98,000 teachers across the state, winning the praise of Republican legislators.
In his remarks to the protestors Friday AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the unions were "willing to help solve the financial crisis" even as he acknowledged that the deficit was largely manufactured by the governor through granting tax cuts to the rich. Reverend Jesse Jackson hailed the Democratic legislators as heroes and then went on to praise Obama—who has just announced $1 trillion in budget cuts. The protests in Madison, he said, were "making a good president a great president."
While the Democrats and union officials try to wrap up the protest, workers and young people continue to express their determination to fight. The center of the protest remains the capitol rotunda, which reverberates with the sound of chants, drumbeats and cheering from many who have camped inside for days. Makeshift banners and posters line the chamber walls, with slogans like "Tax the Rich," "Wisconsin workers: unite or die," and "United we stay." Protestors chant, "Hell no, we won't go," "Kill the Bill."

Nancy Gillard and Rene Sandburg
Nancy Gillard, an educational assistant, told the WSWS, "The governor wants to take away our rights. They keep giving tax cuts for the rich, saying that's going to create jobs. Where are the jobs? Walker wants to turn Wisconsin into a Walmart state."
Rene Sandburg, a school food service worker, added, "He wants us to pay more for our health insurance, which would amount to a 20 percent pay cut. Who can live on that? Not just teachers but support staff are being hit, and we are not even guaranteed full-time work. We work 182 days and get less than $15,000 a year."
Nancy added, "If they cut our pay further, I would qualify for BadgerCare (a health insurance program for low-income, uninsured families with children), food assistance and home heating assistance. That would actually be a $12,000 a year raise for me. Maybe I'd be able to go to the doctor—who I haven't been able to see in years."

Xia Vang
Rene acknowledged these social services were being cut even as ever greater numbers of unemployed and low-paid workers needed them. Commenting on President Obama's proposal to cut heating assistance in half, she said, "More people are going to freeze to death in the winter."
A young UW student, Xia Vang, explained why she was there. "This is great. I went to the Milwaukee public schools and I value education. I'm here because of what my teachers did. Now they want to take away their collective bargaining rights and that would be huge step backwards."
The 22-year-old Asian student said, "America is supposed to be the greatest democracy. But I think a democracy should not only mean the right to have a voice and freedom of speech but basic human rights like a job and a decent income."

Wisconsin firefighters (Kyle, right)
Kyle, a firefighter from West Bend, north of Milwaukee, told the WSWS, "We haven't had any manpower cuts, but we have taken a pay freeze. Other departments in our town are not filling positions. Every city is cutting the budget. The tax cuts that are going to the rich are taking money from us.
"Even though firefighters were not included in Walker's plan to strip workers of collective bargaining rights, we are standing up with all the public employees because we can be next. I heard Walker didn't go after the police and firefighters because the Milwaukee firefighters union and police association endorsed him for governor last year. Four hundred firefighters came here from all over the state to join this fight."

David Hoppe
David Hoppe is a retired Madison teacher. He said, "I was in the 1975 strike of the Madison teachers. We stayed out eleven days in minus-35-degree weather on behalf of education and our kids. They were trying to take away our index, which improved wages for higher seniority teachers and wanted to put us back to starting pay. The strike also had a tone of merit pay in it, where the school authorities wanted to pay more to the teachers they 'valued.' It was a bitter strike.
"I compare what Walker is doing to the militarization of the workforce. They are going to tell you what to do, and you better damn well do it, like the Marines or the Army. They want to break you down and make you obedient. If they tell teachers you're going to have to work from 1 p.m. to eight at night, and come in on weekends, well you better do it.
"I don't like the way he is trying to win the support of the police and firefighters. It's as if he wants to build up a Praetorian Guard to protect him against popular opposition. So far, it's not working, however."
"They say there is a horrible debt crisis—this is a pack of lies. Every year of my life they tell you they are broke, there's never any money. There is never a negotiation without those statements. All the while the top two percent of the country are doing better than ever.
"In Madison, 50 percent of the public school students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. But when do they ever talk about the needs of the low-income people and the poor?
"A lot of us had hope in Obama. No Child Left Behind is a disaster. But the wars are going on, and war leaves all children behind. The rich people's kids will always go to college. Their kids will be the CEOs and managers—it's sickening.
"Mary Bell spoke two times yesterday. They always give her the mike to say how much they are fighting for teachers. What she didn't say is that the Wisconsin Education Association just accepted merit pay."

-----

If you like so many people of good will in this nation have been wondering when the spark of a "people's fight back" would rise, this might be the moment you have been waiting for. And it's time to make this fire burn high! From the failed military adventures in the mideast, to the looting of main-street by wall-street, crowned by the "pre-programed capitulation" of Obama and the democrats on practically every positive issue we had entrusted to them. It is time to resist this effort of the rich to impose a perpetual servitude on the middle class and working people of our land. This is class war!!! Let's see it, say it, and proclaim it loudly, while the light of freedom and justice still shines. Surely the right wing will put it out forever if we let them.
All support to the students and teachers of Wisconsin! All truth to the American public!
We have been lied to long enough. Good hard working people have been robbed of too much treasure and blood to allow it to continue without bursting the bubble of the "fantastic collusion." It was worked upon us by the politicians, "republicrats" all. They have betrayed us for sure. But surely we will expose them. And just as certain we will soon end they're deceitful reign. What is happening in Wisconsin is a model for this entire nation. Organize, organize, organize now! Let's take them down. We must. We simply must!!! Spread widely. General Joe