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Labor & Worker Rights Tue Feb 22 2011
Have you been following what our Cheesehead neighbors to the north have been up to lately?
All photos by Chicagoan shaggyisaac.
It's pretty bananas. Mother Jones has some excellent background and explanation of what's going on. The bare facts are that Governor Scott Walker has proposed what unions describe as a "draconian" anti-union bill that would end collective bargaining in Wisconsin for public employees. Unions, students, and progressives have freaked out, occupying the capitol and holding continuous protests for over a weak. Everybody agrees--it's a really big deal.
So big, in fact, that many Chicagoans felt the need to put aside their still-aching wounds from the NFC championship game last month and make the trek up north to support the protesting unionists.
Wisconsin is known for being a very pro-labor state, having introduced many crucial labor reforms American workers now taken for granted--including, ironically, the right for public employees to bargain collectively. But Chicago is known as being the American labor city--our city has been the home to scores of epic labor battles, from the Haymarket Massacre in 1886 to the longest strike in the country today at the Congress Hotel. Wisconsin and Chicago both have unionism running in their blood.
It makes sense, then, that someone like Mark Paye, a teacher at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Humboldt Park and a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), felt it his duty to make the drive up to Madison on Saturday to join the Wisconsin protesters. He marched with 60,000 others around the state capitol, holding a Chicago Teachers Union sign, and said he could imagine a similar bill affecting him and his fellow public employees.
"What's happening here could happen in Illinois very easily," he states.
Paye, like many other Madison protesters, sees Walker's proposed bill as an attack on collective bargaining rather than an attempt to balance the budget.
"We're willing to negotiate our salaries and health care and be reasonable," he says. "But this bill doesn't have anything to do with economics--it's a clear attack on unions. Taking away collective bargaining has nothing to do with balancing the budget."
It was a sentiment heard throughout the day in the streets and inside the capitol, where Caitlin Rogers held a sign reading "SEIU Local 73 Supports Wisconsin Workers."
Rogers is an organizer with the Service Employees International Union in Chicago. She leaned on the marble railing of the capitol's rotunda, doing her best to make her voice heard over the booming chanting and drumming behind her.
"It's important to stand up for working people everywhere--an attack on families here could just as easily lead to families across the United States," she said.
She saw the bill as symptomatic of a larger attack on public unions and employees in Wisconsin, Chicago, and beyond.
"A lot of the focus is being put on hard-working public servants rather than the people who were really responsible for this crisis. Public servants across the country right now are being unfairly targeted."
Trade union members are not the only ones in the streets in Madison--graduate students have played a huge role in maintaining the fight in the capitol. Graduate students from Chicago came up to lend their support, as well.
Andrew Yale, a grad student in English at the University of Chicago and a member of Graduate Students United, was in Madison Saturday. Standing outside the war room of the Madison graduate students' union the Teachers Assistants Association, a commandeered conference room on the third floor of the capitol packed with slightly smelly grad students hunched over laptops, occasionally shouting news to one another, he explained his presence in Madison by referencing the oft-repeated union phrase, "an injury to one is an injury to all." And Yale feels UChicago students have some injuries.
"In Chicago, we currently have no legal bargaining rights. Student employees have never had a say in the terms of their employment," he explained. "Grad students in Wisconsin face being stripped of their rights. We see our campaigns as closely aligned."
Unionists frequently throw around the word "solidarity," echoing Yale's claim that all workers' fights are closely aligned. Whether that Windy City solidarity will have any impact in thawing Gov. Walker's icy anti-union heart will be decided in the coming days.
There was even a contingent of high school protesters who were too cool for the protests.
Protesters sleeping at the capitol.