Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
[tnivideo caption=”Wisconsin “Budget Repair Bill” Protest” credit=”Matthew Wisniewski”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5TmSNPpzkWc[/tnivideo]
Estimates vary, but between 80,000-100,000 demonstrators protested against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting “Budget Repair Bill” on Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin. According to radio talk show host Ed Schultz, another 70 protests were held around Wisconsin over the weekend– despite freezing rain on Sunday. (Burrr… )
The “Mubarak of the Middle West” (AKA Walker) appeared on CNN over the weekend, but he refuses to compromise or negotiate with the unions and refuses to address the crowd regarding the “budget crisis” that he personally created by giving corporate tax breaks that the state could not afford. (Sound familiar?)
Unlike Arizona, Wisconsin has one of the best public education systems in the country. Walker’s union-busting activities are not about pensions. They’re about radical anti-union, anti-public-education, pro-corporate-welfare ideology. (This, too, should sound familiar.)
From The Nation…
What has become clear to the protesters over the past week is that, beyond an assault on unions, Walker’s bill is part of a wider attack on working families and public education.
“The second reason that this fight matters is the future of public education,” The Nation’s Chris Hayes said. “What’s driving it is the ultimate aim of permanently scrapping the model of public education that has sustained this country for years. Teachers unions are the stewards of preserving public education, which is the core element of our civil life.”
Walker’s track record illustrates his lack of support for public education. Before he was governor, he was the executive of Milwaukee County, where the nation’s first mass-scale private school voucher experiment was implemented. He then campaigned for governor on expanding these vouchers, Hayes said.
Under the widely disputed bill, local police, firefighters and state troopers would retain their collective bargaining rights—their unions generally supported Walker during his campaign. Teachers unions, who sided with Democrats in last fall’s election, and other public workers would lose that process.
The proposed bill, according to Walker, is intended to balance the state’s budget and avoid layoffs. But despite an offer by public workers to give financial concessions instead of relinquishing collective bargaining, the governor refuses to drop the plan.
In a statement issued this weekend, Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach said that the offer made by public workers was “a legitimate and serious offer on the table from local, state and school public employees that balances Governor Walker’s budget.”
The denial of this offer shows that “Governor Walker’s only target is the destruction of collective bargaining rights and not solving the state’s budget,” Erpenbach said.
Teaching assistants have planned a “teach-out” for Tuesday to permit their students to join them at the capitol to protest the Assembly’s meeting. They also helped organize “teach-ins” over the weekend at the campus’s main library to further explain to students how this bill will affect them.
Graduate student assistants teach 85 percent of discussion sections and nearly 20 percent of the lectures on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus. The proposed bill targets both their benefits and their ability to bargain over tuition remission. This is no small matter: a statement released by the TAA Saturday said that tuition remission is the university’s strongest recruitment tool for graduate students and ending collective bargaining in this area would impact the quality of the teaching and research brought into the university.
Over the last week, groups of students migrated from other state campuses to participate in the protests in Madison. Rachel Matteson, a member of Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, came down Sunday to rally at the capitol.
“Attacking teachers assistants and teachers directly affects the quality of our education. Students realize this. Many of us will be graduating soon and entering the public sector, so this is also an attack on our own rights,” Matteson told The Nation.
Some 260 faculty members at UW-Madison signed a letter opposing the bill. “We recognize that the state faces a severe budget shortfall. We have already taken wage and benefit cuts to help address that problem and expect to make more sacrifices in the future. But eliminating collective bargaining will not address this shortfall. We urge you not to allow this crisis to undermine our state’s strong traditions of democracy and human rights.”
Public school teachers from around the state have been protesting at the capitol for the past week. On Sunday, after a four-hour debate on how to balance maintaining their opposition to the bill with their responsibilities to teach, Madison public school teachers decided to return to work on Tuesday.
Not only are public school teacher’s collective bargaining rights threatened, but public education is also expected to be reduced by nearly $500 annually per student.
Simultaneously, and also causing a stir, is a proposal expected to be included in Walkers budget that involves splitting the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the rest of the state’s university system. Some officials worry this could cause tuition to skyrocket.
For more on union-busting and Wisconsin, check out these stories.
Wixconsin Power Play from the New York Times
Wisconsin’s Protests in Pictures from The Nation
Why cover what’s happening in Wisconsin? Because Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer and other radical corporate puppet governors around the country are taking pages from the same playbook as “The Mubarak of the Middle West”. Stay tuned. There are a lot of rumblings about marching on Phoenix.