Unions mobilize nationwide to defend worker rights
By Mark Gruenberg 23 February 2011
|WASHINGTON - First it was Madison, Wis. Then Indianapolis. Then, Columbus, Ohio. Next stops: Trenton, N.J., followed by Nashville.
|Everywhere across the country, unionists were forced to mobilize to beat back anti-worker actions of GOP-run state governments – everything from cutting pay and pensions to banning union campaign finance committee contributions to politics to, most importantly, eliminating collective bargaining rights.
The largest, most visible struggle among many continues in Madison, Wis., where up to 70,000 unionists and their allies are besieging the state capitol. They’re fighting Right Wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s scheme to strip public workers statewide of collective bargaining rights, cut their pay and increase their health care payments.
The Wisconsin fight is so huge that it’s even drawn the notice – and support – of Egypt’s new, independent union confederation. That confederation played a role in ousting dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak, and it’s still conducting strikes for higher pay and dignity on the job. But its leader took time out to support Wisconsin workers.
“We stand with you as you stood with us,” said Kamal Abbas, the federation’s general secretary. “No power can challenge the will of the people when they believe in their rights, when they raise their voices loud and clear and struggle against exploitation ...Stand firm and don't waver. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights.”
Wisconsin is just one of many stages where labor’s fight against the Radical Right and its big business backers is occurring:
• The Teamsters are mobilizing workers in 38 states to help defend their public employee colleagues. Key ones include Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“The 19th-century robber baron Jay Gould once said, ‘I can hire half the working class to shoot the other half,’” union President James Hoffa wrote on the Teamsters website. “Gould’s vision of class warfare is being played out today in the shameful attacks on public employees.
“These attacks are secretly financed and planned by modern-day Jay Goulds who aim to keep their own taxes low. Vastly powerful corporations and billionaires want to cripple all unions and turn America into a low-wage banana republic…They’re succeeding. Their demands are nothing more than payback for the billions of dollars the ultra-rich have poured into political campaigns.”
• Progressive allies mobilized Tuesday to march, again, with unionists on the Ohio state capitol in Columbus. They campaigned against GOP Gov. John Kasich’s plan to cut pay, pensions and strip collective bargaining rights from Ohio public workers, notably teachers. In retaliation, Kasich locked thousands out of the statehouse and had blocked web access within the building to pro-worker websites.
• The Laborers mobilized activists in seven states, both to support public workers and to defend project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws, while stopping right-to-work laws, union President Terry O’Sullivan said. The union concentrated on Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and – of course – Wisconsin. Walker wants to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state and similar legislation is pending in GOP-run legislatures in Michigan, Missouri and Minnesota.
“Outside political forces who poured hundreds of millions of dollars into last fall’s elections are now launching a coordinated attack on the men and women who build America,” O’Sullivan said after a conference call with leaders in the seven states. “Their goal is to destroy our way of life by cutting pay, taking away benefits and eliminating the unions that allow them to stand together. Today, we begin to fight back.
“Right-to-work states have seen wages plummet, pensions dry up, health insur-ance rates drop and worker safety suffer. Prevailing wage laws can be the difference between a job that can support a family, and one that barely pays minimum wage. If we want an economic recovery that lifts everyone, we’ll need to fight for it,” he added.
• Thousands of unionists, led by public workers and Teamsters, jammed the Indiana capitol to oppose plans by the GOP-run House to make Indiana a right-to-work state. The GOP plans “would strip unions of the ability to negotiate wages and work rules,” the Teamsters said. Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., told state lawmakers to drop the right-to-work scheme. He said it would endanger other goals. Indiana Democratic lawmakers left the state, halting action by depriving the House of a quorum.
• The Service Employees listed rallies in almost two dozen cities nationwide on Feb. 22-24, with a Tea Party group vowing to disrupt at least one – in Sacramento – and smear the union by posing as SEIU organizers with outrageous slogans such as “Screw the taxpayer!”
• The New Jersey AFL-CIO plans a mass rally in Trenton on Feb. 25 against GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s demands that to cut state and local workers’ pay and retirement benefits. His budget said if the Democratic-run legislature didn’t do that, he’d have to eliminate property-tax rebates. Christie’s budget charged that New Jersey had two classes: Public workers and everybody else.
• The Tennessee Education Association called a mass rally for March 5 in Nashville. A GOP-run state senate committee voted 6-3 on party lines in February for a bill – pushed by state school boards – to strip teachers of collective bargaining rights. It’s one of a slew of pending anti-worker measures in the Tennessee legislature.
• The AFL-CIO set up http://www.aflcio.org/issues/states/solidarity.cfm a special website to track anti-worker and anti-union legislation on the state level.
Federation President Richard Trumka told the Steelworkers Rapid Response conference in early February that unless the state-level attacks are countered, the labor movement would be decimated.
“Corporate CEOs spent $1 billion to elect their slate of politicians in 2010, and those politicians are pushing for wage and benefit cuts and the continued outsourcing of our jobs,” said national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “In state after state, it's payback time, pure and simple.”
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.
For more information
See the Workday special section, "Taking a Stand in Wisconsin."