Mary Bell, the President of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, just announced that teachers across the state will return to work on Monday, instead joining protests at night in their communities. Teachers, and in many cases their students, have been at the forefront of the protests in the state capital, Madison. Local school districts have been shut for up to three days as teachers demonstrated against a measure to strip their collective bargaining rights. The entire statement is at the end of this piece.
Bell reiterated that the employees she represents have agreed to Governor Walker’s cutbacks in pension and health care benefits. Those are the only actual fiscal issues affecting state workers in the budget repair bill. But public employees refuse to accept the loss of their rights as workers. Here’s the key excerpt:
Tomorrow they begin again in their schools and classrooms. Their voices will remain strong – and they will continue to be heard wherever and whenever they can. To educators whose contracts do not recognize Presidents’ Day, we call on them to return to duty by day – and find ways to be vocal and visible after their workday is done. To those whose contracts recognize Presidents’ Day as a holiday, we call on them to return to Madison. We send this message to Wisconsin’s educators and parents as a show of good faith.
Protests were small today, possibly because of snowy Madison weather. But while teachers and students without the day off tomorrow will not attend the protests in Madison, a host of public employees have the Presidents’ Day holiday off as a furlough day. So the crowds tomorrow for a noon rally, and a 5pm rally and concert (featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello) should be quite large. And they will be joined by world champion Green Bay Packers star and legend from back when the University of Michigan had a football team, Charles Woodson:
Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.
It is an honor for me to play for the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers and be a part of the Green Bay and Wisconsin communities. I am also honored as a member of the NFL Players Association to stand together with working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against this attempt to hurt them by targeting unions. I hope those leading the attack will sit down with Wisconsin’s public workers and discuss the problems Wisconsin faces, so that together they can truly move Wisconsin forward.
Of course, the NFLPA is embroiled in their own contract dispute with owners, which may result in a lockout, so Woodson’s support is a show of solidarity. And he’s not alone.
Solidarity actions are planned across the country and in Wisconsin communities next week. Wisconsin is not the only place where right-wing politicians are attempting to break unions and take away worker rights, so these demonstrations of support are crucial. And they appear to already be having an impact. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder said he would not “pick fights” with unions and would not include collective bargaining rights as part of their ongoing budget negotiations. Snyder specifically said that what’s happening in Wisconsin is “not our path.” And though Governor John Kasich is trying to walk down that path in Ohio, he may not be successful. Already eight Republican state Senators have said they would not be able to support SB5, Ohio’s version of a bargaining rights-stripping bill, in its current form.
Many others have expressed their solidarity with Wisconsin, which saw crowds of up to 70,000 in Madison on Saturday. The Congressional Progressive Caucus taped a message of support. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was proud of the State Senate Democrats, who left the state and denied a quorum to Republicans who wanted to quickly pass the bill. And just to make Glenn Beck’s head explode, here’s a statement of support from Kamal Abbas, the General Coordinator of the CTUWS, sort of the AFL-CIO of Egypt:
KAMAL ABBAS: I am speaking to you from a place very close to Tahrir Square in Cairo, “Liberation Square”, which was the heart of the Revolution in Egypt. This is the place were many of our youth paid with their lives and blood in the struggle for our just rights.
From this place, I want you to know that we stand with you as you stood with us.
I want you to know that 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 [...]
Today is the day of the American workers. We salute you American workers! You will be victorious. Victory belongs to all the people of the world, who are fighting against exploitation, and for their just rights.
Scott Walker and his cadres may have a lot of Koch money, but the workers have some formidable allies as well. By the way, one way for anyone to get involved is by calling Ian’s Pizza on State Street in Madison and delivering pizza to the protesters. The pizza shop has basically shut down all other business and is exclusively sending pizzas over there. People all over the country and abroad, including in Egypt, have paid for pizzas from Ian’s for the protesters.
The State Senate will be in session on Tuesday, taking up non-fiscal bills which don’t require a 3/5 majority for a quorum. Senate Democrats still vow to stay outside the state until the Republicans drop their proposed stripping of collective bargaining rights. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has now criticized the policy changes in the budget repair bill, suggesting a move away from support within the business community. Republicans are still adamant that they will keep the budget repair bill as is. But Assembly Republicans on Friday created a safety valve by rescinding their prior action on the bill, which keeps alive the possibility that it can be amended.
The statement from WEAC’s Mary Bell is below:
“It’s clear from the turnout at events here in Madison and in city after city across Wisconsin that there’s a movement afoot to fight for worker rights. Thus far, we have easily heard from more than 200,000 Wisconsinites who stand in support of teachers, nurses, EMTs, firefighters, correctional officers and public employees across our state.
“We have been clear – and I will restate this again today – money issues are off the table. Public employees have agreed to Governor Walker’s pension and health care concessions, which he says will solve the budget challenge.
“But Governor Walker’s bill goes too far and he has chosen polarizing rhetoric. He refuses to come to the table to discuss the issue our members care most deeply about: protecting their rights, as they are a voice for Wisconsin’s students and their schools.
“Citizens have come out in force to support public workers in the battle to preserve their rights. Six days of events in Madison – where crowds have snowballed. The events have spread from the capitol to communities across the state where rallies, demonstrations and public forums are in full swing to enable citizens to voice their support.
“A fire has started – and we need to remain active in these efforts to have the voices of the people heard throughout Wisconsin. We will not be silenced and though we move to the corners of our state, our intensity grows.
“In my message today, I want to reinforce a fundamental fact: that the men and women of our union – the Wisconsin Education Association Council – are committed to serving their communities, schools and students. Our members are a voice for Wisconsin students and schools.
“Tomorrow they begin again in their schools and classrooms. Their voices will remain strong – and they will continue to be heard wherever and whenever they can. To educators whose contracts do not recognize Presidents’ Day, we call on them to return to duty by day – and find ways to be vocal and visible after their workday is done. To those whose contracts recognize Presidents’ Day as a holiday, we call on them to return to Madison. We send this message to Wisconsin’s educators and parents as a show of good faith.
“We appreciate the solid show of support from Wisconsinites over the last week. It’s has been heartening and inspiring – and I want to be very clear in that this fight isn’t over. We will continue to be active and visible at the capitol and in towns across this state because we are passionate about preserving the rights of workers. We’re continuing our call to all Wisconsinites – not just the workers directly affected – but our friends, neighbors and families – to look into their hearts and act to be sure that we have the Wisconsin we want to call our home – not just today, but tomorrow and well into the future. It is time for legislative leadership and an open dialogue in search of solutions, not division of our state. It is time for Wisconsin to move forward.”