Thousands of teachers, prison guards and students descended on the Wisconsin Capitol on Wednesday to try to preserve the union rights of public employees in the state that was the first to grant collective bargaining to government workers more than a half-century ago.
The new Republican governor, Scott Walker, is seeking passage of the nation's most aggressive anti-union proposal — a plan that would all but eliminate the bargaining process for most public employees.
The sweeping measure was moving swiftly through the GOP-led Legislature and would mark a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.
The Statehouse filled with as many as 10,000 demonstrators, and many Madison teachers joined the protest by calling in sick in such numbers that the district had to cancel classes.
As protesters chanted outside his office door on the second consecutive day of demonstrations, Walker insisted he has the votes to pass the measure, which he says is needed to help balance a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and avoid widespread layoffs.
Walker said he appreciated the concerns of protesters, but taxpayers "need to be heard as well." Although he said he was open to making changes, he promised not to do anything that would "fundamentally undermine the principles" of the bill.
"We're at a point of crisis," the governor said.
It appears Wisconsin's government workers, teachers, firefighters, police, prison guards and more, are calling Walker's bluff on calling out the National Guard to go after demonstrators. It seems the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia have not been lost on Americans after all.
I can see why Walker is petulantly holding the line. He can't change his mind now or the Tea Party will disown him and his term is over before it begins. Having said that, it's pretty clear if this knucklehead's intransigence can get 10,000 plus Wisconsinites out to protest in February, it's serious.
It seems the lessons of the Tea Party haven't been lost on these folks, either...just lost on the Village who refuses to cover this. I guess they need more badly spelled signage, Revolutionary War era costumes, Gadsden flags and concealed guns. Instead, other than MSNBC, nobody seems to have noticed thousands of working class Americans fighting to keep their right to collectively bargain.