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L.A. Unions See Eye-To-Eye With Wisconsin Workers

Natalie Ragus |
February 27, 2011 | 12:53 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

 Phenia Hosvepyan
Phenia Hosvepyan
More than 1,000 demonstrators braved the cold and converged on the lawn at Los Angeles City Hall on Saturday to rally in solidarity with labor protesters in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, parachuting in on the protests were pro-choice advocates, who held a walk to demonstrate against federal cuts to Planned Parenthood funding.

Emotions ran high as speakers mobilized the standing-room-only crowd with rousing chants of “When I say ‘people,’ you say ‘power!’ People! Power!” and “Support workers’ rights, not corporate hacks!” that could be heard from several blocks away.

Protests in Wisconsin against what President Barack Obama has termed an "attack on unions" are not lost on L.A., the demonstrators made clear.

Tens of thousands of workers have occupied the Wisconsin state Capitol for two weeks to protest the state Assembly’s approval of a Republican-backed plan to strip unions of collective bargaining rights. Capitol police say protestors will have to vacate the premises Sunday.
If the proposal makes it through the Wisconsin state senate, a number of other states may follow suit; legislatures in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho, Tennessee, and Kansas have all introduced similar bills designed to curb unions.

Elaine Antin, a psychiatric social worker from Milwaukee, Wis. took a break from visiting family in L.A. to attends the local demonstration.  As a Milwaukee County employee, Antin is a member of the nation’s largest medical and public worker union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Standing before a microphone on the steps of City Hall, she said she felt compelled to support her union brethren.

“I’m so glad to be here because you brought Madison to me,” she told fellow protesters, as the crowd roared its approval. “Today, we are all badgers.”

Antin said she has struggled to make ends meet in recent years, as she has not received a pay raise in nearly half a decade and had to take 12 furlough days in 2010.

To fill the gap, Antin said she has logged in countless hours of overtime.

“You work so much you burn out,” she said of her emotionally demanding job. “The morale is really low.”


On Saturday at City Hall , the protesters hauled signs bearing signs with slogans ranging from “Labor; the Future of America,” to “Democracy, not Corporate Empire.”

Many wore T-shirts bearing the logos of their respective unions, and a Teamster trailer took up nearly half a block of Main Street.

One man identifying himself as Isaiah Hog dressed in a three-piece suit, which he accessorized with large, rapper-style gold chains emblazoned with dollar signs. He also carried a brief case with fake bills peeking out.

For many, the fight to protect workers’ rights represents the ongoing struggle to preserve a middle class well on the way to becoming extinct.
In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has expanded to 300 to 500 to one. Maintaining a healthy middle class is imperative to strong national economy.

“We are the working class,” said Los Angeles County probation officer Irene Gonzalez, who recently returned from Wisconsin. “We work, we get paid, and we spend. You cut our pay, we don’t spend.’

For others, keeping the bargaining rights of unions intact means protecting the equality of all people, regardless of class or social status.
Sporting foam Lady Liberty hats, costume designer Rachel Weir and Ari Kletzky warned of the danger of giving the rich too much power, thereby essentially creating a plutocracy, or, government rule by the wealthy.

“We really support democracy, which is the ideal that everyone has equal access to influence government,” Kletzky said.
Protest organizer Jose Calderon, a professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, said corporations’ threats to lay off more workers if forced to pay them union wages is just that: a threat.

“That’s a big lie that they used in the past to divide (workers) to continue to use our backs to make their profits,” he said.

Several protesters said they felt a kind of kinship with Egyptians, who recently ousted their leader of nearly 30 years, Hosni Mubarek, in part because he reportedly stole $15 billion from the treasury.

Railing against a measure passed by the House of Representatives that would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion advocates held a “Walk for Choice” that started at Pershing Square and ended at City Hall.

The measure effectively eliminates about $330 million for preventative-health services, including federal funding for contraception and cancer screenings, at Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the U.S.

Pro-choice protesters said it was appropriate that their walk concluded at City Hall to merge with the union rally.

“I’m totally with them,” said walker Gloria Sanchez of the union protesters. “I support the unions all the way… It’s about being taken advantage of.

And that, says AFSCME International Vice President Lakesha Harrison, is exactly why union workers must continue their fight.

“This is the moment we have to seize to rebuild the labor movement,” she said. "The bottom line is the fundamental rights of working people."

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