'Ho! Ho! Scott Walker's Got To Go,' Protestors Demand In Wisconsin
UPDATE 1:15 p.m. PST Saturday March 12: The so-called "Wisconsin 14" -- the Democratic state senators who boycotted the state for 3 weeks to block anti-union legislation-- have appeared before the crowd, estimated by some to be the largest in Wisconsin protest history. Met with a deafening roar of "Welcome Home!" they vowed to carry on the fight against the bill signed into law this week with a heightened recall campaign of the Republican senators and Governor who approved it. -- + --
11:00 a.m. PST: Tens of thousands of protestors -- perhaps more than 100,000-- rallied in Wisconsin on Saturday despite blustery weather conditions, a day after public employee unions in Wisconsin witnessed Gov. Scott Walker wipe away decades worth of collective bargaining rights with his sweeping signature.
Farmers bull-dozed through Madison, Wisconsin's capital city, with their tractors. Backers of labor unions chanted, "Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Scott Walker's got to go!" And thousands waited to see their heroes--14 State Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois to block passage of the budget repair bill that amended Wisconsin's union statutes.
The Democrats' ploy ultimately failed when Republican leaders removed several portions of the bill that required a Democratic presence in order for approval. The changes allowed Republicans in an 18-1 vote to quickly pass the the bill and pass it onto to the Assembly, where it was approved on Thursday.
Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Democrats are "the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin."
"[They] are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They're going to pretend they're heroes for taking a three-week vacation," Fitzgerald said. "It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois -- with pay."
State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), with tears flowing from his eyes, retorted back at a press conference on Saturday. He said he missed the birhtdays of his daughter and granddaughter.
"So people think this is a picnic for us, they're wrong," he said. "We did it for the right reasons, we stood up for our working men and women in the state. "
The signing of the bill came after three tumultuous weeks which saw a number of large protests, occupation of the Capitol and charges that Walker’s real intention was not to balance the budget but rather to break the public sector unions which are major funding sources for Democrats.
Passage came as Walker's popularity was sinking and fears were mounting among the GOP that some of their legislators were ready to make a deal with Democrats to end the conflict. A recall effort against him is expected to be mounted next year when organizers are eligible to do so.
The looming question is: What Now? Did the Democrats suffer a crushing loss, or did the Republicans over-reach and spark a new labor movement spreading through the Midwest? More than 25,000 rallied in Indianapolis to oppose a similar push against unions on Friday and next Tuesday a massive protest is planned by unions in the Michigan capital of Lansing. Both Republicans and Democrats have been and plan to continue to use events in Wisconsin as a tool to cater donations to their campaigns and causes.
The legislation, which will go into effect sometime in the next nine days, will:
- prohibit unions from collectively bargaining anything beyond salaries (meaning no bargaining for pension and heath care benefits)
- forbid unions from receiving pay increases beyond the rise in the Consumer Price Index unless a majority of state voters okay a larger raise,
- prevent unions from forcing employees to pay dues,
- require the unions to hold annual votes to reaffirm their organization as a union,
- force union members to pay a higher share of pension and health care costs (the average rise would be 8 percent).
The only groups that would be excluded from these provisions are police, firefighters and other public safety workers.
Follow a live-blog of the protests at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.