At a Philadelphia protest that day, Nicole, a young Black school teacher, said, The trend in the country seems to be against us, against keeping unions. Whats happening in Wisconsin is helping to restart the labor movement, its what we need. Thats why Im here.
Efforts to scapegoat public employees as the cause of budget deficits are being advanced all across the country, by both Democratic and Republican elected officialsincluding governors Christopher Christie here in New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo in New York, and Edmund Brown in California.
While Christie has not yet introduced measures in New Jersey that are directed squarely against bargaining rights, he has slashed state workers benefitsdeep cuts he called the new normaland has campaigned around the country against state workers. He has hailed Walkers moves in Wisconsin.
Christie has proposed that state workers payments for health benefits be quadrupled to 30 percent of the total. If this measure is passed, Christie says, he will recommend property-tax relief for seniors and middle-class homeowners and try to prevent layoffs.
Among the speakers at the rally here were Richard Trumka, national president of the AFL-CIO, as well as the national presidents of the Painters union and the Plasterers and Cement Masons. Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, spoke at the rally, along with two other Wisconsin unionists.
What happens in Wisconsin affects every man, every woman, every child in America, Trumka told a cheering crowd. Weve got to end the scapegoating of our public employees. He called for an unprecedented wave of solidarity.
James Harris, president of the New Jersey NAACP, spoke, noting that the membership of state unions that are under assault there is 70 percent women and minorities.
The union officials, while claiming to speak on behalf of working people, said nothing to oppose the moves to make workers foot the bill for the capitalist economic crisis, and some suggested workers should give up still more.
We all agree we have financial problems, Patrick Finley, national president of the Plasterers and Cement Masons, told the crowd. The unions were the first ones to step up to the plate to take cuts, and we know that there are things we have to look at and to do our part.
The mood of the crowd was more militant and ready for a fight against the antiunion moves in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and other states. They responded loudest to the unionists from Wisconsin, who said they planned to stay in their capitol building until they win.
Walk like an Egyptian
A number of workers carried homemade signs identifying with workers and others filling the streets in Egypt and other countries across the Middle East and North Africa. Walk like an Egyptian, one sign read.
Other signs that were popular said, Not in WI! Not in NJ! Not anywhere! and This is not a union issue, this is a working class issue! Many at the rally argued that defense of their unions, and of gains they had wonfar from being at the expense of other workersare something the labor movement needs to fight to extend to all workers.
At the Trenton rally and at the February 26 protest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, there were counterdemonstrations organized by those who favor cutting wages and benefits of public workers. Some identified themselves as tea party activists.
Some participants were open opponents of unions, but others were union members, retired unionists, or others who said they often support workers under assault.
Jobs and civil rights used to be union issues, said David Brooks, a participant in the counterprotest in Trenton who is Black. Today Blacks need jobs and we dont see the union bosses working on this, he told the Militant. The tea party is for jobs.
As the union demonstration in downtown Philadelphia was breaking up, another protest of 50 women and men, most of them young, came marching by. They were opposing attacks on abortion rights and defending federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Many unionists applauded and blew whistles, while the abortion rights marchers clapped and chanted back. Wisconsins rights are womens rights, read the sign carried by one marcher.
Join Wisconsin showdown to stop assault on unions!
Working people need to stick together
Help get out the Militant at Wisconsin rallies!
Unions to march in United Kingdom on March 26
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