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Vol. 75/No. 12      March 28, 2011

Rallies in states across U.S. demand
halt to attacks on public workers
(feature article)

Indiana: ‘We are union,
fighting for everyone’

INDIANAPOLIS—“One day longer, one day stronger” and “We are union,” chanted thousands of workers as they gathered March 10 for the largest labor protest here in years.

“The same thing that is happening in Wisconsin is happening here,” Richards Winters told the Militant. “We have to offset it. We are here fighting for everyone.” Winters, who is a member of Laborers Local 741 in Bloomington, Indiana, came on one of several union-organized buses from that area.

According to police estimates, more than 8,000 workers came from towns and cities throughout Indiana and the region to participate in the “We Are Indiana” rally. The protest was called by the state AFL-CIO and held in front of the state capitol building. Unionists have been rallying for almost three weeks inside the Indiana Statehouse to protest an antiunion assault led by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

A bill currently before the state legislature would limit teachers to bargain only on wage issues, not working conditions or other questions. It has passed the state senate and is waiting a hearing in the house. Another bill would exempt public construction projects from having to abide by established wage scales.

Although a bill banning collective bargaining for state employees died in this legislative session, several politicians say they intend to introduce it again later this year.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1010 at the U.S. Steel mill in Gary, Indiana, sent 10 busloads. Two hundred members came from USW Local 1014, which organizes workers at the Arcelor Mittal steel mill in East Chicago, Indiana, came to the rally. And USW Local 104 from Evansville, Indiana, sent four buses.

There were large contingents of workers from many other unions, including the United Auto Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Teamsters, Carpenters, Plumbers and Steamfitters, and the Laborers.

Some 70 workers locked out by the Honeywell Corporation in Metropolis, Illinois, were there. “We have had so much support during our lockout that we thought it was important to give it back and show support for other unions,” said Christian Musselman, a member of USW Local 7-669. He told the Militant that they will be attending the March 26 rally for the locked-out corn refinery workers in Keokuk, Iowa, (see calendar on page 3).

Alma Wilkes, a member of the American Federation of Teachers and a teacher at a middle school in Gary, Indiana, came on the USW Local 1010 bus after reading about the rally in the local newspaper. “You see the far-reaching effects of what people don’t have. Many people don’t have health care, are working for minimum wage, are working two or three jobs just to survive,” she said. “They don’t care about people in the U.S. or people in other countries. They treat us pretty much the same way.”

—Alyson Kennedy

Iowa: 1,000 rally against
gov’t attack on public workers

DES MOINES, Iowa—More than 1,000 workers and others joined a rally organized by the AFL-CIO inside the state capitol here March 7 to oppose a Wisconsin-style attack on unions. Several hundred stuck around after the rally to listen to a public hearing, where almost all those that spoke were against a proposed antilabor bill.

“Everything’s going up—food, gas, electricity. They’re blaming public workers and that’s wrong,” said Dan Johnson, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2990. He came as part of a large contingent of workers from that union. More than 13 other unions were represented at the protest—from laborers, painters, and auto workers, to food and service workers.

If approved, the bill would encourage workers to quit the union and become so-called free agents. State workers’ unions would be prohibited from negotiating health insurance plans, layoff terms, or retirement plans.

The bill would give the legislature or governor the power to veto decisions made by an arbitrator on labor disputes. According to some reports, public employees would have to pay up to 30 percent of their health insurance costs. This would amount to a substantial pay cut as most state employees don’t pay for health coverage.

“They’re starting to take our rights away,” Kurt Brunner, a carpenter union representative from Local 790 told the Militant. “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

On March 11 the state house of representatives approved the bill, known as House File 525. The legislation now goes on to the Democratic-dominated state senate.

—Rebecca Williamson

Florida: Actions in 30 cities
back workers rights

MIAMI—Thousands of union members and supporters rallied in more than 30 cities across Florida March 8 to protest a raft of proposed legislation that represents an attack on the working class, especially state workers and the unemployed. The protests were called under the auspices of “Awake the State,” a coalition of unionists, and others.

Citing a state budget deficit of $3.6 billion, Gov. Richard Scott is proposing to reduce education spending by $3.3 billion, cut state worker retirement benefits by $1.4 billion, and slash as many as 8,600 jobs.

“Unions are joining together because that is the only way we have a voice,” said Jillian Haring, a teacher for 12 years and member of the Broward Teachers Union at a rally of some 750 people in Ft. Lauderdale.

In Tallahassee 300 people gathered across the road from the state capitol. A number were students from Florida State University. Adam Reid, 27, said he was there “to protest the proposed budget cuts that are being made in order to give tax cuts to the corporations.” Reid was referring to a proposal to eliminate $1.7 billion in corporate and other taxes.

Nearby some 350 supporters of the governor held their own rally. They were addressed by Governor Scott, Lieut. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and other state officials. Many had arrived from other points in Florida on one of 12 buses sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

“The government has got too big,” said Aine Ryan, a self-employed soil analyst at the antiunion rally. “The bureaucracy now just works to protect itself. Public workers lost sight of what it means to be a public servant. They work for us, I don’t work for them.”

A popular chant at the governor’s rally was “E-Verify, E-Verify,” referring to a bill being discussed in the state legislature that would require bosses to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of workers.

After the pro-union rally disbanded, some went over the road to debate those backing the governor’s proposals.

One proposed bill would eliminate tenure for teachers hired after July 1 and tie pay to “performance.”

And two separate bills—HB-7005 and S-728—each have their own scheme to reduce the number of unemployed that receive jobless benefits.

—Dean Hazlewood

Texas: Thousands rally against
teacher layoffs, school closings

AUSTIN, Texas—More than 10,000 teachers, students, and others joined a spirited march and rally here March 12 demanding an end to layoffs of teachers and no school closures.

“We want our voice to be heard,” said Cedar Hill High School student Shalice Jenkins from Dallas. Inspired by the labor mobilizations in Wisconsin, she and her fellow students organized a school walkout the previous day. “We are protesting the budget cuts. They want to put 40 to 50 students in each class and shut down neighboring Bellevue Intermediate.”

State budget proposals under debate in the legislature would leave public education more than $9 billion short of the minimum funding required under current law. This could result in lay-offs of some 100,000 teachers and school closures in many districts, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Many of the participants were teachers from the Dallas, Austin, and Houston areas, as well as the Rio Grande Valley. A professor from South Texas College who came with several busloads from McAllen, Texas, noted that “the anti-education legislators are also the anti-immigrant rights legislators.”

—Steve Warshell

Tennessee: 1,000 rally against
gov’t layoffs, education cuts

NASHVILLE, Tennessee—More than 1,000 union members and supporters rallied at the state capitol here to protest against a range of legislation aimed against teachers and other public workers.

Busloads of unionists came from across the state, including the Tennessee Education Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Steelworkers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The previous day Gov. William Haslam presented a proposed budget that would, among other things, cut nearly 1,200 jobs, reduce coverage under the state’s Medicaid program TennCare, and impose some $20 million in cuts in higher education. This was the second rally in a week at the capitol.

—Sam Manuel
Related articles:
Labor-farmer unity in Wisconsin
Keep on expanding labor solidarity
Unions call rally against austerity measures in UK
March in Montreal protests budget cuts
Today’s union fights: How we got here and the solidarity we must keep building
California students, teachers protest cuts  
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