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Saturday, 26 February saw the largest demonstrations yet in Madison, Wisconsin. This was the twelfth consecutive day of protest against Republican Gov. Walker's bill to effectively eliminate collective bargaining for public sector workers. Over 100,000 angry public and private sector workers, their families and supporters, flooded the streets around the state capitol building.
The below zero temperature (-9C/16F) did not cool the angry mood of many of the protestors or the enormous willingness to struggle that is essential to a successful campaign.
Many homemade signs showed an understanding that this was an attack on all unions and that behind the Republicans stood money from the super-rich and big corporations.
In less than two weeks, Walker's attack has provoked an enormous outburst of anger with an energetic mobilisation from below, often spontaneous and inspired by Egypt.
The occupation of the capitol building in Madison, and now the call for the occupation of the square outside the capitol, are following the example of Tahrir Square in Cairo.
While the bulk of the protests have been in Wisconsin, there have been repeated solidarity actions across the US and last Saturday additional tens of thousands protested across the country in every single federal state.
Walker's attack is correctly seen as the spearhead of a renewed Republican offensive against the trade unions following their victories at last year's mid-term elections.
Currently, 12 US states are debating introducing anti-union, so-called 'Right to Work' laws, that already exist in 22 states.
On top of that, an avalanche of cuts and attacks on working conditions has started across the US. Teachers, in particular, are under attack both from Democrat and Republican administrations, including Obama's, and they have been strongly represented in the protests.
Saturday's demonstration showed a real determination to fight. Practically all sections of the labour movement were represented alongside families and students.
Alongside public sector workers, building workers, auto workers, steel workers, electricians, teamsters, fire-fighters and police were in the protest.
A contingent of uniformed prison guards chanted, "Power! Union Power!" The newly formed radical National Nurses United distributed 'Blame Wall Street. No concessions' placards to demonstrators. This was the best of the slogans the national union leaders put forward.
The national union campaign is entitled, 'We are One', and the main slogan pushed at Saturday's protest was 'This is what democracy looks like'.
However, in reality, the trade union leaders have no strategy beyond offering Walker concessions on pay, conditions etc. in the hope of retaining bargaining rights.
At the same time, the union leaders emphasise the role of Democrats, especially 14 state senators who prevented a quorate meeting of the State Senate by leaving Wisconsin.
At the protest last Saturday, AFSCME, the federal state and local government workers' union, had a table which was only collecting signatures of support for the Democrats.
But while the 14 Democratic state senators have, so far, stalled Walker, they have not stopped the attacks. Indeed, Walker has already threatened mass layoffs of workers and is due to announce a cuts package.
But nationally the Democrats, as a big business party, are implementing cuts. Obama, while opposing Walker's union plans, does not oppose cutbacks and attacks on conditions.
The call for a one day general strike of public sector workers, as the next step, met enthusiastic response from thousands of working people who received leaflets distributed by Socialist Alternative (see below).
This is now urgently posed. Walker is about to renew his offensive.
The movement should prepare to shut down the whole state by uniting a public-sector general strike with student walkouts, and an appeal for all workers to join the strikers' demonstrators.
This would show the power and raise the confidence of working people in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S.
Despite the repeated offers of union leaders to fully accept Walker's demands for economic concessions, Walker and co are clearly willing to wait out demonstrations and restart their offensive.
This poses the urgent need for the unions to set a date for a one day public sector general strike, to step up pressure, and to provide a clear direction forward.
If the trade union leaders continue to stall, it will be up to the rank and file to seize the initiative and take the struggle to a higher level.
Governor Scott Walker thought he could walk all over the working people of Wisconsin. Instead, Walker ignited a movement that clearly has the potential power and momentum to bring his corporate sponsored administration to its knees.
The key question is how can we unite around a mass action strategy capable of seeing this struggle through to victory?
Walker's plan to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights is nothing short of an attempt to break the union movement. The Tea Party leaders attacking "Big Labor" are trying to cover for the bankers, Wall Street speculators and corporate politicians who caused the economic crisis.
Working people and our unions are not the cause of the fiscal woes of the state.
So we have to demand: Stop scapegoating unions! Make the super-rich pay for their crisis!
But if two weeks of mass demonstrations, sick-outs and walkouts haven't yet stopped Walker, the Republican legislature, and their big-business backers, what is the next step?
Preparations must begin for a mobilization which will stop "business as usual" across Wisconsin. The South Central Wisconsin Labor Council has urged immediate preparations for a general strike.
A decisive first step would be a one-day public sector general strike, combined with mass protests and student walkouts, which appeals to all working people to join the struggle.
And while strike action is not legal for all state workers, we must remember that the unions were built in the first place by struggles which defied anti-union laws.
But time is short. If we don't keep moving forward, we will fall back.
And we can't rely on the Senate Democrats to maintain their stand unless they feel the fire of the movement spreading underneath them.
After all, would they have even taken their stand if the working people of the state hadn't risen up in the first place?
The stakes are extremely high. If this anti-union legislation passes it will embolden those seeking to attack unions elsewhere, but if it is defeated it will give confidence to workers across country to stand up.
That is why we must build on the solidarity protests taking place across the country. This means launching determined mass struggles against both budget cuts and the assault on trade unions, following the example of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has become center stage in a sweeping attack on the public sector all across the country. Other state governments are also targeting wages, benefits, and collective bargaining rights.
This is the naked agenda of big business and their corporate servants in office.
It is up to us to stop these attacks. While many Democratic politicians are now talking about workers' rights it is clear that the leadership of the party is prepared to go along with the Republicans in balancing the budget on the backs of public sector workers by forcing them to pay a lot more toward their pensions and health care in exchange for ending the attack on collective bargaining rights.
In Wisconsin it is estimated this would represent a 7% pay cut.
And while President Obama has declared his opposition to union busting in Wisconsin, both his administration and many Democratic politicians at state level across the country have been as unyielding in their attacks on the teacher unions as the Republicans.
Likewise, unfortunately, key union leaders have declared their willingness to accept the attacks on pensions and health benefits in Wisconsin in exchange for keeping collective bargaining rights.
It's time that we build a political alternative to the two parties of corporate America. Campaigns should be launched across the country to stop the budget cuts and defend jobs, services and workers' rights.
The Republican and Tea Party attempts to "divide and conquer" by playing off unionized and unorganized workers must be defeated.
It must be acknowledged that the relentless corporate propaganda about the alleged "privileges" of public sector workers has had an effect. We say that all workers should have decent benefits and it is way overdue that the unions go back to their roots and organize the private sector, especially low paid workers.
The struggle to defend public sector workers must become a struggle to rebuild a labor movement worthy of the name that can fight back against the relentless attacks on working people's living standards.
Hundreds of thousands are protesting across the country today in solidarity with Wisconsin workers. This energy should be channelled into creating broad-based local campaigns against all budget cuts and union-busting measures.
Out of these campaigns we could run our own independent candidates as the first step towards forming a new party that gives a real, consistent, voice to workers and youth and fights for our interests.
Ultimately, a decent future can only assured by struggling to take control of society's wealth out of the hands of corporations and the super-rich instead of increasing the burden on working people.
The time is now to begin the fight-back. The Egyptian workers have shown is it possible to stand up to injustice everywhere.
If you agree with the ideas in this leaflet please contacts us to discuss joining Socialist Alternative and how to organize a united struggle to fight for our rights and our future.
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Article dated 1 March 2011
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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