By carpool and caravan, populists are crowing the capitol to stand up for working people. Millions of Americans are standing together today saying "we are all Wisconsin workers." All eyes are on Madison, watching to see whether America's public service workers will continue to have a voice on the job and whether -- by extension -- any of us will.
The outpouring in Wisconsin erupted after years of downward pressure on wages and benefits that public employees have been feeling for years. Benefits negotiated when private sector jobs were flush are resented now that recession takes its toll. Last September, as I blogged here at HuffPost, I participated in an American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) training where workers told me about over 100,000 jobs mowed down by the 2008 market crash and some seedlings growing from new business expansions.
As I reported then:
"They said public service jobs that used to go unfilled are now staffed to capacity, with employee givebacks part of the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations. As my daughter and I shared deep fried Oreos served up by the local Democrats at their "Kickin' Donkey" Oktoberfest booth, the local activists ... said their main focus was fighting for jobs and for corporate accountability."
Well we know what happened. The Republicans won the elections, rammed through a $117 million high-end tax cut, then moved to bust unions to fill a $137 million budget gap of their own making. The unions rebelled, the Senate Democrats performed a group filibuster in abstencia to refuse a quorum, the governor rejected a union compromise, and here we are. Despite a few miscreants on the fringes, tens of thousands of protesters are peacefully standing up for their - and our -rights.
My kinship with Wisconsin workers is based on my history as a proud pro-union Democrat. But you need not share my history to share my stake in their efforts to protect collective bargaining and the working conditions unions have gained for nonunion workers across America:
If you want a voice on the job, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you want your employer to pay you the benefits you earned, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you enjoy your weekends, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you value workplace safety, health care benefits, and unemployment insurance, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you're an elected official counting on your pension, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you're a non-union employee in a right to work state, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you're unemployed or underemployed, you're a Wisconsin worker.
If you want a decent day's pay for an honest day's work, you are a Wisconsin worker.
If you believe in workplace negotiation not subjugation, you're a Wisconsin worker.
And even if you're an anti-union media pundits with an American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) union card and protections, you're a Wisconsin worker.
That's the way solidarity works: an injury to anyone is an injury to all. For all our sakes, the Wisconsin protests must succeed in their goal: workplace negotiation not subjugation.
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