"This is the Beginning" – Wisconsin Workers Still Galvanized

Nancy Winters, a veteran Wisconsin public school teacher, doesn’t want her state to go back. She remembers what it was like when Wisconsin didn’t have collective bargaining – a time of discord, distrust, and little cooperative progress.

“I’m afraid Wisconsin is going to return to those kinds of days,” says Winters. “I don’t want to see my colleagues go through that, and I don’t want to see my students go through that.”

After a week that saw the final passage of a bill that strips Wisconsin state employees of their collective bargaining rights, it might seem, at least to the casual observer, those days are coming back – not only in Wisconsin, but also in Idaho, Ohio, Florida, and Indiana as well. Despite these legislative setbacks, however, the 100,000 who rallied in Madison on March 12 – and the thousands who have demonstrated for workers’ rights across the country – are sending a loud and resounding message: This is far from over.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (left) confers with WEAC President Mary Bell and the Rev. Jesse Jackson before Saturday's rally.

By signing his notorious budget repair bill into law on Friday, Gov. Scott Walker may have won a battle, but his political standing has taken a beating from which he most likely will not recover. Furthermore, the bill’s passage has done nothing to dampen the political activity that has engulfed Wisconsin over the past five weeks and in fact has united his opposition and even strengthened the hand of labor and working families everywhere.

“Here we are, another Saturday, at the Capitol, in cold Wisconsin weather, but we are united,” Wisconsin Education Council President Mary Bell told the demonstrators. “We know the impact of this legislation will be damaging to schools, our hospitals, our hometowns but mostly to the working families of our state.”

National Education President Dennis Van Roekel joined Bell and other labor leaders in addressing the crowd. The rally also drew high-profile public figures like actors Tony Shalhoub, a Green Bay native, and Susan Sarandon, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Another highlight was the ‘tractorcade’, organized by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Family Farm Defenders, that rolled into Capitol Square.

The most raucous reception was reserved for the so-called Wisconsin 14, the Democratic state senators who fled the state for three weeks.

Thanking them for all their support, Senator Tim Cullen urged all working families to stand strong, calling the fight for their rights “a fight as old as Democracy itself.”

“This is not the end, this is the beginning of phase two,” state Sen. Fred Risser told the crowd. “We’re going to move forward from here on.”

“Phase two” will be fought on two fronts: legal action and recall elections Multiple complaints have already been filed charging that the vote taken by the Senate on Wednesday night violated the law and state-and-national groups have started major petition drives to force recall elections against the GOP senators who approved it. Democrats need to gain three seats to take back the Senate.

“Governor Walker and the actions of nearly all Senate Republicans have told us they can’t be trusted – and they’re not interested in working across the aisle,” Bell said last week after the Senate vote. “That’s unfortunate. But future elections – and recall efforts – provide a means for Wisconsinites to correct the wrongs.”