Economics

Workers and supporters occupy Madison, WI state capitol, 2-26-11Madison capitol occupiers tell Gov. Walker -- Hands Off the UnionsMadison demonstration blames Wall StreetWe can either have democracy, or we can have wealth in the hands of a few, we can't have both -- Justice Brandeis, on sign, Madison, WI demo, 2-26-11Walker -- Robin Hood's Evil Twin, Steal from Poor and Give to Rich, Madison, WI demo, 2-26-11Walker Must Resign -- sign at Madison, WI demo 2-26-11Shame on the Governor -- sign at Madison, WI anti-union-busting demo, 2-26-11Cops for Labor contingent, Madison, WI demo Feb. 26, 2011Wisconsin For Sale -- sign on statute at Madison, WI demonstration, 2-26-11Sustenance logo

Photos from Madison, Wisconsin state capitol occupation and demonstration, Feb. 26, 2011. (Photos: Rudy Perkins)

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Wisconsin public sector workers actually earn less than comparable private sector workers, EPI study concludes

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) concluded that Wisconsin public sector workers actually earn less than comparable workers in the Wisconsin private sector. The new study, "Are Wisconsin Public Employees Over-compensated?", compared workers with equivalent education, experience, working hours, and other factors, and found that workers in the Wisconsin public sector actually earned 4.8% less per hour than comparable workers in the Wisconsin private sector.

Right-wing critics of the public sector in Wisconsin have pointed to average higher pay for public workers as a reason to cut public sector salaries, but this argument has ignored the fact that more public sector jobs (like school teachers, university professors and the like) either require more education or the workers who fill the public posts have greater education and experience that would generally garner better pay in the private sector as well. EPI found that when variables like education and experience are controlled for, Wisconsin public sector workers are actually noticeably underpaid when compared to their private sector counterparts.

Wisconsin workers fight back . . . continued

It’s quite possible that organizers hit their 100,000 target by day’s end.  Certainly tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets, curb to curb, completely surrounding the Capitol on the four long city blocks that surround the state house square.  Several thousand more demonstrators circled on the sidewalk at the base of the Capitol building, or stood on its wide steps or on the snow-covered slope of the Capitol lawn.  Hundreds more continued the occupation inside the Capitol building.
 
The occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol and the street demonstrations outside are some of the largest and strongest pro-labor demonstrations the U.S. has seen in decades. In a rare move, harkening back to the American sit-down strikes of the 1930s and the civil rights and anti-war sit-ins of the 1960s, the state capitol building was occupied by labor activists and their allies for nearly two weeks. Drawing inspiration from the recent successes of the popular nonviolent revolution in Egypt, Wisconsin activists took their complaints to the seat of power and refused to leave. The Wisconsin demonstrators are leading the fight against the austerity and union-busting plans now being pushed in many states. Labor unions have been particularly prominent in the Madison demonstrations and their messages have been unusually sharp and defiant. 

The Teamsters, for example, had parked two huge semi-trailers facing the Capitol, with their twin horses Teamster logos and American flags painted down the sides.  From the back of the trailers they were handing out signs proclaiming:  “Stop the War on Workers”.  Many demonstrators carried signs from one of the nurses’ associations demanding:  “Blame Wall Street – No Concessions!”  The Wisconsin Teachers Association was handing out hundreds of signs reading:  “Stop the Attack on Wisconsin Families.”  AFSCME’s ubiquitous green sign, carried by many demonstrators, proclaimed simply  “It’s About Freedom!” “Cops for Labor” read the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association signs, from one of the police unions in the state.
 
Inside the Capitol building the nearly two-week old occupation continued, an unceasing line waiting patiently to take the megaphone in a permanent speak-out on the ground floor in the beautiful state house rotunda.  Young students, local union leaders, Wisconsin residents, labor activists from other states, all waited in line to add their voices to the statements of solidarity from other parts of the country, and the testimonials from around the state on what the Governor’s bill would mean for them, their families, or the future of American politics and unionism.
 
One young student stepped to the microphone as I reached the rotunda floor .  He quoted President Obama’s campaign promise that he would himself join the picket line if American workers’ collective bargaining rights were threatened.  The young man asked why President Obama wasn’t here now.  A hand-written sign down one hallway had the same quote from Obama and raised the same question.  But at the local level, the fourteen Democratic State Senators who decamped to Illinois to prevent Wisconsin’s Republican Governor from having a Senate quorum to pass his bill – dubbed here the “Fab Fourteen” – were praised and thanked in sign after sign.
 
Above the rotunda floor, two levels of circular marble-ballustraded balconies formed the gallery of witnesses to the speak-out testimonials.  Occupiers, visitors and union activists, pressed two and three rows deep against the balcony railings, and leaned over the marble rails to hear the speeches from the rotunda floor below.  Every foot of balcony railing was covered with banners, some announcing the many union locals taking part in the demonstrations against the Governor’s bill, some broadcasting the political truths and the necessary demands that are becoming clearer every day – at least in Wisconsin.  “Tax the Rich”  “An Injury to One Is An Injury to All” and “Honor Labor”.  Even Wisconsin’s unionized prison guards had draped a hand-painted banner “We Guard Criminals – Please Guard Us From This Criminal”.   
 
One sign simplified the austerity formula in Wisconsin, a formula that is being repeated in state after state and at the federal level:  “Walker’s tax cuts:  $117 million; State deficit:  $137 million.  You do the math.”  Other signs denounced the Governor’s “Koch habit” – a reference to his connection to the rightwing billionaire Koch brothers who reportedly have funded parts of the Tea Party movement.
 
The grass-roots speeches and testimonials in the state house were punctuated with heart-pumping rhythms from the ad hoc drum circle that seemed to have taken up residence on the rotunda floor.  Union songs and chants of “This Is What Democracy Looks Like!” and “Kill the Bill!” alternated with the speeches and drumming .  Energy radiated and reverberated from the crowd gathered in the rotunda, growing in volume and power as it echoed off the inside of the Capitol dome and down the marble hallways of the state house.
 
All the hallways of the Capitol were plastered with taped-up signs, placards and announcements.  A small food canteen distributed soup, water, and sandwiches to the occupiers.  Sleeping bags were rolled up in one corner and another.
 
The mood of the many State Police present was relaxed.  State troopers were controlling entrance to the building to keep it from becoming overcrowded, allowing five new protesters to enter as five left.  Other than that, they were giving the run of the Capitol building to the people.  Hundreds of occupiers and sympathizers filled the rotunda and circulated in the halls, picking up leaflets from the stacks on the marble floor, chanting and singing, discussing politics and next steps with their friends and colleagues.
 
On a memorial statue for women’s rights outside the Capitol, some wit had hung a hardware store For Sale sign, reading   For Sale:  Wisconsin, Call [Governor] Scott Walker.  Inside the Capitol, the bust of Wisconsin’s historic progressive Governor Robert LaFollette was bedecked with signs, including one proudly calling out, “Long Live LaFollette!”
 
On the frosted glass state house office window of one sympathetic state senator, two recently taped-up signs on the glass announced “We Stand With Wisconsin’s Workers” and “Public Welcome  -- Please Come In”.  These two simple signs on a legislator’s office, as much as the banners on the marble balconies, the drum circle and speeches in the rotunda, and the tens of thousands encircling the Capitol, gave me hope that the people of Wisconsin have launched new possibilities for us all.

-- Rudy Perkins

Page last modified: 3/27/11

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