For almost a month now protests have raged in Wisconsin over legislation proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker that would weaken collective bargaining rights for most public employee union members as part of a plan to address the state’s budget shortfall. Many have pointed to this being part of a larger initiative by Republican Governors across the country to weaken public sector unions in an effort to stymie a traditional Democratic fundraising stronghold. Now, in a procedural move that some are calling legally “murky,” and in the case of Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Lagley, “unconstitutional,” the collective bargaining measure was stripped from the budget bill (which requires a full quorum, denied due to a legislative walkout) and passed with simple majority.
This latest development has reignited already ongoing protests throughout the state, and PNC-Minnesota was able to conduct an interview with a Pagan Union Steward for his reactions and views of what’s happening in Wisconsin.
What is your reaction to tonight’s Republican action eliminating collective bargaining for State workers?
” The Republicans admitted tonight that was their goal. They clothed real intent in their budget repair bill, but it is pretty obvious what they were after from the beginning. I can’t say I am surprised. I am surprised it took them this long to do something. They were using the budget bill to provide themselves with cover, but it was pretty transparent. “
What do you think will happen going forward?
” There are 2000 (supporters, 200 tractors) tractors lined up to come to town. Family Farm Defenders is organizing that. They realize that there are a lot of farmers that are on Badgercare (Wisconsin Health Program), and Walkers budget is going to decimate that. A lot of farmers are depending on this health care and don’t have anything else. It is not just about the unions, its never been just about the unions. There was so much bad policy in that budget repair bill, you hate to even call it that. It is just a phrase. Koch industries, one of their biggest things is energy, and the Governor has the authority under that bill to accept a no bid contract from anyone. I am not saying it is going to be Koch… but ya know… We aren’t talking just big power plants, there are a lot of state facilities, like prisons, that generate their electricity. Some of the big UW campuses have their own power plants. Twenty or thirty of them, they are all small, but hey, if you can tap a vein. The billionaire vampires have a clear path to suck more for themselves. Sucking off the body politic.”
Do the unions workers have a specific response plan?
” I know that in southern Wi. the AFL-CIO has put out some word about a general strike. I don’t know what that means. My current contract says I cannot strike. We have is a contract extension that put all the existing contract terms, extended into the future. We signed that with Doyle. We bargained for a new contract. I was on the bargaining committee. I tell ya, you know which side has power, the side which looks at you and says, “I think your asking too much”, not interested at this time”. “not interested” to every proposal. We had 18 months of that shit. Anyone who says that unions are big powerful entities is just plain wrong. We have been without a contract since July of 2009, and working out of continuing contract extensions. Last month Walker sent notice the extensions would no longer be honored after March 13th. The unfortunate thing for him is there is provision in state and federal law, the ‘evergreen’ clause, that should apply here, mandating a continuing contract. Well unless he somehow abolished that in the budget repair bill, too.”
“There are sixteen recalls going on, for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact the ones for the Democrats started first. There is a lot of energy focusing on them, by those that want to recall Republican right now. A group out of Utah has started all the petitions against the democrats. They are a group that is against immigrant rights. (The group filed electronically with the GAB between Feb. 18 and 21, calling itself theAmerican Recall Coalition. It lists the founding organization as Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. )”
You can read the entire article at the PNC-Minnesota site. PNC-Minnesota reporter Nels Linde, who lives in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border, has also been traveling to the protests and has written a couple of editorials on the subject.
In addition, Wisconsin photographer Nataraj Hauser, who has worked quite a bit with Pagans, including shooting the cover image of Witches and Pagans #22, has been documenting (and participating in) the protests in Madison.
“Within a few minutes word came out that the vote had been rushed through, and passed. Collective bargaining rights had been stripped from workers – including the police department responsible for Capitol security by the way – undoing more than 50 years of progressive Wisconsin worker protections. A voice on the PA announced that Senate was no longer in session and the Assembly was not going to vote until Thursday, so we all had to leave the building. No one budged. No cop made an effort to ask us to leave. At this point no one believed that the Republican Assemblymen would not simply use that pretext to clear us out of the building, then vote. Hell no, we won’t go.
I left the building – which was still in lock down – to meet up with my partner. While I was in the building, additional protesters had climbed in through second floor bathroom windows, been let in in groups at doors that were not staffed by law enforcement (until reinforcements arrived) so the crowd was pretty large. Outside I found several thousand people had arrived in the hour or so that I was inside.”
You can see a slide show of his images from the protests, here.
“Powerful outpouring of support for public workers’ rights & unions today at Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. I joined the thousands in the streets & at the rally on the steps of the Capitol where filmmaker Michael Moore spoke as did US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin & others.”
I’ve previously mentioned Fox’s participation in the protests back in February.
I make this report not to push a particular political stance, but to reinforce the idea that the headlines often do involve and affect the lives of modern Pagans. I’m always looking to amplify the Pagan voice in a variety of situations that may not seem, at first, to be “Pagan issues.” But there are, as you can see, Pagan union stewards, and Pagans at these protests, and Pagans are a part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin. No doubt there are several Pagan public employees wondering what the fallout of these events will mean for their lives. If you are a Wisconsin resident, I invite you to share your perspective in the comments, and The Wild Hunt, The Pagan Newswire Collective, and the wider Pagan media will endeavor to continue looking for the Pagan voice within larger stories going on in the world.