Thousands Protest After Wisconsin Governor Threatens to Deploy National Guard to Intimidate Unions
by Brett Wilkins
More than 10,000 workers, many of them members of Wisconsin’s public employee unions, took to Madison’s Capitol Square and the interior of the statehouse today to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip many of their hard-won collective bargaining rights away from them.
Last week, Walker, Wisconsin’s new Republican governor, declared open warfare on the state’s public employee unions by announcing a deficit-reducing budget plan that would effectively eliminate state employees’ right to collectively bargain for vacation, sick hours, and work hours. It would also double their health insurance premiums and increase their pension contributions. These drastic measures are in addition to $100 million in concessions state employees have already made last December. Tellingly, unions that supported Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, notably state patrol, local police agencies and fire departments, would not be subject to the new rules.
Paul Secunda, a law professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, told Reuters that “not only is [Walker’s proposal] inconsistent with international human rights law, which recognizes a right to collectively bargain with one’s employer, but it also flies in the face of decades of cooperation between the labor movement and the government in Wisconsin.”
To make matters even worse, ThinkProgress reports that Governor Walker has threatened to call out the National Guard if state workers resist his draconian rollback of their rights. Walker told a reporter that the Guard is “prepared… for whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for.” Veterans groups denounced the governor’s threat to use the National Guard, traditionally deployed to help citizens in times of natural disasters or other life-and-death emergencies, to settle personal scores. “Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet– but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force,” said Robin Eckstein, an Iraq War veteran, former Wisconsin National Guard member and member of the veterans group VoteVets.org. “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the Governor is about to cross.”
Imagine, for a moment, the surreal spectacle of National Guard troops, many of whom fought for the rights of people in Iraq or Afghanistan to exercise the freedom to collectively bargain, being called upon to enforce the denial of those very same rights among Americans at home.
Wisconsin isn’t the only place where conservative-dominated governments are attacking union rights. In Ohio, as well as in Indiana, Idaho and Tennessee, Republicans have launched a vicious assault on collective bargaining rights.
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