News & Events

Labor unions say Wisconsin fight not over

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Protesters push for GOP recalls after bill signed

By Todd Richmond
Associated Press / March 13, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — Thousands of prolabor protesters turned out for more demonstrations at the Wisconsin Capitol yesterday, undeterred by the fact that a contentious collective bargaining bill had been signed into law the day before.

The demonstrators insisted the fight wasn’t over, and many said their focus would now be on recalling the Republican lawmakers who had pushed through the bill. Efforts to recall from office eight Republican state senators and some of the 14 Democratic state senators who fled to try to prevent a vote on the measure have already started.

Thirteen of the senators who left the state returned to Madison and held a news conference yesterday before marching around the Capitol.

The departure of the 14 senators had left the Senate one vote short of the number needed to pass measures to spend money. Republicans got around that by breaking out the collective bargaining provisions of the legislation, which could be passed with fewer members present.

The proposal to eliminate most of public workers’ collective bargaining rights touched off a national debate, and its passage was a key victory for Republicans who have targeted unions in nationwide efforts to slash government spending.

But labor leaders have said they plan to use the setback to fire up their members nationwide and mount a major counterattack against Republicans at the ballot box in 2012.

Yesterday’s protest got a boost from a parade of more than 30 tractors driven by farmers supporting the union workers. Thousands of people lining the sidewalks cheered as tractors rolled by bearing signs with messages such as “Planting the seeds for a big season of recalls.’’

Tod Pulvermacher, 33, of Bear Valley, drove a tractor towing a manure spreader carrying a sign that read, “Walker’s bill belongs here’’ — a reference to Republican Governor Scott Walker.

“Farmers are working-class Americans,’’ he said as the crowd around him started to cheer. “We work for a living as hard as anybody, and this is about all of us.’’

Pulvermacher said the fight against the law was “everybody’s fight’’ and it was just beginning.

Judy Gump, 45, who teaches at a Madison high school, also said the fight wasn’t over. “This is so not the end. This is what makes people more determined and makes them dig in.’’

President Obama has kept a relatively low profile on the labor issues in Wisconsin and other states. Obama initially appeared to be stepping into that fight when he told a Milwaukee television station that Walker’s measure “seems like more of an assault on unions.’’ Around the same time, his political arm at the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, coordinated with unions that were mobilizing demonstrators.

But the DNC has played down its role, and Obama has left most of the criticism to his spokesman, Jay Carney.

Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, and some union officials want Obama to go to Wisconsin to stand in solidarity with public unions. But White House officials believe the demonstrators have made the best case on their own and point to surveys that indicated support for bargaining rights.

Republicans already were portraying Obama as a tool of labor for his remarks to the TV station and for the logistical assistance that his political arm had supplied.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.