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Mary Bottari: Dismantling Wisconsin unions is a political issue not an economic issue

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DANYA NADAR, TRNN (VOICE-OVER) : The escalating standoff between labor groups and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has become the face of a national conflict over proposed budget cuts and the dismantling of collective bargaining rights. Legislators in several other states are considering similar moves. Mobilizations are now appearing with greater frequency across the United States. On Saturday, February 26, thousands of people held rallies in all 50 state capitals to assert their solidarity with the Wisconsin struggle and demand the protection of their own rights as workers and citizens. In Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of public sector workers and supporters continued to demonstrate after almost two weeks of protests.

MARY BOTTARI, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: The state of Wisconsin started collective bargaining for public workers 50 years ago. As Governor Walker said in his famous prank phone call, if Wisconsin was allowed to fall like a domino, other states would follow. Ohio and Indiana and other states are also seeing attacks on their collective bargaining rights. Legal actions are being taken. AFSCME, our state AFSCME, has filed a suit under our collective bargaining laws, saying the governor, by not coming to the table, is violating the current laws that we have in place that require him to sit down at the table and negotiate in good faith. When you’re covered by collective bargaining laws, as he is currently, to use employees like this as sort of pawns in a political game is not fair and is not acceptable under these collective bargaining laws.

NADAR: On Sunday, February 27, demonstrators continued to occupy the state capitol building despite police threats to remove them by force. The following morning, while several hundred protestors remained, it became clear that the police were not going to reopen the capitol doors to the public, in an apparent attempt to restrict the opposition numbers within the building.

BRIAN ROTHGERY, INSIDE WI STATE CAPITOL BUILDING: At 4:30 in the afternoon on Monday, the ACLU filed an injuction to force the state capitol building to be opened to the public. There were a number of people who were outside the building all afternoon–morning on Monday who were not allowed access, who signed affidavits saying they were not allowed in. And those affidavits were submitted with the temporary restraining order as evidence of people being locked out of their state capitol. The access to the public building has been severely restricted, even though there is a meeting going on, and Wisconsin has very clear open meetings laws that say that any public meetings in public buildings need to be open to all citizens. There was a rally Monday night at 6 p.m. outside the state capitol in Madison, where people expressed their support and solidarity for the people inside and their demand that the building be let open. And there will be another rally outside the Capitol at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The goal is to get as many people in the building as possible on Tuesday to make sure that our voices are heard when the [governor] gives his budget address. We don’t really know what the end game is going to be here. People are very resolved to stay until we win. And what we mean by winning is that the entire so-called budget repair bill will be withdrawn, or we will at least get confirmation from three Republican senators that they will vote against it, though–. We have to have three Republican senators indicate that they’ll vote no, or the governor has to withdraw his bill.

BOTTARI: This is a political issue. It’s not an economic issue. You know, we sort of feel like this is not coming from Governor Walker, this is coming from outside of Wisconsin. It’s sort of a national Republican strategy to pick a target where they control all three houses, then to take down a big target like Wisconsin, with this very strong tradition of collective bargaining, with very strong unions. And people are catching onto this. They’re pushing back hard. And this issue is not going to go away.

NADAR: While Governor Walker plans to unveil his budget repair bill on March 1, Democrats remain defiantly outside of the state to halt a vote in a Republican majority Legislature. If the bill is not passed, the state would miss a deadline to refinance $165 million of debt, which the governor threatens will result in the layoff 1,500 public sector workers. This is Danya Nadar with The Real News Network.

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