What Wisconsin looks like when it’s mad

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Union worker. Vietnam Vet. And what people from Wisconsin look like when they’re pissed. (Video by Tina Dupuy)

Crowds filled the Capitol area and spilled down State Street for the March 12 workers’ rights rally in Madison the day after Governor Scott Walker signed the bill stripping public employees of most collective-bargaining rights. Similar anti-union legislation is pending in Iowa and Ohio. [More video from Wisconsin and University of Minnesota below.]

The crowds cheered the 14 Democratic senators who had left the state, effectively blocking passage of the bill for weeks before a Republican parliamentary maneuver allowed action without a quorum. According to Wisconsin Radio Network, the rally focused in large part on recall efforts now underway, to remove many of the Republican legislators.

Milwaukee Democrat, Senator Chris Larson, said protesters have been energized over the past three weeks. “They’re going to be moving to the streets, and they’ll be trading in those rally signs for clip boards as these recall efforts really start to heat up,” said Larson. “We gave the Republicans an opportunity to hear them, to step, to stand with their constituents and show some backbone. They decided to be rubber stamps.”

A tractorcade of Wisconsin farmers joined the demonstrators. Farmers focused on the not-yet-passed Walker budget, with cuts to programs including schools and the state’s BadgerCare health plan. According to Wisconsin’s CapTimes blog:

Monroe County dairy farmer Joel Greeno works 90 to 100 hours a week. He and his wife, who works at a Wal-Mart distribution center, have a 4-year-old daughter and are expecting their second child at the end of April. Despite the fact that both are working, they qualify for health-care coverage through the state-funded BadgerCare program. …

All those cuts have Greeno wondering what kind of health coverage he will have when his newborn arrives and if the school where his daughter had her kindergarten screening a few weeks ago will still be open when it’s time for her to start school this fall.

How many people showed up for the March 12, 2011 workers’ rights rally in Madison, Wisconsin? Estimates range all over the board, but it was a huge number. Look at the shot from this crane by The UpTake’s Matt Johnson. There is a river of people all the way down State Street.

On March 11, University of Minnesota students called a general assembly to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin and to discuss what’s involved in a general strike. There have been calls in Madison for a general strike to stand up to the union-busting tactics of Governor Scott Walker. A general strike is very rare, but it did produce the eight-hour work day (1886 in Chicago, New York, Milwaukee) and unionized the auto industry and the west coast ports of the United States (both in 1934).

A general strike means that everyone walks off their jobs, defying the government, employers and the unions. Unions are prohibited from calling a general strike or organizing sympathy strikes. The general strike is a bottoms-up action, in that it is started and fueled by the grassroots workers. Many colleges in the Twin Cities staged walkouts at 2 p.m. on Friday March 11, but the U of M students also held a very serious discussion of possible radical actions in support of Wisconsin activists.