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Wisconsin: Public sector workers and youth strike back!

Tens of thousands of young people, students, teachers, and public-sector workers are rallying in Madison, Wisconsin and occupying the State Capitol in opposition to proposed sweeping anti-union legislation. From the website of Revolution Socialist youth USA – revousa.org

The state of Wisconsin is rapidly becoming the national front-line battleground in the struggle between the working class, youth, and students on the one side, the bosses and their politicians on the other. For the past three days, public-sector workers and their unions, students – secondary, undergraduate, and post-graduate – and communities have rallied together in mass protest against a complete assault by the Governor on union rights and standards of living.

The attacks are brutal: legislation would remove everything – bargaining over working conditions, pensions, health benefits – except negotiations over wages. Yet any discussions and agreements over wages would be fixed to annual increases in the Consumer-Price Index (CPI) and not going any higher unless agreed to under a public referendum. Since the CPI is recognized widely as an inadequate and flawed measure of the costs of goods required daily by most working people, the whole proposal can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to reduce pay to the lowest of levels. Massive increases in employee-mandated contributions to both pension and health-care plans round off the terms of the bill.

Even more crushing and destabilizing for the workers’ unions is the provision that would make it illegal for unions to require due-payments, cutting off potentially a great proportion of the organization’s operating revenues. Moreover, collective-bargaining units would have to re-vote and re-certify each year just to stay a union, providing the state government the annual opportunity to fell the public-sector workers and their organizations to the ground.

Students across the state learned what was happening and mobilized solidarity actions with their teachers, parents, and other public-sector workers. Thousands went on strike and walked out of class across the state, with hundreds marching down to the State-Capitol building in a magnificent show of unity and strength. Both militant and multi-racial, the contingents of youth helped swell the ranks of the protests to 30,000 strong, undoubtedly sending a cold shiver down the spines of the Republican controlled state senate and assembly.

Teaching assistants from Wisconsin University – Madison, organized in the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA), came to the forefront of the struggle staged on all-night protest inside the Capitol hearing room to block any progress on the Governor’s bill. These underpaid and overworked teachers with second-class status within the university system vowed to stay and fight until the bill was off and all demands met.

Not seen or even heard of in at least a generation, Governor Scott Walker announced that he would call in the National Guard to put a stop to any workplace actions if they should arise. Such threats only managed to work against him, as unionists from both the public and private-sectors joined together, realizing that what happens to one will ultimately effect the other. The Firefighters’ union, one immune from any attacks, did not rest content, mobilizing their membership in support of their class brothers and sisters.

The protests should continue until the bill is killed. But to ensure it, coordinated action is necessary. If Walker and the Republicans refuse to back down, then the workers will need to take a page from the book of the recent Egyptian Revolution, where organized labor took strike action and brought the Mubarak regime to its knees.

Union leaderships should take on and lead such actions until every single one of the protesters’ demands are met. No backing down! No compromises!

But to prevent any top-level conciliation and retreats, the workers, students, and community members need their own, independent organs and committees of struggle to ensure victory. Only they should have control of their movement and their battles.

The rationale for the attacks by both Walker and Republicans is untenable and promulgated by the needs of the capitalist class and state. If the budget is in deficit, the answer the simple: Make the rich pay! Working people and youth have been fleeced enough since the economic crisis. Put punitive taxes on the corporations, banks, and wealthy to fill the gaps and halt any cuts and attacks on union rights.

Undoubtedly the world has changed significantly since a young man in Tunisia took his own life in desperation due to his social and economic circumstances. That action sparked (no pun intended) a movement of action that is sweeping North Africa and the Middle East; now that resistance to attacks on workers’ right and oppression is on full display in Wisconsin.

All workers, youth, and the oppressed across the country should stand in solidarity with the struggles taking place. If these attacks can be defeated in Madison, they can be defeated all across the country. Let’s join together and fight to make that possible

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