As opposition spreads to a Republican plan to cut benefits and bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public workers, union groups are leading mass rallies for more free stuff.
Republicans say the cuts are necessary because the state is out of money. In response, labor unions are demanding that the state outlaw the recession conditions that prompted the controversial plan. The demonstrators also want Wisconsin to create money out of thin air and provide additional benefits for workers.
As an alternative, some labor leaders say, the state should opt for the traditional plan of taking more money from those who actually create wealth and, therefore, the jobs they are refusing to do.
“While we understand the realities of the budget crisis on all families, our jobs are far more important than everyone else’s, so we deserve special treatment,” said Gus Silmer, a representative of Government Workers United. “It’s not fair to make us suffer the recession along with everyone else.”
Labor groups say that the work they do is essential to the state and that their pay and benefits should reflect that. To demonstrate how seriously they take their jobs, the protesters have refused to work in protest.
Republicans argue that even with the budget cuts, public sector employees in Wisconsin would still receive more benefits than their private sector counterparts. To many on the labor side, however, it’s not enough.
“We want our voices heard!” screamed Lisa Martin, a public school teacher. She noted that it’s important for workers to threaten walk-outs – as well as legislators – until they get what they want. “If they won’t give it to us, we’ll take it from them!”
Wisconsin Senate Democrats are in hiding in order to avoid a vote on the budget. National Democratic leaders applauded the move.
“Directly circumventing the democratic process in favor of a particular segment of the population is the best way to honor the will of the people,” said Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “I hope the Wisconsin Democrats do all they can to thwart legislation that would otherwise pass if they participated.”