Workers in the United States are beginning to show that they will no longer pay for a crisis created by rich people. Last Tuesday, more than 50,000 teachers, firefighters, and other public workers in Wisconsin stormed the state legislature in Madison and began a series of massive demonstrations that have lasted into this week.
They are trying to prevent the passage of a bill written by Governor Scott Walker that would, in addition to making public workers pay thousands more for their health care and retirement benefits, prevent them from being able to collectively bargain any of their health and pension benefits in the future. If passed, the bill would simply allow rich Wisconsin politicians and bureaucrats to decide what kind of health care and retirement benefits they wanted to give public workers.
In addition to the demonstrations at the legislature, thousands of teachers have gone on strike and shut down schools in more than 15 districts across the state.
Workers in Wisconsin are responding to the same kinds of attacks we are seeing on public workers throughout the country. In almost every state, governments are facing massive budget deficits. And in almost every state politicians are trying to get us to believe the same lie: that the salaries and benefits of teachers, firefighters, sanitation workers, and other public workers are to blame. Meanwhile, these same politicians continue to give massive tax breaks to the rich, cut our schools, public transportation systems, and other social servicesall while they tell us their other favorite lie: that there isn’t any money around.
In Wisconsin, politicians are trying to fill a $137 million deficit in this year’s budget and a $3.6 billion deficit over the next two years. Like in California, they are doing this by attacking workers and cutting social programs, while continuing to hand out billions to the rich. In addition to attacking public workers, Walker’s latest budget proposal includes a $900 million cut to public schools over two years. Meanwhile, corporations based in Wisconsin pay little in taxes. In fact, more than 60 percent of large corporations in Wisconsin pay no taxes at all! And many of the tax breaks that Wisconsin corporations receive were passed in the last few years. Yet politicians in Wisconsin, just like in every other state, act as if handing out billions of dollars to corporations and rich people every year is somehow unrelated to the state deficit problem.
Since the demonstrations began, Democrats in Wisconsin and elsewhere have tried to use them to their advantage. They have gone on television and made their usual speeches about how much they support workers and unions. But what did they do as soon as it became clear that Tuesday’s demonstration was the sign of a real fight back by Wisconsin workers? They ran away and hid!
On Wednesday, the fourteen Democratic congressmen who sit in Wisconsin’s legislature got in their cars and left the state. Some people think they might be hiding out in a hotel in Illinois. These fourteen Democrats say that without their presence in the legislature, Governor Walker’s bill can’t be passed. But what was the response of these same Democrats last month when the Wisconsin legislature decided to give millions in additional tax breaks to Wisconsin corporations? They stuck around and more than half of them voted in favor!
A Republican Senator from Wisconsin commenting on the demonstrations in Madison said it seemed “like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.” Yes, that’s exactly what it is like. Workers in Madison, just like workers in Egypt, are showing us what needs to be repeated throughout every town and city in the United States. Nothing would have changed in Egypt if people hadn’t mobilized themselves. And these attacks in Wisconsin would have gone through by now if workers hadn’t mobilized against them. Wisconsin shows us that the only answer to the education cuts, health care cuts, layoffs and all of the attacks is to mobilize our own forces and fight!