New Yorkers stand with embattled Wisconsin public employees in defense of labor rights

by Michael Hirsch

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Milwaukee union leader Mark Maierle, from Operating Engineers Local 317. Photo by Miller Photography

“Something stinks in Wisconsin, and it ain’t the cheese,” one sign read as some 200 union members joined New York City Central Labor Council leaders and elected officials for a City Hall steps rally on Feb. 23 in opposition to union busting.

The rally was a show of support for embattled Wisconsin public employees whose state governor, the newly elected Republican and Tea Party-endorsed Scott Walker, wants to strip state workers of their union rights as well as extract deep concessions on pension and health care benefits. Walker is using the threat of a projected multibillion-dollar state deficit to end the state’s century-long collective-bargaining tradition.

“It’s not about a budget fix; it’s about breaking unions,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the animated crowd. “It’s about elected officials saying ‘you have no right to organize.’”

Of the growing income disparity between the wealthy and everyone else, Mulgrew said, “While there’s prosperity in the nation, it hasn’t been shared.”

Milwaukee union leader Mark Maierle, from Operating Engineers Local 317, thanked the crowd for its support in “this unprecedented attack from the governor and the legislature.” Maierle’s members are among the tens of thousands of union members rallying in Madison and occupying the state capital.

Among the dozens of city labor leaders attending was Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union. Appelbaum called Walker’s moves a direct attack against working people and the middle class. “It’s all about cuts to workers to pay for tax cuts to the rich. Is there no limit to their greed?” he asked.

Jack Ahern, president of the city’s labor council, said “public employees and union members are being made the scapegoat for our country’s economic problems.”

That sense of shared threat and shared struggle was in evidence a day earlier, when more than 500 union members and community supporters turned out for a rally outside Fox News’ midtown headquarters. Chanting “unions yes, Walker no,” “union busting is disgusting,” and “shame on Fox,” — the latter for its blinkered Wisconsin coverage — the crowd blasted the attacks on public employees and applauded the pro-union protests.

Protesters from the city’s public sector unions connected the assault on labor in Wisconsin with attacks on unions locally.

Jason Schulman, an adjunct assistant professor at Lehman and John Jay colleges and a member of the Professional Staff Congress, the city’s union of CUNY professors, said he attended the rally to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin but also to protest budget cuts at the City University system. He said the proposed cuts would prevent CUNY from hiring new faculty while raising tuition significantly and putting a college education out of reach for many low-income students.

“They should be taxing the wealthy. There should be a financial transaction tax and a heavy, graduated progressive income tax,” Schulman said.

Among the other demonstrators was Laura Ayala, a Teacher Center staff member at PS 48 in Washington Heights. “I came here to stand in solidarity with the working people of Wisconsin and tell them we know it’s a national struggle,” she said.

Michael Hirsch is a veteran labor activist and journalist.  This piece originally appeared on the United Federation of Teachers website.

One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Angela Cristiani, Talking Union. Talking Union said: New Yorkers stand with embattled Wisconsin public employees in defense of labor rights http://bit.ly/hBAbSm #labor […]

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