On, Wisconsin!


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You’ve probably seen the images coming from Wisconsin: The Capitol’s rotunda filled with protesters, hanging off balconies; people struggling to move through crowded hallways. Tens of thousands of energized demonstrators have coalesced in the purest form of democracy I’ve seen in my short life — not since the 2008 presidential campaign have I felt such a level of political enthusiasm.

Under the pretext of fiscal crisis, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill would have the state’s union workers pay more on their pensions and health care and would also strip their collective bargaining rights to the point where the unions would be essentially irrelevant. The unions have come forward willing to make the concessions on pensions and health care that Walker wants if he agrees to not touch their bargaining rights, which have no fiscal impact.

But Walker isn’t interested in making that deal. This isn’t really about the money. It’s about politics and union busting. If Walker really cared about the money, he wouldn’t have pushed through tax cuts that exacerbated the deficit. He also wouldn’t have exempted every union that endorsed him during the campaign. Citizens have noticed these actions, and they aren’t happy.

When I heard about the protests, I rushed home to Wisconsin to join the demonstrations. In the rotunda, I encountered a group of students from Loras College, and we banded together to show Wisconsin that Iowa supported the workers. We held signs that read “Iowa will fight for Wisconsin” and “Hawks for Workers.” People loved us.

I was struck by just how many people were in attendance. At that point, the protests had moved beyond being organized events and had taken on a life of their own. People just kept showing up. Estimates put the weekend crowd at around 68,000 people. I overheard one person call the scene “Wiscairo.”

Numerous signs excoriated Walker as a C-average college dropout who was looking get revenge on educators. It was obvious, however, that despite the jokes, people were dealing with a very serious issue.

With collective-bargaining-disenfranchisement measures working through several other state legislatures, including Iowa’s, it’s clear that the fight has shifted to destabilize public-sector unions.

At Laborfest in Milwaukee in September 2010, President Obama said, “[T]he cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.” Most of these union workers already make less than their private sector equivalents with comparable qualifications. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, “[O]n an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are under-compensated by 8.2 percent compared with otherwise similar private sector workers.”

In a period in which the middle-class is being squeezed, we can’t witness the destruction of the institutions responsible for providing security to so many of Wisconsin’s public employees.

This is why you see such fervor in Wisconsin — so much is at stake. But even after the seventh-straight day of demonstrations, it’s still unclear what will happen.

We Democrats from Wisconsin are proud of our labor unions and our deep progressive roots sowed by the great Sen. Robert La Follette. And with 65 percent of the state’s residents believing that Walker’s bill has gone too far, we plan to continue our state’s long-held tradition of being a leader in the support of labor rights and civil rights. Forward!

Dane Hudson is president of the University of Iowa Democrats and the vice president of the College and Young Democrats of Iowa.

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