By Steve Smith, California Labor Federation
When Wisconsin’s new right-wing Governor decided to make it his personal mission to eliminate the rights of teachers, nurses, bus drivers and other public servants, he probably thought it would be a cakewalk. After all, Gov. Scott Walker has a Republican-controlled legislature that is on board with his radical plan to eliminate collective bargaining for public sector workers. What he didn’t count on was the extraordinary resolve of working people to stop his assault on our values. For more than a week, tens of thousands have protested at the Wisconsin Capitol. The fight back spread to Ohio, Indiana and other states where politicians are attempting to strip workers of their voice. And it didn’t stop there. All over the country, workers are standing in solidarity to beat back these attacks.
Last night, the spirit of solidarity was tangible in Sacramento, as more than 3,000 workers – teachers, Teamsters, nurses, ironworkers, janitors and many others – descended on the State Capitol to send a message loud and clear across California and the country: An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
Workers gathered on the West Steps of the Capitol for a candlelight vigil, but it turned into much more than that. Initial projections of 1,000 people turning out quickly dissolved as more and more folks poured onto the Capitol grounds.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski kicked off the vigil by putting the Wisconsin battle into context:
This protest is bigger than one bill. It is bigger than one state. This protest is not just about the public sector workers. It is not just about unions. This is about an assault on the working class values of this country. This is a fight for democracy that we cannot afford to lose. Not in Wisconsin, not in Sacramento and not anywhere in America.
Carrying signs with messages like “We Are ALL Wisconsin Workers” and “United We Bargain, Divided We Beg” the vigil attendees were energized and unified to fight back against any and all Wisconsin-style attacks on workers. Here in California, we’re fortunate to have a Governor who supports the rights of working people. In fact, Brown has been a staunch advocate for workers’ rights throughout his 40-year career. Brown, unlike Walker, has sought to bring people together to deal with our state’s challenges, rather than divide us. But if Meg Whitman would have won in November, it would be a whole other story.
California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro:
We had our brush with Meg Whitman already. Now they have her in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Michigan. You know where they’re not? California! We kicked their ass. We stood together, we stand together, and we will never stop standing in California. If you take on one of us, you take on all of us. We’re in this with workers around the country.
AFSCME member and University of California employee Katherine Barker reminded the crowd what’s at stake:
We are fighting for nothing less than basic freedom and democracy. We are fighting for the rights of working people to organizing and bargain for better working conditions. We are fighting for our rights. The bottom has fallen out for private sector workers. Now they are trying to drag the bottom out from under us. When you have your back against the wall, you stand together or you fall together. And you fight together. When the call is made, we have to answer the call.
Teachers have been among the most visible protesters in Wisconsin, and many California teachers turned out last night to show their support for all Wisconsin workers.
California Teachers Association President David Sanchez:
Organized labor did not create the financial crisis. Wall Street banks did. But public employees are being scapegoated. They are under attack. We will be with you today. We will be with you tomorrow. We will stand and fight together.
Sanchez later called on the crowd of thousands to raise candles in solidarity and joined labor musician Francisco Herrera in starting a rousing rendition of the song “Solidarity Forever.” Thousands joined in.
California workers are no strangers to being scapegoated for problems they didn’t create. Just ask state workers who had to live through seven years of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
SEIU 1000 President Yvonne Walker:
Governor Schwarzenegger thought he was going to break public employee unions here in California. We said: Hell No! We stood strong and beat back the attacks. We beat them back here in California. We will beat them back in Wisconsin. We will beat them back in Michigan. We will beat them back in Ohio and any damn place.
In the final analysis, the battle in Wisconsin comes down to one word: Freedom.
AFSCME’s Willie Pelote:
AFSCME’s Willie Pelote:
This is our country. We built it brick by brick from the bottom to the top. Their dollars cannot buy the labor movement. We need to create jobs not take away workers’ rights. It is time to let freedom ring for working people.
Dozens of elected officials -- including Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate President Darrell Steinberg, Senators Pavley, Liu, DeSaulnier, Hancock and Evans, Assembly Members Wieckowski, Mendoza, Alejo, V Manuel Perez, Solorio, Bradford, Torres, Buchanan, Lowenthal, Skinner and Yamada – all came out to show their solidarity and light a candle for the Wisconsin workers.
To show their solidarity, hundreds of California workers signed a special banner reading “We Stand with Wisconsin Workers” that will be delivered directly to the State House in Wisconsin as protests there continue. View photos here and here, and check out video from the vigil here and here.
The show of support for Wisconsin workers wasn't limited to Sacramento, and it didn’t stop last night. More than 200 people gathered in downtown Oakland for a corresponding vigil, and last Friday, 150 came together for a rally in San Diego. More solidarity events are scheduled for this weekend. Click here to find an event in your area.