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Worker Uprising: Up to 185,000 Protest in Madison as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Signs Union-Busting Bill

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In Wisconsin, more than 100,000 people filled the streets of Madison Saturday in what what has been described as the state’s largest protest ever. The massive rally was held one day after Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a the controversial Bill Act 10, legislation that sharply curbs collective bargaining rights for most public employees in the state of Wisconsin. Speakers at the rally included many of the 14 Democratic senators who had fled the state three weeks ago in an attempt to stall the legislation. Democracy Now! was in Madison to cover the rally on the ground. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Wisconsin. This weekend, we were there in force covering the largest protest in Wisconsin’s history.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. Democracy Now! is here in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s Saturday. While the national media is saying that Wisconsin labor has lost, that the bills have been passed in the House and the Senate and signed off on by Governor Walker that would end collective bargaining rights for most of the public employees in this state, it doesn’t feel like a loss today. Well over 100,000 people are here at the Capitol, from, it seems, every community in Wisconsin. We just interviewed a Republican who was carrying a sign that said “Republicans against Walker.”

RON: My name is Ron. I live here in Madison. I’m a state employee. My knowledge of economics and of history indicate that his policies are the wrong direction, that what he is doing is actually going to add to the recession. I used to work for the state of Idaho, as well. And there, we had to pay half of our retirement. We also had a salary set to accommodate that. Here we don’t have that option, because we took the raises in terms of benefits instead of cash money. Because of that, the loss is going to mean that we have less to spend, which means that the local businesses, the private sector economy, is going to have less income.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel you made a mistake voting for Governor Walker now?

RON: I do.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you support a recall of him in a year?

RON: I would. It would be a John Hancock-type signature.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell me what you mean.

RON: Well, John Hancock’s signature was quite large on the Declaration of Independence. And I wouldn’t want to cross the line, in terms of somebody else’s — there’s only so many lines on the petition, but I would make it as large as I could.

AMY GOODMAN: Before that, we were at the press conference, where the 14 Democratic state senator delegation has just returned from Illinois.

PROTESTERS: Fab 14! Our heroes! Fab 14! Our heroes! Fab 14! Our heroes!

SEN. SPENCER COGGS: I’m State Senator Spencer Coggs from the great city of Milwaukee, and I’m one of the Fabulous 14, and I am so proud. We wanted to make sure that our voice was heard, and we couldn’t make our voice heard while we were here. So, since they wouldn’t listen to our voice, we decided they should listen to our absence, and our absence spoke volumes.

SEN. TIM CARPENTER: I find it quite unusual that Governor Walker got elected, and in just two months he’s given $140 million in corporate welfare; he’s polarized the state, causing hundreds of thousands of people to come and demonstrate and petition for their state government to do the right thing of protecting workers’ rights; and his poll numbers are dropping faster than a rock. In 1980, Ronald Reagan, in dealing with Lech Walesa in Poland and their struggle for freedom, said, “Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.” And so, when Governor Walker and the Republicans go ahead and build up a wall against the working people, against the middle class, all of us senators are here to say, “Governor Walker, tear down this wall.”

SEN. KATHLEEN VINEHOUT: I think the people that we’re up against care about money, and they’re very greedy. And what would be as effective as a general strike is to look at the companies and the products that these people manufacture and to say, “I’m going to decide with my own consumer dollars that I’m not going to buy these products anymore.”

AMY GOODMAN: Here at the protest, they’re shouting, “This is what democracy looks like! This is what Wisconsin looks like!” Tractors, farmers have come from throughout Wisconsin. We just passed a line of union cabs that were pumping their fists and driving along with the protesters.

SCOTT SCHULTZ: I’m Scott Schultz. I’m the executive director of Wisconsin Farmers Union. And the emotions, up and down the line, I’m seeing tears. You can see it, all down the tractors, smiles and tears.

JOEL GREENO: I’m Joel Greeno, dairy farmer from Kendall, Wisconsin. And we’re here today to stand in solidarity with our teachers, workers and their unions. And one of the reasons we’re here is that 80 percent of the nation’s milk is marketed through cooperatives, and cooperatives use collective bargaining to establish prices for their farmer members. And so, to see teachers and workers lose their collective bargaining rights is an attack on our collective bargaining rights, and we need to fight to protect those, so we’re here in solidarity. And we’re also here because it’s about community building. And our rural schools, our rural communities, our rural churches are suffering, and the rural areas haven’t been in the debate here in Madison, and we’re here to bring that debate and to show our support and to let them know that we’re out here and that we’re behind our workers and that we won’t stand for this, and we will rise up.

STEVE JOHNSON: I’m Steve Johnson. I’m from Kendall, Wisconsin. I’m a chief of police in Norwalk and Wilton. As you can tell here, people in Wisconsin, you know, are kind of quiet, solidarity people. You realize when you’re doing something wrong, and the people stand together. My message is to Governor Walker: I guess it’s time to step down and/or do the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Cops for labor, firefighters for labor, nurses, teachers. [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the longer report we’ll post online — as we turn right back to it.

REP. JOCASTA ZAMARRIPA: I’m Representative JoCasta Zamarripa. I represent the 8th Assembly District here in the state of Wisconsin. What many people don’t realize is how far-reaching the budget repair bill and the budget are. It’s not just about our public workers who are absolutely being disenfranchised, but it’s also making huge changes to our medical assistance services. It’s taking away food share benefits from legal residents. Immigrants who have done everything correctly to be here legally and lawfully are also being discriminated against in these bills.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m standing with the Madison County executive. She’s Kathleen Falk. You have just filed suit. Where and against whom?

KATHLEEN FALK: In the Dane County Circuit Court against the action that the State Senate Republicans took Wednesday evening in a flurry, violating the open meetings law without required notice and by acting without a quorum of the Senate to ram this down all of our throats.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’re the county executive here in Dane County. The Governor, Scott Walker, was a county executive in Milwaukee.

KATHLEEN FALK: I’ve been a county executive for the last 14 years, running Dane County. So I’ve been on both sides of the bargaining table, and I believe in collective bargaining. It is the right way to get things done. And you can get things done that protect taxpayers. Just in the last couple years alone, I have bargained with nine unions, a cut in pay in 2009, a cut in pay in 2010, and more contributions to health insurance in 2011. We do it respectfully, and we got it done for our citizens. So you don’t have to eliminate collective bargaining rights in order to protect taxpayers.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re at the State Capitol. Well over 100,000 people are here. Placards, American flags, rainbow flags, union flags of every stripe. And right on the corner is the State Historical Museum. That’s very relevant, because Madison, Wisconsin, is the home of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees. It was formed in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. This is the place where unions have fought for weekends, for the 40-hour workweek. It’s what FDR was speaking about in his fireside chats. Madison, Wisconsin is a historic site, not only in 1932, but today, in 2011. Many see it as ground zero for, well, what one sign says, “the shock doctrine.”

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday’s protest in Madison was the largest in Wisconsin history. It came one day after Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law the controversial bill, Act 10, a piece of legislation that sharply curbs collective bargaining rights for most public employees in the state of Wisconsin. Protesters in the Capitol building rushed to the entrance of the Governor’s conference room when they heard the Governor would be coming to the Capitol. Their chants of “We’re still here” echoed throughout the building and inside the ornate room, where the signing took place. Governor Walker told reporters he hopes Wisconsin will inspire other states to pass similar laws. Ironically, inlaid in the center of the ceiling of the ornate chamber where the signing took place, the words were written in gold: “The will of the people is the law of the land.”

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Up Next

“Democracy Uprising” in the U.S.A.?: Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin’s Resistance to Assault on Public Sector, the Obama-Sanctioned Crackdown on Activists, and the Distorted Legacy of Ronald Reagan

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