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Occupy the Super Bowl: Indiana’s New Anti-Union Law Sparks Protest at Sport’s Biggest Spectacle

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Occupy protesters in Indianapolis are gearing up to use the media spotlight on Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI to rally for union rights outside the statehouse. Earlier this week, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a so-called “right to work” measure into law that critics say will result in lower wages and diminished collective bargaining rights. Indiana workers have received the backing of the National Football League Players Association, which has called “right to work” “a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights.” We’re joined from Indiana by Tithi Bhattacharya, an associate professor of South Asian History at Purdue University and a protester who is taking part in Occupy the Super Bowl. “It is absolutely shameful that the legislature passed a law that condemns unions and is now using the city to showcase Indianapolis while ordinary people in Indiana are completely opposed to this law,” Bhattacharya says. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Super Bowl Sunday. It’s the biggest football game and the biggest television show of the year. Last year, an estimated 111 million people watched it. But this year, viewers may have something more to watch than just the game. Occupy protesters in Indianapolis are gearing up to use the prime-time media spotlight to rally for union rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed a so-called “right to work” measure into law, making Indiana the 23rd state to enact similar legislation. The controversial law exempts employees at unionized companies from paying union dues or fees if they so desire. Republicans claim the bill will help Indiana attract new, needed businesses and jobs. Critics say the legislation is an organized attack against labor that will result in lower wages and diminished collective bargaining rights.

Following the bill’s approval Wednesday, thousands of union workers held a protest march to Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played this Sunday. The National Football League Players Association has also opposed the legislation, calling “right to work,” quote, “a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights.”

DeMaurice Smith recently appeared on Dave Zirin’s radio show Edge of Sports Radio. Smith is the executive director of the National Football League Players Association.

DEMAURICE SMITH: We are in lockstep with organized labor. I’m proud to sit on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. Why? Because we share all of the same issues that American people share. We want decent wages. You want a fair pension. You want to be taken care of when you get hurt. You want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something called “right to work” —


DEMAURICE SMITH: —but you realize that—

DAVE ZIRIN: Tricky phrase, “right to work.”

DEMAURICE SMITH: Very tricky phrase. I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail: it’s untrue. This bill has nothing to do with a right to work. I mean, if folks in Indiana and that great legislator—legislation—and they want to pass a bill that really is something called “right to work,” have a constitutional amendment that guarantees every citizen a right to a job. You know, that’s a right to work. What this is, instead, is a right to enforce and to ensure that ordinary working people can’t get together as a team, can’t organize, can’t stand together, and can’t fight or negotiate with management on an even playing field.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association. In related labor news, Arizona Republicans have just introduced legislation that would radically curb public employees’ unions in their state. A series of measures introduced this week would bar government agencies from collectively bargaining with public employees, including firefighters and police. Unions would also be prevented from collecting dues through automatic deductions.

We go now to Indiana to speak with Tithi Bhattacharya. She is an associate professor of South Asian History at Purdue University. She is a leading member of Occupy Purdue and has written about Occupy the Super bowl.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you hear us, Professor?


JUAN GONZALEZ: Tell us about the Occupy protests that are planned.

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: Well, the first thing to say is that the protest on Sunday actually is not a one-off. It stands on the shoulder of and in solidarity with the thousands of people who came to the Statehouse over the last two weeks to protest this bill. And it is also not, I think, the end—or I hope it’s not the end—of this series of protests.

Why the Super Bowl? You know, Lucas Oil Stadium was built with 100 percent union labor. I mean, every single structure that is up in the city of Indianapolis today that has been built to beautify the city has been built with union labor. So, I think it is absolutely shameful that the legislature passed a law that condemns unions and is now using the city to kind of showcase Indianapolis, while ordinary people in Indiana are completely opposed to this law. And the protest on Sunday is—also stands in solidarity with the NFL Players Union, which has come out so strongly against the legislation.

And I think there has been some talk of how the Occupy movement may—there has been some fear that the Occupy movement may disrupt a Super Bowl. As far as I know and as far as I’m concerned, the Occupy movement nationally has been a nonviolent movement and absolutely is committed to being nonviolent on Saturday. The question of disruption absolutely is not an issue, because, as I said before, we stand in solidarity with the Players Union. The only thing the Occupy movement on Sunday hopes to disrupt is the complacency of the 1 percent, who think that they can get away with this.

AMY GOODMAN: While the Football Players Union has expressed solidarity with the workers in Indiana, Fox Business News spoke with NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton about the Super Bowl protest. Let’s go to that clip.

STUART VARNEY: Fran, you have been an outspoken opponent of municipal unions.


STUART VARNEY: What’s their beef with Indianapolis, which is staging the Super Bowl?

FRAN TARKENTON: Because they’ve—they’ve got it made. I mean, they work 20 years. They can retire at 90 percent of their salary for the rest of their life. There’s no accountability. They don’t have to work hard. They go up by seniority. If the NFL—if their union was like a public union, the NFL would be broke. But the government kind of bails them out. But now that’s getting to be problematic. And this was the first right-to-work state decision in 15 years. And it looks like Mitch Daniels is going to sign that into law. And they are angry about it being a right-to-work state, when we need to generate 20 million jobs?

AMY GOODMAN: NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton went on to say the protesters are going to make fools of themselves.

FRAN TARKENTON: …disrupts the biggest American event there is. And you’re right, the Northeastern fans are the best football fans in the world. And they’ll come in there and spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. And it’s just such a great event. It really is a positive, great event. And they’re going to make fools of themselves by going out there infringing on the rights of people who want to enjoy this great event.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Bhattacharya, your response?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: …higher in right-to-work states. And also, nine out of the 10 poorest—states with the poorest health and safety records are actually right-to-work states. But most importantly, I think we need to keep in mind that, you know, that this is actually an effort to kill unions in the Midwest. This is part of a concerted effort that is going on to strike at the heart of labor mobilizing and labor organizing. It is coming in Wisconsin. It is coming in Indiana. And it is coming in Michigan. And I think—hello?


AMY GOODMAN: Keep speaking. Go ahead.

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: Yeah. And so, I think that’s really what is at the heart of it. And on a broader basis, I think “right to work” is one of those legislations that is a concerted effort to pass off this recession on working people by trying to lower our wages. I mean, you know, the—all due respect to the Hall of Famer, but he did say that people are going to be bailed out. Well, actually, the institutions that got bailed out are the banks. And this is an effort to say that the recession is hurting the economy, so ordinary people need to tighten their belts. Well, actually, ordinary people are not responsible for the recession, and this attack on ordinary people speaking out or fighting back, which is really what the unions are, is a naked display of union busting, which actually is—needs to stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Bhattacharya, where will you be on Sunday at the Super Bowl?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: Well, like the rest of the occupiers from across the state, I will be at the Indiana Statehouse. The protests have been called at the South Lawn of the Indiana Statehouse at 12:00 noon. And that’s where I hope all people who are fighting against these kind of policies of the 1 percent inside the legislatures, and are fighting against the display of the power of the 1 percent on our streets of Indianapolis with the corporate logos, will be there to join me in a nonviolent protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Professor Tithi Bhattacharya, associate professor of South Asian History at Purdue University, a leading member of the Occupy Purdue, written about Occupy the Super Bowl, speaking to us from West Lafayette, Indiana.

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