Dispatch from Wisconsin: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine"

NUPGE representatives are in Madison providing support and solidarity to Wisconsin public service workers. This is the first in a series of dispatches from Wisconsin, where the governor's union-busting is spurring a popular uprising.

Ottawa (9 Mar. 2011) - Every day for the past 20 days, there have been protests in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin's capital. Tens of thousands of people have joined the protests. The Republican state Governor, Scott Walker, wants to strip collective bargaining rights from 175,000 Wisconsin public service workers.

Under the proposed legislation, workers would no longer have a voice on key issues such as working conditions, health and safety, grievance procedures, or equality provisions. This is a full, frontal attack on collective bargaining rights, public sector unions and the entire US labour movement.

The following report and photos are from Holly Page (BCGEU/NUPGE) who is one of the NUPGE representatives in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Dispatch 1: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine"

Of the thousands of protest signs I've seen, one of my favourite reads: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine." It resonates with what could be the rolling out of union busting not only here in Madison, Wisconsin, but in Canada as well.

I arrived in Madison on the 20th day of the protests. The sounds are spectacular: chanting, drumming, people cheering. This has been unlike any demo I have ever been to.

The Wisconsin Capitol building is the focus of the protest. It sits in the middle of a huge, square block, surrounded by streets on all four sides. Forty to fifty thousand activists are walking around the square chanting and singing. There is a huge rally with another couple thousand people on one side of the building, and another rally with a thousand more people on the opposite side. People are lined up hundreds deep on the remaining sides of the building. Flags, banners and pickets can be seen everywhere. The mood and energy is incredibly powerful, and positive.

On every door of the Wisconsin Capitol building, there are coloured post it notes with messages to the elected. I posted a note of solidarity from the BCGEU. Today I will line up and hang our BCGEU Flag in solidarity.

Nearly every store and business has a sign in the window supporting the unions. There is a lot of local police presence here, but many of them are having pictures taken with protesters and shaking hands and hi-fiving people. The people of Madison are clearly supporting this rally.

Sprinkled throughout the crowds are palm trees all shapes and sizes. Last week, right wing news channel FOX News showed violent demonstrations on their newscasts. They said it was footage from Madison, Wisconsin, that happened to feature palm trees in the back ground. That was obviously not Madison, where the average temp now is six degrees celsius. Home made palm trees of all shapes and sizes now grace central Madison, along with signs stating "FOX lies." FOX News is engaged in a disinformation campaign, calling Madison protestors "greedy" and "violent unions."

As I type, I can hear bagpipes. Firefighters decked out in gear are playing bagpipes and drumming. As I get closer in the middle of the parade, I see Michael Moore has come to join the rally. He addressed the rally for about 20 minutes thanking everybody who has maintained a hold on Wisonsin's Capitol for almost three weeks.

He told them not to walk away. "We're going to do this together. Don't give up. Please don't give up," he said. (Click here for a video of Michael Moore's speech.)

Stay tuned for more BCGEU dispatches from Wisconsin.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good.

NUPGE, Wed Mar 9 2011

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