United States: Austerity fuels fresh protests

June 20, 2011
Protesters in Madison, Wisconsin opposing the Govenor Scott Walker's anti-union bill.

The United States media remain enthralled by Congress’s partisan battles over the national debt ceiling, while the assault on public sector workers across the US intensifies.

On June 14, Wisconsin’s state supreme court overturned an earlier legal challenge to the state’s anti-union “budget-repair” bill. The bill will ban collective bargaining for most of the state’s public sector workers.

The bill sparked sustained mass protests in Wisconsin in February and March, including the occupation of the Capitol building in Madison.

The supreme court voted four-to-three in favour of turning the bill into law.

Labornotes.org reporter Jane Slaughter said on June 15: “[Wisconsin’s Republican] Governor Scott Walker’s original ‘budget repair’ bill, which kicked off the rebellion in February and which would virtually end collective bargaining rights for public employees, had been thrown out earlier by a county judge.

“She ruled the Senate had pushed it through without proper public notice.”

The conservative-dominated supreme court made its ruling quicker than expected.

Socialistworker.org said on June 15: “Corporate-backed legislators and judges, acting with unprecedented zeal, arranged a hasty vote, and the court declared the passage of Walker's anti-union attack to be legal and valid.”

Reuters said on June 14: “The three [supreme court judges] in dissent blasted the order to overrule the lower court, saying it was ‘based on errors of fact and law’.”

The three dissenters said that judges in favour of the ruling “inappropriately use this court's original jurisdiction, make their own findings of fact, mischaracterize the parties' arguments, misinterpret statutes, minimize (if not eliminate) Wisconsin's constitutional guarantees, and mis-state case law, appearing to silently overrule case law dating back to at least 1891”.

Outrage continues to burn across a broad spectrum of people across Wisconsin. The protests in February and March drew in a wide spectrum of workers as well as high school students and even farmers — who descended on Madison to drive their tractors through the streets in protest.

For weeks, protesters in Madison have maintained a permanent tent city dubbed “Walkerville” outside the Capitol building.

Socialistworker.org said on June 14 that “more than 1000 activists joined hundreds of ‘Walkerville’ tent city residents to surround the Capitol building”.

Socialistworker.org reporter Steve Blanks spoke to one of the protesters, Matt Douglas, a print services worker with the University of Wisconsin Department of Information Technology (DOIT).

Douglas said he blames both Republicans and Democrats. “We’ve already taken cuts in benefits and pay," he said. "I’ve had this job at DOIT for three years, and all we’ve ever received are cuts and freezes.

“I’m here to protect my collective bargaining rights and to protest this budget, but I’m also here to let the Democrats know they have work to do to become a respectable party … to back up their talk.”

President of the AFL-CIO union federation Phil Neuenfeldt told Labornotes.org on June 14: “This ruling is just one more indication that Wisconsin Republicans do not believe in a functioning, sound democracy inclusive of checks and balances.”

Republican legislators are continuing efforts to pass further austerity measures in a proposed budget.

Labornotes.org's Jane Slaughter said: “The state Assembly called an ‘extraordinary session’ yesterday — which would allow legislators to limit debate and amendments — in order to pass an onerous budget.

“Unions and supporters brought 5,000 protesters inside and outside the Capitol.”

Labornotes.org said on June 7: “The Republicans’ budget [will] cut public education funding by [US]$824 million and reduce Medicaid funding by more than US$500 million.”

Socialistworker.org said on June 13: “Walker’s proposal includes an estimated $1.7 billion in cuts to publicly funded health care, K-12 and higher education and environmental protections …

“Budget language [will] weaken ‘prevailing wage’ laws that protect construction workers’ wages, eliminate the early prison release program, expand the hours 16- and 17-year-olds may work, favor highway construction over transit, reduce the earned income tax credit for poor families, and cut into Badgercare, the state’s low-income medical program.

“Also on the legislators’ agenda were expanding vouchers for private schools, cutting funds for Planned Parenthood, eliminating the requirement for local governments to operate recycling programs, allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons, and making undocumented immigrants pay out-of-state tuition at Wisconsin universities.”

Protests have also grown in New York City in response to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget measures.

The proposed budget will add to budget measures proposed by Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo that passed in April.

Cuomo’s measures will cut public spending by $10 billion next financial year, cut it by $13 billion the next year and rising to $15 billion and $17 billion in the years after that.

Socialistworker.org said on June 14: “Bloomberg's plan has angered many New Yorkers with its severe cuts — especially teachers, parents and students at public schools, where the mayor wants to eliminate more than 6000 teaching positions, reducing the number of teachers in the public school system by almost one tenth.

“Other proposals that have sparked discontent include closing up to 20 firehouses and 50 senior centers, plus drastic cuts to child-care centers and libraries. There are also smaller agencies that face devastating cuts.

“For example, a program that treats sexual assault victims in public hospitals faces the loss of over half its budget. And of course, as in cities and states across the country, the politicians are also targeting the wages and benefits of public-sector workers.”

These escalating attacks on workers, the unemployed and the disadvantaged in the US are the same class-warfare worldwide — with the aim of making workers and the poor pay for the crisis of capitalism.

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