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Fire Fighters Stand With Wisconsin Public Employees

February 17, 2011 – The similarities are impossible to miss. Madison, Wisconsin this week is looking quite a bit like Cairo last week, as public employees and their supporters crowd the State Capitol, city streets and plazas to protest Governor Scott Walker’s assault on labor.

The demonstrations are likely to get larger as much of the nation turns its eyes to Governor Walker’s attempt to destroy public sector unions under the guise of solving the state’s budget woes.

The fast-moving legislation, which would shut down virtually all union rights for public sector workers, appeared to stall Thursday when State Senate Democrats left Madison to avoid participating in Walker’s anti-union budget bill. That move left the Senate without the minimum of 20 members required to act on legislation.

Both outside and inside the State Capitol building throngs of protesters marked their fourth day of demonstrations with chants of “kill this bill!” and “Walker must go!” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. This YouTube video posted Thursday captures the extent of the demonstration, which showed no signs of letting up.

The measure had been moving quickly through the Wisconsin state legislature on its way to Governor Walker’s desk. Despite several attempts to amend the bill, it sailed through the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee in a 12-4 vote.

Governor Walker has indicated that he wants the budget bill signed into law by February 22 before he begins work on the next year’s budget. IAFF 5th District Vice President Joe Conway says he expects more attacks on public sector unions in the next budget proposal as well.

It was unclear when lawmakers would again begin moving the legislation forward.

That such an assault and counter-protest could even occur in a pro-labor stronghold like Madison serves as a stark signal that the coast-to-coast assault on public employees – fire fighters, police, teachers, maintenance workers and government office workers – is for real.

“The attacks against fire fighters and other public employees have moved from nasty rhetoric to action, but we are not taking this lying down,” says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “We will fight these unfair attacks wherever they happen.” President Schaitberger left Washington, DC for Madison Thursday to join in the protests and help convince state lawmakers to reverse course.

Though Governor Walker has exempted fire fighters and police from much of his union-busting budget plan, Wisconsin’s fire fighters are standing strong with their brothers and sisters in other public sector organizations. Hundreds fire fighters have joined the throngs of protestors marching, chanting and wielding signs demanding the governor, the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly stop the bill that would kill 40 years of collective bargaining.

“The governor has sought to divide labor by carving protective services out of his bill to destroy collective bargaining, but we are not going to let that happen,” says DVP Conway. “If we don’t stand together we will hang separately.” He adds, “This has nothing to do with balancing budgets.”

The Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin (PFFW) has summoned hundreds of fire fighters from across the state to join in the demonstrations. PFFW President Mahlon Mitchell met Thursday with his counterparts within the police union to form a unified front of first responders.

“When we fire fighters and police see and an emergency, we respond together, and this is an emergency," he says. "If this bill becomes law, it with hurt all working people in the long run.”

As the Madison demonstrations have gathered steam, the nation has begun to notice the growing number of vicious anti-union budget battles unfolding in Wisconsin and other states.

President Barack Obama spoke February 16 with WTMJ about Governor Walker’s bill. “Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally seems like more of an assault on unions," he said. "It’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re fire fighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers. They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. It’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”


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