New York City Unions Bring Wisconsin Labor Protests to City Hall
Friday, February 25th, 2011
In the largest show of solidarity with their struggling comrades in Wisconsin to date, New York City union leaders and hundreds of supporters turned out on February 23 on the steps of City Hall in Lower Manhattan to support the right of public employees to collectively bargain.
The NYC Central Labor Council (CLC) led the rally in opposition to the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, and his proposed bill to take away the collective bargaining rights of the state’s over 283,000 public workers.
“We are confronting an assault on labor that is so corrosive, so sweeping and so destructive that if allowed to succeed, it will roll back nearly a century of American reforms in the work place,” said Jack Ahern, President of the NYC CLC. Ahern spoke from the steps of City Hall, surrounded by a raucous crowd of unionized workers.
The Wisconsin stand off has drawn the attentions of the country. Much of the focus has centered on Governor Walker’s efforts to slash the state budget deficit by stripping union rights away from organized public workers. Protests have spread to Ohio and Indiana, where unions have joined together to voice their outrage over what has been widely perceived as an attack on working-class American laborers.
“Across our nation, public employees and union members are being made the scapegoat for our country’s economic problems,” Ahern added. “State budgets are in the red and desperate elected officials would like to place the blame on those who work hardest to maintain public services.”
The event brought out a wide array of organized labor leaders and their supporters, including Mark Maierle, a labor leader with the International Union of Operating Engineers. Maierle flew to New York from Milwaukee for the protest. Denis M. Hughes, President of the New York State chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), was also in attendance. Hughes efforts to take away collective bargaining from public workers and their unions an act of “control and political supremacy.”
“We have freedom of association, [and] they are taking away that right. They are going to dictate those rights. Control and political supremacy are going to take away those rights,” Hughes said.
Ian Hansen, a former Lang professor of psychology, also attended the rally. Hansen was busy passing out fliers to the crowd that promoted the “Courage vs. Violence Film and Discussion Series.” Currently, the “Courage vs. Violence” series is showing films, at a number of theaters in New York City, that advocate the cause of organized labor and its struggles against corporate power. Hansen labeled Governor Walker’s proposed plan to strip away workers’ collective bargaining rights “insane.”
“What’s happening in Wisconsin is crazy,” Hansen said. “It’s insane it was even allowed to get to this point,” he added. “It’s not about cutting the budget. It’s about actually restricting peoples’ rights to collectively bargain."
Sheila Gorsky, from the Organization of Staff Analysts, a union of 5,000 New York City public employees, was one of many labor supporters waiting in line to enter the rally at City Hall. Gorsky said she had come not only to support the Wisconsin workers, but because she feared anti-labor sentiments are spreading across the country..
“Everybody should remember that their grandfather used to belong to a union,” Gorsky said. “But everybody has forgotten that the unions built this country.”
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