USA: Wisconsin Unions Preparing a General Strike. Photo: Nickolas Nikolic

Eyewitness Report from Madison

“Just an update on the current situation. When I left the capitol, they were letting in one person for every two that went out. The official reason for closing the capitol is to have it cleaned and to get the capitol back to ‘normal hours,’ but Walker is clearly trying to take away what has become the symbol of the struggle. It will be interesting to see what the unions’ presence will be and if they are strong enough to avoid mass arrests. 

“It’s clear that Walker is the most hated man in Wisconsin. To the point that he was even refused service at a local restaurant! The amount of support from the population is astonishing: all unions, small businesses, non-union workers and students have come out in waves to condemn the attack on public sector unions. Only one tea party rally was organized and it was so small compared to the pro-union rallies that they haven’t organized another one in over a week!

“And yet the movement continues to grow. The protests Saturday had over a hundred thousand people, this in a city with a population of under 250,000! This was with cold weather and a snow storm. The capitol building was completely surrounded by union members and supporters. Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary sang old union songs such as ‘Which Side Are You On’ and a revised version of “If I had a Hammer.” And they had a 13-year-old who ended his song with the line ‘We’ll walk Walker out of Wisconsin,’ and everyone in the crowd started cheering. This time the people of Wisconsin did give Walker a real mandate: ‘kill the bill.’ 

“But unlike other ‘tea party’ governors, who have backed off somewhat, Walker is still bent on destroying the public sector unions. Demonstrations are clearly not enough to make him step down. Unions need to have a rank and file discussion on the preparations for a general strike and how to run it. The Democrats are trying to hijack the movement and have them wait until 2012 to replace the Republican. But the Democrats’ and the labor leaders’ alternative is cuts to benefits and wages. If they continue to put their faith in the Democrats to change things, it would be a major blow to organized labor. 

“The mood of the union members and supporters was great all weekend. It’s clear that they are willing to put up a fight and defend themselves against the attacks. When someone on the floor said ‘if needed we’ll go on a general strike!’ that got the most cheers I heard since I arrived. Support for a general strike was clearly the consensus. But this core needs to start discussing with other union members and preparing for the storm ahead. If they go into a general strike without any preparation it could be a demoralizing experience. The people are behind the unions, if they take serious preparations to fight the bill, they can win it.”

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