The protests in Madison: a first-hand view of the fight for labor – National Consumers League

By Guest Blogger Jacob Markey, LifeSmarts intern Summer 2010

Throughout my time as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was told that this was an activist campus. While students here were at the forefront of protests against the Vietnam War, I generally thought that this activism was a thing of the past. I was certainly wrong. The turnout of thousands of students marching in solidarity with teachers, firefighters, and tens of thousands of other union workers to protest a proposed bill to eliminate the right of public workers to bargain collectively is heartwarming. To hear thousands of people to pack the Capitol Building, chanting slogans like “the people united will never be divided” and pledging solidarity, is just another reminder of the power of people. The opportunity to join in these protests is something I will never forget. My father is a substitute teacher in Milwaukee, and a union member, and I feel some connection to what we are fighting for.

Wisconsin has a strong streak of progressivism. We are the birthplace of AFSCME, and of course, the home of the legendary “Fighting Bob” La Follette. The state also has a long and storied history of worker rights. Public workers here were the first in the nation to earn the right to collectively bargain more than 50 years ago.

Public service workers here understand the tough financial situation the state is in, similar to governments across the country. They agree to the necessity of contributing to part of their pensions and paying a percentage of health care costs. Yet, the right to collective bargaining is something they are unwilling to give up. To lose this ability is to give up rights workers have had for more than half a century is simply unacceptable, and is the breaking point leading to these massive protests.

Many commentators are saying this fight sets a precedent for worker rights across the country. It may currently be a Wisconsin issue, but it will continue to show its face throughout the nation this year. As a longtime leader in worker rights, I am proud of my time spent at NCL, as well as the League’s continued support for workers fighting to maintain their rights, both in Wisconsin, and across the country.