by Angela Chagnon
A number of Vermont unions rallied at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to mark solidarity with their “union brothers and sisters” in Wisconsin.About 200 people attended the event, many of them holding signs and union banners.
Jill Charbonneau, Executive Vice President of the Vermont AFL-CIO, began the rally by comparing the fight in Wisconsin to protests in Tunisia and Egypt. She encouraged attendees to send a message of support to “the workers of Wisconsin”.
“We will not stand by while corporations turn working-class neighborhoods into third-world countries!” exclaimed Charbonneau. She urged everyone to support H.97, a bill that would grant early childcare workers the right to unionize.
It was obvious that many at the rally were upset at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
“This extreme, politically motivated attack on worker rights will harm the quality of their schools and the education children receive because educators will have no say in school quality issues,” claimed Martha Allen of the Vermont NEA. “Public employees are willing to do their part in tough economic times, but this goes far beyond a budget fix. It sets employee-employer relations back decades.”
Ben Johnson, President of the United Professions AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Vermont, used harsh language when referring to Governor Walker. “In Wisconsin, we see one approach to community,” he said. “The Walker way is to rob middle class families of their voice, to strip workers of their rights and to terrorize public servants into submission. Rob, strip, and terrorize. It sounds like Walker spends more time planning home invasions than he does planning public policy.”
“Words are a penny a pound at a time like this,” Johnson continued. “Action is what we need. To our elected leaders we say that this is the time to show us that you belong here in Vermont and not in Wisconsin.”
“We don’t like bullies in this state, so come on down and we’ll change your mind about a few things,” remarked Bob Hooper, President of the State Employees Union. Earlier in his speech Hooper had said, “Unrestrained capitalism cannot exist in the same environment as unrestrained Democracy.”
Reed Webster, a public employee with the Vermont Worker’s Center, declared:
“The likes of Governor Walker want to say that the unions are the problem, and they are pushing their agenda to privatize anything they can in the public arena and say that the market is the solution to everything. But in fact we know that it is a greedy system of Wall Street speculators and bankers who are the problem.”
Rep. Susan Hatch Davis (P-Washington) read an e-mail she received from a constituent, who wrote, “It’s always a little hard to figure out why working class people aren’t marching with pitchforks.” This remark was greeted by the crowd with laughter, cheers, and a yell of “Bring out the pitchforks!”
Rep. Joey Donovan (D-Burlington) credited the unions with creating the prosperity of the last century. “As President Obama said, it spread the wealth around.”
Governor Shumlin made an appearance at the rally, calling collective bargaining “a basic right of America that keeps our middle class strong.”
Other cameos included Speaker of the House Shap Smith (D-Morristown) and House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche (D-Hardwick).
“There are some around the country who are using the challenges we face to advance a political agenda,” said Shap Smith. “They see in this an opportunity to crush labor. That is not going to happen in Vermont,” he said emphatically. He made a pledge to “work together” with unions to “make Vermont a stronger state, to ensure that we have a vibrant middle class and strong working families.”
“That is a pledge that I make to you today, and that is the pledge that I am going to be held to as a standard,” he continued. “And that is what the House leadership and the legislature should be held to as well.”
Rep. Lucy Leriche called the Wisconsin fight to a “full frontal attack”. “It’s clear to me that the working families of Vermont are being subjected now to a full frontal attack,” she said. “Today we all bear witness to this, this frontal attack on middle class Americans. This is an attempt to undermine our economy, our families, and our very unity as a nation.” She went on to say that the legislature stood in solidarity with the unions.
When she finished, there were catcalls from the crowd of “Put your money where your mouth is!”
Although Vermont’s congressional delegation did not make appearances at the event, all of them sent statements of support that were read by aides.
“What the right wing knows is that the union represents the strongest opposition to right-wing reactionaries and their attacks on the needs of working families,” Sanders’ statement read. He blamed the budget deficit on the wars, “huge tax breaks for the wealthy”, pharmaceutical companies and the “Wall Street Bailout”.
“It is time for the wealthy and large, profitable corporations to begin to pay their fair share,” he said.
Representative Peter Welch’s statement read in part, “The governor of Wisconsin would have us believe that the current fiscal crisis warrants his bullish tactics… Our nation’s economy did not go off the cliff because public employees have the right to organize. Rather, our economy crashed because Wall Street speculators and hedge fund managers have driven it into the ditch.”
Senator Patrick Leahy wrote, “There will always be attempts by special interests to bring the heavy hand of authority down on the heads of working men and women to overrun their rights and to mute their voices in the labor marketplace.”
Some of the signs read, “Hosni Walker: Cairo to Vermont via Wisconsin”, “The Right Got the Gain, We Got the Pain” and various other signs accusing “the right” and the Koch brothers of conspiring against unions.
One of the signs said, “Real Facisism Has No Unions: Read A History Book”. Perhaps the sign maker should have consulted a spelling book before attempting to spell ‘fascism’.