Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore urged Wisconsin residents on Saturday to fight against Republican efforts to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, telling thousands of protesters that “Madison is only the beginning.”
The crowd roared in approval as Mr. Moore implored demonstrators to keep up their struggle against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s legislation, saying they’ve galvanised the country against the wealthy elite and comparing their fight to Egypt’s revolt. He also thanked the 14 State Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to block a vote on the Bill, saying they’ll go down in history books.
“We’re going to do this together. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up,” Mr. Moore told the protesters, who have swarmed the Capitol every day for close to three weeks.
Thousands showed up on Saturday, the vast majority pro-union, though police didn’t immediately have a solid size estimate. Rallies drew huge crowds the previous two Saturdays — about 70,000 on February 19, and an even larger crowd on February 26.
Mr. Moore, known for documentaries such as Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 told the crowd that the wealthy have overreached, first taking the working class’ money and then taking their souls by shutting them up at the bargaining table. The crowd yelled “thank you” before Mr. Moore began to speak, and he responded — “All of America thanks you, Wisconsin.”
Mr. Walker has said the legislation is needed to help ease a State deficit projected to hit $3.6 billion by mid-2013, though opponents see it as an effort to weaken unions.
Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans broke down on Thursday, though communication lines remain open, Senator Tim Cullen said on Saturday. Mr. Cullen, one of the Democrats who fled the State, said it’s difficult for either side to compromise since Democrats don’t want to lose support from their base and Mr. Walker doesn’t want to appear weak by backing down.
Mr. Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, wrote in an e-mail on Saturday that Mr. Walker wouldn’t publicly comment on the negotiations but was focused on balancing the budget.
Activists began a sit-in at the Wisconsin Capitol on February 15, and although a judge ended protestors’ overnight stays late last week, several hundred were back in the rotunda Saturday chanting “Whose house? Our house!” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Scott Walker’s got to go!”
Thousands more marched in the streets. They banged drums, waved flags and carrying signs with messages like “No one has ever died from overexposure to education,” “Worst Bill ever” and “Tree huggers for unions.”
Meanwhile, two other Democratic senators who fled the State joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago to urge Mr. Walker to negotiate with workers. Senator Lena Taylor said Democrats left because they “needed to slow the Bill down.”
“I ask the Governor, ‘Do your job. Come to the table and speak to Wisconsin workers,’” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Walker has said the bill is needed to ease a deficit that could hit $137 million by July and $3.6 billion by the middle of 2013. His proposal comes up with the money for this year in part by forcing state employees to pay for half the cost of their pensions and twice their current health care premiums — concessions equivalent to an 8 per cent pay cut.
With the labour Bill stalled, Mr. Walker said layoffs may be necessary so the State can start to realise the $30 million savings he had assumed would come from the concessions. All state workers, except those at prisons, state hospitals and other facilities open around the clock, would be potential layoff targets.
Mr. Walker informed state employee unions on Friday that he intends to issue layoff notices to 1,500 workers that would be effective on April 4.