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3000 students walk out in Milwaukee, support public workers

By Mike Gold |
February 17, 2011
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Milwaukee, WI - 3000 students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) walked out of classes at noon, Feb. 17 to protest Governor Scott Walker’s proposed union busting bill, which would effectively ban public sector unions from being able to collectively bargain. Students at colleges and high schools across the state organized walkouts and many school districts were shut down by teacher absences.

“If you eliminate collective bargaining you wage war on the unions and on the working class,” observed UWM student Gabe Pollack. While UWM employees’ unions mobilized for the huge protest in Madison, many students, faculty and workers cancelled classes or walked out to chant “Whose school? Our school!”

Speakers from Milwaukee Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), The Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association (MGAA), and UWM professors rallied the crowd against Walker’s proposed cuts to education and workers’ rights. Students chanted, “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!” and “Workers rights are under attack, what do we do, stand up fight back!”

The walkout consisted of undergraduate students, AFSCME campus workers, teaching assistants, professors and hundreds of local high school students who also walked out in support of their education. The huge crowd completely shut down the main plaza on campus, making it impossible to get through. UWM freshman Amanda Moore commented, “It’s awesome to see this many people behind one thing and it’s even more awesome to be a part of it.”

Members of the UWM teaching assistants union, MGAA, are in danger of losing their tuition remission, which means that TA’s at UWM would have to work full time, attend school full time and pay to do so. Walker’s bill also proposes doubling health care costs for public employees. History TA and MGAA representative Jacob Glicklich, said, “We are all threatened. This is an attack on public services for Wisconsin and this goes beyond our state.” MGAA’s contract is officially up for debate on March 13.

While Walker blames public employees for creating the budget crisis, he seeks tax cuts for corporations and the rich. As Milwaukee County Executive, Walker cut numerous public services such as bus lines in neighborhoods of color. Walker helped make Milwaukee the fourth poorest city in the United States and if he has his way he will do the same to the state of Wisconsin.

Resistance Continues in Madison

In Madison, the sit-in at the Capitol continues as tens of thousands of workers and students unite in bold resistance. Democrats refused to show up to the Senate, breaking quorum and delaying the vote for the bill. Many Senators crossed the state border in order to delay the vote, as Governor Walker attempted to dispatch state police to find them.

Despite massive protests across the state, Governor Walker seems determined to pass his anti-worker, anti-student legislation. Many other campuses in Wisconsin participated in the walkout as well, protesting the attack on their education. High schools have been shut down. Protests and actions of this nature are expected to continue as long as the bill remains a devastating possibility for the future of the workers of Wisconsin.

Education Rights Struggle Advances

The UWM walkout was the largest on campus since SDS organized a national student strike against the invasion of Cambodia in 1971. While SDS and The Education Rights Campaign at UWM face off with Walker’s union busting, massive cuts to public education are expected from Walker’s upcoming budget proposal. Milwaukee SDS will join the call to build for the March 2 National Day of Action to Defend Public Education.

On behalf of the UWM walkout, SDS member Kas Schwerdtfeger read aloud a proclamation, supported by applause at the rally, reprinted below:

UWM SDS Proclamation of the UWM Walkout

“We are gathered here today as a collective body of students, faculty, and staff of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

This is a walkout. Today we made an active choice to demonstrate that business as usual cannot continue.

Governor Walker has put forward a proposal that attacks decades of democratic gains made by the working people of this state. Under Walker's proposed ‘Budget Repair Bill,’ the people of this state would all but lose their right to collectively bargain for things as basic as health care, job conditions, and health and safety issues in the workplace. State workers, local employees and school district employees would lose hundreds of millions of dollars of income critical to supporting themselves and their families.

As a democratic body representing ourselves as students, faculty, and staff at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, we declare today that we reject Governor Walker's Budget Proposal. No amendments will make it acceptable.

We will only accept a proposal that represents the interests of the working people of this state - their organizations, their families, and their lives.”

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