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Striking Milwaukee bus drivers picket county executive's luxury condo

By Andrew Urban |
July 4, 2015
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Striking Milwaukee bus drivers march
Striking Milwaukee bus drivers march (Photo by Joe Brusky)

Milwaukee, WI - Around 150 members and supporters of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, the union of Milwaukee's bus drivers, protested outside Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's $2.1 million downtown condominium, July 3. The protest was initiated by the United Workers Organization, a group of young rank-and-file union activists that was formed during the fight against ‘right to work’ earlier this year.

July 3 is the final day of the planned three-day work strike by ATU 998. The decision to stop work was taken after Abele refused to agree to a fair contract with Milwaukee's bus drivers. The union is demanding adequate bathroom breaks for drivers and full-time jobs offering a living wage, benefits, stability and job security.

Abele, on the other hand, wants to introduce part-time driving positions, not only to save money at the expense of workers, but also to divide workers against one another and ultimately to break the union in the wake of ‘right to work.’ Abele and the corporate media have sought to distract from these fundamental issues by spreading the lie that the union has rejected a pay increase.

Speaking to news cameras outside Abele's residence, ATU 998 President James Macon would offer no guarantee that service would resume at 3:00 a.m. on July 4 as scheduled. He suggested that viewers call Abele at 414-278-4211 and ask why he won't agree to a fair contract with the union.

Addressing the crowd on behalf of the United Workers Organization, Teamsters Local 344 member Dan Ginsberg said that with its work stoppage, ATU is showing the way forward for the labor movement in Wisconsin. "The fight ATU 998 is leading is for a better contract," he said, "but is also part of a larger struggle against the enemies of the working class."

Several speakers connected the work stoppage to other ongoing social struggles in Milwaukee. Nate Hamilton, a prominent activist in the Black Lives Matter movement whose brother, Dontre Hamilton, was murdered by a Milwaukee police officer in 2014, addressed the crowd. Whether we're fighting for a fair labor contract or for fair treatment from the police, Hamilton said, “We fight for equality, we fight for respect, and we fight for the rights of all working people." Urging bolder action, Hamilton then led the protest in a march that occupied the streets of downtown Milwaukee for several blocks.

Marcelia Nicholson of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association spoke of the solidarity between teachers and bus drivers. “Transit workers get our students to school and their parents to work every day," she said before leading the protest in chanting, "No justice, no buses, no school takeover!" Abele, a Democrat, is working with Republicans in an ongoing attempt to privatize Milwaukee's schools.

In closing the rally, activist and former ATU member Angela Walker addressed the decision to protest at Abele's residence. “You're messing with my house,” she said, “so we're coming to yours!"