Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on Wisconsin on twitter at @MikeElk.Today, 14 Democratic Wisconsin State Senators walked out of the chamber holding up solidarity fists — denying Republicans the quorum to hold a vote on the Budget Repair Bill, which would strip public employees of their right to collectively bargain. According to reports, the State Senate Democrats have fled the state to avoid state troopers forcing them to come back into quorum. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) told WisPolitics this afternoon that “Senate Democrats left the state in an attempt to force Republicans to negotiate a compromise to proposed changes to the bargaining rights of public employees.”
Some state troopers have already told union leaders that, in a sign of support for striking workers, they are refusing to track down or arrest any state legislators that they encounter. Capitol Police already have refused to kick out of the State Capitol the nearly 5,000 protestors that the Wisconsin Department of Administration has announced are there. Early today, reports from Twitter and sources on the ground said that protesters were literally blocking members of the Wisconsin State Senate GOP from re-entering the chamber in case they tried to take a vote on the bill without a quorum being in place.
The mass protests in Wisconsin seem to be turning public support strongly behind the unions there. President Obama, who in the past had upset public employees union by endorsing the mass firing of unionized teachers in Rhode Island last year and calling for a federal wage freeze, gave a strong statement of support for the workers to Milwaukee TV station saying:
Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions. And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers.
The DNC and OFA also launched campaigns to support the mass protests going on in Madison, Wisconsin, where an estimated 30,000 protestors are gathered outside of the state Capitol. It is the first time that the DNC and OFA have gotten involved in worker’s right issues and might preview help to come in the assault on public employees across the country.
Protests are expected to spread as public support rallies behind workers in Wisconsin. Sources on the ground in Madison tell me City employees are now debating going out on a general strike. Also, over 6,000 students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison walked out of classes in a sign of support.
It now appears that the only way Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker might be able to disperse the estimated crowd of 30,000 outside of the Capitol is to call in the National Guard as he threatened. The question on everyone’s mind is if Governor Walker will resort to martial law in order to stop the protesters.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.