Thousands of people will rally this weekend in several states in opposition to steep, ideologically driven budget cuts. A major labor rally is planned for today in Trenton, New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie released a budget this week that “stepped up the pressure to slash [public employees'] health and retirement benefits.” In Indiana today, union members and their supporters are rallying against a bill by Republicans in the state legislature that would drastically reduce public employees’ collective bargaining rights.
In New Jersey, public employees clearly see Christie’s cuts as an ideological attack on their ability to organize and influence the political process — by weakening the unions ahead of upcoming elections, Christie may be able to flip the currently Democratic state legislature Republican, thus paving the way for a direct assault on collective bargaining rights:
“I think if there’s a huge Republican sweep, collective bargaining laws for public employee unions could very much come under threat in New Jersey,” said Jeffrey H. Keefe, a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations.
Union membership in the state has seen a steady decline since 1983, when 822,000 workers, or 27 percent of the state’s workforce belonged to unions, according to unionstats.com. At the end of 2010, 637,000 workers or just 17 percent of the workforce were union members, according to the website. [...]
“We gotta get this guy Christie out of office, he’s killing us,” said John Dunphy of Kearny, a 25-year member of Local 194. “It seems like they’re picking on the little guy more than the big guys.”
In Indiana, though the Republican-controlled legislature says it will not advance a bill stripping public employee unions of collective bargaining rights, state House Democrats have vowed to remain out of state “until the ‘radical attack’ on working Hoosiers is over.” They want other bills on unions and education killed before they return, and union workers will gather at the state capitol for the fifth straight day to protest the legislation “they consider an attack on the working class.”
Over the weekend, MoveOn.org is planning rallies in all 50 states to “Save the American Dream.” MoveOn says the rallies “demand an end to the attacks on worker’s rights and public services across the country. We demand investment, to create decent jobs for the millions of people who desperately want to work. And we demand that the rich and powerful pay their fair share.”
The Main Street Movement protests will also move to Florida in the coming days, where Gov. Rick Scott (R) has proposed dramatic $5 billion cuts to the state budget while at the same time reducing tax revenue by $1.7 billion, mostly for corporations and the wealthy. Labor, civil rights, and Democratic grassroots groups are planning a day of action outside government office complexes and parks in major cities in the state on March 8. The movement began online: “It’s sort of an organic movement started on Facebook,” said one activist. “There’s a big movement afoot to oppose what’s going on in Tallahassee right now.”
The National Journal has a map of union protests going on across the country.