AFL-CIO head looks to seize momentum after Wisconsin setback

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka looked to fire up supporters Thursday after the Wisconsin state Senate advanced controversial legislation that curbs state workers’ collective bargaining rights.

In his first public comments since the bill’s passage, Trumka slammed newly elected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and state Republican lawmakers for “over-reaching” by using a procedural maneuver to pass a revised version of their budget repair bill Wednesday without any Democrats present. Democrats had prevented the measure from being brought up by fleeing to Illinois. The revised bill now goes to the state Assembly, where it is expected to pass.

{mosads}”Last night Scott Walker and his Republican tools in Wisconsin showed
just how far they’re willing to go to pay back their corporate
donors,” Trumka said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington,

“Gov. Walker’s over-reaching has brought us to this moment to talk about jobs. This is the debate we’ve wanted to have,” Trumka added. “Well, guess what? Suddenly the debate came to us, and we’re winning.”

Trumka’s comments provide a shot in the arm to Democrats and labor groups, which have protested the bill for weeks and are looking to regain the upper hand against Walker and the GOP. His words came after thousands of pro-union protesters barged back into the state Capitol building in Madison, which had emptied out before the vote.

The tussle over the Wisconsin legislation has attracted national attention for nearly a month as lawmakers in Washington and states including Ohio and Indiana have debated budget and spending issues. Trumka said the GOP ploy has reenergized labor.

“Thank you, Scott Walker. We should have invited him here today to receive the
Mobilizer of the Year award!” he said.

Labor groups have taken the lead in voicing liberals’ outrage over GOP proposals to cut spending and limit collective bargaining rights for state workers. Wisconsin Republicans have defended the plan as necessary to bring down the state’s budget deficit and blamed Democrats who fled to Illinois for not negotiating in good faith.

Though he mentioned few specifics on how the labor movement would respond, Trumka called the situation the working class’s “Midwest uprising” over Wisconsin Republicans’ “absolute corruption of democracy.”

“As progressives, it is our job to transform the outrage and make this moment a movement — to ensure that this corruption in the Midwest does not stand,” he said. “And we have the immense responsibility to keep the fire lit and spark real change for America.”

Labor groups, alongside local and national liberal groups, are helping organize recall efforts against eight Wisconsin GOP senators who are eligible to be recalled this year. Lawmakers who serve more than a year may be recalled.

Union groups have also accused Republicans of violating a state law that requires some public bodies to announce meetings and actions 24 hours in advance and are contemplating legal action.

“Senate Republicans have exercised the nuclear option to ram through their bill attacking Wisconsin’s working families in the dark of night,” the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said in a statement. “Walker and the Republicans acted in violation of state open meetings laws, and tonight’s events have demonstrated they will do or say anything to pass their extreme agenda that attacks Wisconsin’s working families.”

Trumka also plugged a national labor solidarity day planned for April 4 as a chance to “mobilize nationwide to build the movement we need for the future we deserve.”


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