By Matthew Rothschild on February 15, 2011

Fifteen thousand Wisconsin workers and their supporters rallied at the state capitol in Madison on Tuesday to protest the governor’s vicious and unprecedented assault on union rights.

Newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker, emboldened by a new Republican state senate and a new Republican state assembly, wasted no time in putting forward a bill to make it illegal for public sector workers to bargain on anything other than wages.

Signs of “Hosni Walker” and “Kill the Bill” dotted the crowd.

The bill would make it much easier to get rid of public sector unions altogether by forcing yearly votes of the membership. And it would allow employers to fire workers who are trying to organize unions.

Walker is going after public workers right away, demanding steep cuts in benefit packages for all but the police and fire fighters. Many state workers are looking at losing as much as $5,000 to $7,000 a year.

And he’s even threatened to call out the National Guard to take anyone’s job who refuses to go along.

Madison protestTeamsters, teachers, university workers, nurses, high school students, and state workers of all kinds flooded the streets and the capitol grounds. The crowd cheered as firefighters showed their solidarity.

Gerald McEntee, international head of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), flew in from Washington to address the crowd.

Madison protest“We’re not going to let this happen,” McEntee said. “We won’t let him break the back of the middle class of Wisconsinites.”

Kelley Cory was carrying a sign that said, “Stop the Attack on Wisconsin Families.” An AFSCME member, she has worked as a secretary for the University of Wisconsin for 30 years.

“The cuts are going to cost my family over $5,500 a year. That’s $462 a month out of my paycheck,” she says. “I’ve got a daughter in college and a son in high school. I know we have to sacrifice, but this will put people out of their homes.”

Cory debunks the facile claim that public sector workers are getting rich on the government tit.

“I make less than $40,000 a year after thirty years in the workforce,” she says. “I haven’t had a pay raise in four or five years, and I lost $1,200 last year in furloughs.”

Cory is recovering from breast cancer. She completed her chemo and radiation treatments a year and a half ago.

“I missed only 14 days of work, and I was sick,” she says. “And now I’m living through this.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Lessons of the Glorious Egyptian Revolution."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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