Standing Up for Wisconsin Teachers, Workers

Union members and supporters massed in front of the State House Tuesday, Feb. 22. (Photo by Ann O'Halloran)

Citizens for Public Schools members joined the throngs of union members and their allies rallying at the State House Feb. 22 in support of Wisconsin teachers and other workers under attack by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

At the podium and in the crowd, CPS members raised their voices and signs to condemn Governor Walker’s shocking and senseless assault on collective bargaining rights. Serving as master of ceremonies, Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner made clear Walker’s real agenda, noting that teachers had offered concessions to address budget shortfalls, but Walker is bent on destroying collective bargaining and unions themselves. “Gov. Walker won’t take yes for an answer. He wants to smash unions,” Toner said, adding. “Take a walk, Gov. Walker.”

AFT-MA President Thomas Gosnell gave two telling pieces of evidence for the Wisconsin governor’s intentions to destroy public unions. “He wants every public sector union member to vote every year whether they want a union. Imagine that,” said Gosnell. “He also has threatened to call out the National Guard, because we know how raucous public employees can be!”

In the crowd, Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman explained the significance of the rally and the larger struggle. “We’re here for two reasons: one, to support our colleagues in Wisconsin, and two, because the tsunami’s moving East.”

Teachers were obviously out in force, including Elizabeth Shevlin, a Boston public school teacher. Shevlin stepped to the podium to say that she comes from a family of public school teachers and appreciates the right to bargain collectively and the working conditions and security it brings. But it’s not just teachers and their own families who benefit, she said. “Collective bargaining protects our students now and in the future. Collective bargaining gives teachers a voice in how our schools run on a day-to-day basis to improve our schools and classrooms. Collective bargaining keeps class sizes low – promising every student the attention he or she deserves from a qualified teacher.”

Shevlin and other teachers and members of the MTA and the AFT-MA were supported by members of other unions such as AFL-CIO, SEIU, Jobs With Justice, NAGE, AFSCME, Working Massachusetts, Massachusetts Nurses Association, Massachusetts Professional Firefighters, Moses, IATSE, building trades and public safety unions.

Elected officials also showed their support, including state legislators, members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and Governor Patrick. A very small contingent of Tea Partiers elicited pointed comments from the speakers. Congressman Edward Markey noted their presence and how little they shared with the original Tea Party participants. “They are not the tea party of Paul Revere and Sam Adams. They are the tea party of Alice in Wonderland.”

Congressman Michael Capuano underscored the scope and stakes of the battle. “What’s going on in Wisconsin will soon be going on in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania. This is the final line for the fight for the middle class,” Capuano said. “The workers in Wisconsin will never nor should they ever, nor should we ever allow them to give up the basic right to bargain for wages and benefits,” he added. “We’ve talked the talk, this is the first time we’re going to have to walk the walk,” saying it’s time for us to take up the fight waged by our grandparents.

Gov. Patrick too took the podium to address the crowd. “We don’t need to attack public sector workers to make change for people of the Commonwealth,” he said. He said there is a reason why Massachusetts students and residents do so well compared to other states. “The reason is we turn to each other, not on each other. What is at stake is what kind of Commonwealth and country we want to live in.”

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