Mass. Demonstrators Weigh In On Wis. Standoff

By Phillip Martin

Feb. 23, 2011

BOSTON — The standoff between the governor of Wisconsin and some of its unions over bargaining rights is continuing, and protests have spread from that state capitol to Indiana and Ohio, too.

Protesters reacting to an appearance by Republican Gov. Scott Walker at a news conference inside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP)

In Massachusetts, Gov. Patrick joined 1,000 union members on Beacon Hill Tuesday at a solidarity rally. It turned into something of a political tug-of-war, with a much smaller counter demonstration organized by the Massachusetts Tea Party taking place across the street.

Hundreds of workers representing teachers, ironworkers, drivers, nurses and others cheered and held up signs reading “Stand Up for Wisconsin Workers.” They were vociferously expressing their opposition to Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's proposal to strip public sector employees of their right to bargain collectively on every issue but wages.

Theresa Strong teaches elementary school in Charlestown.

“I came out here to support the Wisconsin teachers and to remind everybody that the unions are why we have many of the rights we have today and if you lose the unions we’re gonna lose more rights,” Strong said. 

On the other side of the street, separated by police, about one hundred Tea Party activists waved  homemade placards showing phrases like “Unions are Un-American.’’

Christen Varley, the state Tea Party president said that public workers, including those here in Massachusetts, earn too much.

“Public sector workers are not held to the same standard as private sector workers. The system by which they are paid and by which they receive their benefits are unsustainable in any economy, not to mention an economy in distress,” Varley said.

Union officials argue that economic stability is not the real objective of proposed legislation to end collective bargaining in states across the country. Gov. Patrick supports Massachusetts' public employee unions, so there is no immediate issue here. But Massachusetts Teachers' Association president Paul Toner says the tense national political atmosphere with regard to union's rights means it's time to be vigilant and vocal nonetheless.

"What it means is that you would be completely eliminating the voices of workers and their working conditions. This isn’t really about compensation.  It’s about fairness and justice and giving workers a voice in their workplace,” Toner said.   

But one union official from Somerville said that the flip side of the perceived anti-union effort is that the demonstrations are bringing out the progressive base in ways not seen since 2008. He compares it to the furious opposition to the national health care bill over the past year that spurred the Tea Party Movement. 

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