April 2011

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Wisconsin Workers: ‘Fighting for All of Us'

The massive protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers has inspired a new spirit of solidarity and activism among IBEW members, both in Wisconsin and across the country.

"Our members have been participating in the rallies on a daily basis," says Madison Local 159 Business Manager Mark Hoffmann. He says members are mobilized—public and private—in a way he hasn't seen in years. "They know that Walker isn't going to stop with public workers," he says. "If he can get away with taking away the rights of teachers and sanitation workers, it's a threat to the entire middle class."

Janesville Local 890 member Jim Anton has been making the more than an hour commute from his home in Williams Bay to Madison three times a week to join the rallies.

The inside wireman told In These Times magazine that "labor has been divided for many years, but this has been a spark that started something. Hopefully we will be stronger because of it."

Some travelled even farther to be part of the protests.

Spokane, Wash., Local 73 member Aarin Borges, responding to a call for help from his friend Local 159 member Mark Roughen to help get out the real story about what was going on in Wisconsin, flew to Madison in February.

Borges and Roughen set up a camera in the capitol building—hooked up to a live Internet feed—to help get out the story that Walkers' moves were aimed solely at attacking workers' rights.

The feed's link was shared on the Internet as activists across the country used it to watch live coverage of the protests.

When the authorities in Wisconsin cracked down on admission into the capitol building, the International Office coordinated with Workers Independent News (WIN) to obtain press passes that enabled them to continue their feed.

Also logging thousands of miles to show their solidarity were a group of Boston Local 2222 members, who drove more than 18 hours to Madison to join the protests in late February.

Steve "Smitty" Smith, a Local 2222 organizer and retired lineman, writing on a blog about the group's trip, said "my mom and my dad—a retired postal worker—live very modestly on his pension. Yet they offered me $100 when I told them we were going to support the workers in Madison. My mom and dad can't afford $100, but they won't stand by and see their children and grandchildren's futures disappear without getting involved."

IBEW members from California to Missouri were also drawn to Wisconsin, including Kansas City, Mo., Local 124 member Roger Lake, who says what is happening in Madison is revitalizing the labor movement.

International President Edwin D. Hill also travelled to Madison, telling protestors in late February that "there is not a place I would rather be than here in Wisconsin, standing with people who are fighting for all of us."

Milwaukee Local 2150 member Mike Haak says Walker's attacks have electrified the membership. "During last year's election, there was a lot of apathy," he says, admitting that some members voted for Walker, who was elected last November. But the mobilizations in Madison have generated a sea change in thinking. "There has been a desire to be involved and an energy that I haven't seen in a long time. Walker really woke a lot of us up," he says.

The IBEW's International Executive Committee created at its February meeting a unity fund to help local members fighting for the rights of working people in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Florida and beyond.

If you would like to make a donation, please make checks payable to IBEW Unity Fund and mail them to:

IBEW Unity Fund
900 Seventh Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

A Downers Grove, Ill., Local 15 member hoists a flag at a solidarity rally March 5 in Madison, Wis., for weeks the epicenter of union activism. Photo credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user wisaflcio.