18 Feb 2011

US budget cuts: mass protests and political shenanigans

The battle against budget cuts reaches new levels in the US State of Wisconsin, as thousands of public service workers invade the Senate – and Democratic Senators go on strike.

Protesting public workers occupy the Wisconsin State Senate (Getty)

Democratic lawmakers in the US State of Wisconsin have taken direct action to try to scupper the one of the most anti-trade union Bills yet proposed.

They’ve deliberatly gone missing from Wisconsin’s State Capitol and won’t say where they are – because under the rules, at least one Democrat must be present for a Bill to be passed.

The action came as thousands of teachers, prison guards, and other government workers marched on Winconsin’s capitol building in Madison in protest at the Republican-led State Senate’s attempts to push through the Public Employee Bill.

They say the Bill will virtually eliminate their hard-won collective bargaining rights and dramatically increase the amounts they’ll have to contribute to their pensions and health insurance. One teacher told a Wisconsin newspaper: “This is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.”

The Bill was introduced just a week ago by Winconsin’s Republican Governor but has been speeding through the Legislature.

Democrats want Governor Scott Walker to meet them to discuss concessions. But Governor Walker called their action a “stunt” and said his plan to remove collective bargaining rights is non-negotiable.

Union leaders in Washington DC are backing their colleagues: one teachers’ union leader said everyone benefits from the collective bargaining process and the Bill will put basic rights at risk.

Wisconsin’s Republicans, who won election victories in November’s midterm elections, argue that they have a mandate to cut government spending. They say they need to balance the State budget and avoid job losses.

The State faces a $3.6billion budget deficit in the next two years and the proposed Bill is expected to save $300million.