With protests continuing in Madison to fight Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to limit collective bargaining rights, hundreds gathered in Chicago to show their solidarity with Wisconsin workers.
The two-week old protests in Wisconsin over workers' rights to unionize are reverberating in Illinois. What was described by one as the "Cheddar Revolution" led an estimated crowd of 900 to rally in front of the James Thompson Center in downtown Chicago on Saturday, the latest sign of a solidarity movement spreading nationwide.
With the largest crowds yet gathering once again in Madison, and hundreds still camped inside the state's capitol building refusing to budge, union workers, politicians, and those who simply support workers' rights came together on a wet, snowy day in Chicago to show their support for the workers in Wisconsin.
Cars driving down Randolph honked in support as well, and tourists fresh from grabbing Garrett's popcorn joined the crowds. The movement began two weeks ago when teachers and other public employees in Wisconsin met at their capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill, which would ban most public employees from collectively bargaining, a move Walker claims is needed to dig the state out of its budget hole.
But nobody was buying that on Saturday. Cynthia Kessel, a teacher in Lyons, made an impromptu speech to the crowds. "What I hear Republicans and the tea partiers are doing right now are nothing less than warfare on the middle class," she said. "Their corporate sponsors are convincing them, are controlling them to drive down our wages."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was on hand, telling the protesters, "They can hear this crowd all the way in Madison, Wisconsin." Durbin welcomed the 14 Senate Democrats from Wisconsin who fled the state to eliminate the possibility that a vote could take place on the bill. Durbin then invoked labor leader Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in describing the movement in Wisconsin. Watch his speech here:
The most rousing speech was delivered by Roberta Lynch, the deputy director of AFSCME Local 31. Lynch said Walker's bill was a "raw power grab." She said that it was happening in other states as well and that workers must stand together. She said, "Tragically, what happened in Wisconsin is setting a precedent. Right now, in Ohio, in Florida, in Oklahoma, in Indiana, the corporate powers have stepped up their attacks on workers' rights in every one of those states' legislatures on both public and private sector workers. There can be no division in our ranks today. We must stand untied."
Lynch told the crowd that Wisconsin's Department of Administration plans to start forcing the protesters out of the capitol building, where hundreds have been sleeping. The crowd at the Thompson Center exploded when Lynch said that police in Madison will not force the protesters to leave. Watch Lynch's speech here:
Indeed, the evacuation of the capitol building was set for Sunday, but at 4 p.m. when police arrived to evacuate the building, the protesters refused to leave. As promised, the police did not use force, and allowed the protesters to stay in the building Sunday night. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said, "We want the people to continue to cooperate and work within the guidelines and the laws of the state of Wisconsin. So there'll be no one asked to leave the Capitol tonight."
Those listening to Lynch and Durbin included Ellyce Anapolsky who said he son is in a union. Asked why she felt the need to protest in Illinois, against a bill in Wisconsin, Anapolsky said, "It's interlinked to the whole country. It's been a slow eating away of workers' rights. This is just a frontal attack." Watch our video below to see other protesters talk about the importance of collective bargaining rights.
At the end of her address, Lynch said the issue that led to the protest is an important one for everyone. "You may not be a member of a union," she said, "but today, and from this day forward, you belong to the union movement."