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Solidarity with unions – under siege in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Arizona and elsewhere – rang out in Fountain Square on March 15. The rally began small at about 5:30 p.m., but within 15 minutes more than 150 people had gathered, and even more indicated their support from their cars, honking horns as they passed.
Rallies were held in several places across the country, organized by local members of Moveon.org to protest the recent action by the Wisconsin General Assembly that stripped public sector unions of collective bargaining rights – a measure that could be replicated in other states.
“Stand up, fight back and defend the American dream against the right-wing assault,” Rachel Rosner, one of the organizers of the Evanston rally, told the crowd.
On the periphery of the, several people held signs saying “Cut bonuses, not teachers”; “Stop funding wars in the Mideast. Start funding jobs in the Midwest.” Others closer in held signs indicating solidarity with labor.
Jean Luft, president of the School District 65 Educators Council (DEC, the teachers’ union), said she wished to clear up some misconceptions about unions. “Teachers do pay into their pensions. Teachers do not receive Social Security. … We lobby and negotiate for smaller class sizes, the arts, music, world languages; for safe and healthy working and learning environments; for better pay and for competitive salaries. We and other unions care about children. In return, we ask for the right to live the American dream.”
Jason Hayes, a firefighter and the president of Washington School PTA, spoke of how the collective bargaining process has benefited works. “Collective bargaining has given us proper training and protective equipment. Collective bargaining has a positive effect on all aspects of American life. He asked the audience to consider a few questions that he said were answered in the affirmative by collective bargaining: “’Can a company have its employees work eight-hour shifts and still turn a profit?’ ‘Can a woman be a valuable employee even if she takes maternity leave?’ ‘Are safe working conditions really worth it?’” He added, “Not enough attention is placed on getting people back to work. … It is time to fix the American economy.”
Two speakers linked the problems in the United States economy to its wars and said spending on the military cuts funding for social services. Laura Potts of the Committee Against the Militarization of Youth said this country “spends 2 billion per day to kill people in other countries – in Afghanistan and Iraq. … There’s a crisis but we didn’t create it. Hungry children didn’t create it.” She also spoke of the struggle of undocumented workers and called for immigration reform.
Dickelle Fonda of the North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice said veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were standing with the protestors in Madison, Wis., last weekend “because they understand deeply the devastation that 10 years of war has brought to this country.”
The clear, cold, almost-spring evening gathered gently over the crowd as the rally wound down to the strains of “Solidarity Forever.”