An overflow crowd of union members and working-class Americans packed the lobby of United Steelworker headquarters and spilled into the streets at a rally to show solidarity with state employees in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states where freedom to organize and bargain collectively has come under attack.
"The recent wave of attacks on public employees is not the fault of the workers but the result of giving enormous tax breaks to the rich and the ultra-rich," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. "Public sector unions are being vilified, used as the scapegoats as budget shortfalls are, pure and simple, being used as political fodder to turn Americans against organized labor."
Gerard said the blame does not lie with modest pensions for teachers and other workers but rather is due to reduced tax revenues from tax cuts for the wealthy, two unfunded wars, and bad trade deals that have resulted in 55,000 manufacturing plants closing in the United States the past ten years.
He compared the 20 U.S top hedge fund managers annual income as being equivalent to an entire year's salary for 50 school teachers in every county, in every state of America. "If you could create jobs by giving tax breaks to the rich, after eight years of the Bush regime, we should have full employment, he said."
Nationally syndicated columnist Jim Hightower told the crowd, "What they've done is like poking a stick at a sleeping dog as workers across American have awakened and are fighting back for the middle class."
A Pew Research survey has shown that three out of four Americans believe the efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to try to abolish collective bargaining is wrong.
Hightower said, "The growing list of governors, following the same blame-the-unions script, must think they are top dogs and we are a bunch of fire hydrants. It's up to us to stand up."
Teachers, firefighters and others also spoke at the rally and called for unity and solidarity.
The Rev. Kevin J. Lee, pastor of With Wings of Eagles Church in New Brighton, Pa., prayed for the workers of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and around our nation, saying we must all lock hands and pull each other up in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Let us pray for the future of the middle class and our communities, which are also under assault by forces that are trying to disguise the gluttony and greed of the richest among us as the sins of the rest of us," Lee said. "Let us pray for clarity and compassion from our political leaders, that they don't balance the budgets of today at the cost of tomorrow's bright future.
"And let us pray for our kids and our grandkids. For when this battle is over, and the attack has ended, it is into their innocent eyes we must look and say, without a doubt, 'Child, with every breath in our bodies and until the very end, we fought like hell for you.'"