HARTFORD, Conn. - Shouting "We Are One" and "Shame on Walker," hundreds of union members and representatives of community groups were joined by newly elected Governor Daniel Malloy on the Capitol steps Tuesday in support of public workers in Wisconsin.
"I am proud to stand with you and the workers of Wisconsin," declared Malloy to cheers and whistles. Rejecting the "full assault on the right to organize, the right to negotiate," Malloy said, "We may not always agree. But we can sit down and talk. Negotiated agreements make a stronger United States and Connecticut."
The multi-racial crowd of teachers, nurses, custodians, laborers, clerical workers, teamsters, firefighters, hospital workers, construction workers, sheet metal workers and unemployed carried their banners and signs.
"As workers we rise or fall together," said Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4 which initiated the rally. Decrying the "all out war on the middle class," he emphasized the great wealth in Connecticut and the country. and called the attempt to blame public workers and unions for the economic crisis "a distraction from those who created dislocation and suffering in the United States."
John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL CIO, called upon Wisconsin to adhere to the International Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the right of workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining, noting that every sector of the labor movement is standing together in solidarity "for a just and right cause."
Referring to the budget fight within Connecticut, Olsen said, "in this state alone, the Bush tax cuts extended to those over $250,000 would bring in $3.1 billion dollars. That alone could solve the problems in Connecticut. The problem is we have to tax some people. We just want the taxes they stole," he said to loud applause.
Wisconsin is one of 11 states targeted by corporate interests for attempts to break public sector unions and weaken all unions. The national outpouring of solidarity in support of union workers in these states is also strengthening understanding that state workers and those they serve are not responsible for budget crises.
Gov. Malloy issued his budget proposal last week and is touring the state for a series of 17 public meetings. Unlike other Governors, he acknowledges that the greatest need is more revenue, not less spending. He proposes to maintain the same level of funding for municipalities. His proposed cuts to services, while untenable, are less than other states. However, he calls on state workers to finance the proposal through huge concessions.
A distributional analysis of the Governor's proposal reveals that of $3,7 billion raised to balance the budget, roughly 77% would be paid by the bottom 90 percent, including one billion dollars from state workers. Despite talk of "shared sacrifice" the working class families of Connecticut would pay more than three quarters of the total cost of balancing the state budget. Compared with millionaires, moderate income working families will see a higher percentage of their income go to these extra costs.
Governor Malloy's budget includes only a token 0.2% increase in the tax on the portion of incomes over one million dollars. A coalition of unions and service providers, Better Choices for Connecticut, has proposed an additional two percent on that income, which still leaves Connecticut taxes lower than New York or New Jersey, the state's main competitors for corporations and the super rich.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie belligerently berated Malloy for raising any taxes on the rich. Speaking on national television Christie called for businesses to move from Connecticut to New Jersey.
This race to the bottom was soundly rejected at the solidarity rally. Speaking as a native of New Jersey, Brendon Sharkey, majority leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives, told the rally that since Christie became Governor, New Jersey lost 20,000 private sector jobs.
"The Republicans are using the economic crisis as a reason to bust unions. This is nothing to do with balanced budgets," Sharkey exclaimed.
A worker from the State Department of Social Services read a message from a Wisconsin AFSCME union brother who had been in Madison for six days. "The corporate funded right-wing Tea Party has the power but in the fight for justice we have friends," he wrote. "This is the first salvo for big business that is meant to wave across the country. When we stand in solidarity with each other we cannot be silenced."
Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, brought greetings from a teacher in Wisconsin. "In Wisconsin and across the country we join together and stand up for our basic rights as workers. Governor Walker's proposal is not about fixing the budget but weakening the working class. Thank you for standing up for us today and saying enough is enough."
"Keep up the fight!" was the chant in response.
David Roche, speaking for the Sheet Metal Workers Union, which along with the building trades is suffering 30 to 50 percent unemployment, concluded, "The attacks on working men and women are clear. The sleeping giant is awakened. An attack on one union is an attack on all unions."
More rallies and solidarity actions are underway as this epic battle unfolds.
Photo: Hartford, CT, Feb 25 2011, solidarity rally with WI workers at CT state capitol. Henry Lowendorf.