WASHINGTON --- Leaders of the fightback against union-busting in Ohio and Wisconsin were given a heroes welcome at the Take Back the American Dream Conference.
Courtney Foley, an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers told a crowded workshop that Ohio labor and its allies filed over 1,600,000 petition signatures to put on the ballot a measure to repeal Gov. John Kasich's vicious union-busting measure, SB-5, that strips public employees of bargaining rights.
"Its like something I've never seen before," Foley said. "We've never collected signatures on a petition where people lined up to sign. People were mobbing me to sign," she said.
The Ohio Secretary of State asked an engineer to check the floor of his office to make sure it could carry the weight of the semi-truckload of petitions, she said.
Just a day or so after angry voters in Wisconsin voted to recall two Republicans for voting for a similar measure, Kasich began to sweat, she said. He asked the labor movement to join in a "conversation" about SB-5. "We told him he could endorse the "repeal the law" but we're not going to have a conversation with you." Again the room erupted in applause.
An African-American woman stood, telling the crowd she is from Cincinnati. "Come to Ohio," she said. "We need your help in turning out the vote November 8. We'll give you a bed, food to eat, and lots of love. But we need your help in turning out the vote to repeal this law."
Wisconsin firefighter, Mahlon Mitchell, told the workshop firefighters do not think of themselves as heroes.
"We have an emergency in our state and that's what firefighters do in an emergency," he said. "We came with our bagpipes. You know the story in the Bible about the parting of the waters. We marched in and the crowd parted!"
His comments evoked laughter and applause. He was referring to the big contingent of firefighters who marched into the vast protest rally in front of the State Capitol in Madison last February to protest Wis. Gov. Scott Walker's vicious union-busting law.
Mitchell, a young African-American firefighter in Madison, had been elected president of the 3,000 member Wisconsin firefighters union only a month earlier. He rejected Walker's attempt to bribe the firefighters by exempting them from the union-busting law. Instead, Mitchell and others pushed through the decision to join in the huge protest movement that rocked the state and nation.
Mitchell warned that the labor movement still has far to go. He pointed out that 39 percent of union members voted for Scott Walker.
The movement to reclaim the dream must avoid "preaching to the choir" he said and focus on a strategy of "winning people over" who don't agree with the movement.
He added, "We have to keep our moral outrage strong. Unions must not just service their members, they must educate their members. The key to the fight in Wisconsin is that we took it to the streets."
Mary Bell, President of the Wisconsin Education Association, denounced the cutbacks in funding for public education and the layoffs of teachers and staff. "There is no lack of funds," she said. "They are stripping funding that used to educate our children, handing huge cuts to the public schools and a huge increase to private charter schools and vouchers."
She heard Take Back the American Dream movement leader, Van Jones, speak here, and was inspired. "I took out my Wide Awake and Voting button from the Wisconsin recall,. We will not sleep again!"
The crowd cheered.
Wisconsinite John Nichols, staff writer for the Nation magazine, moderated the workshop titled "Wisconsin and Ohio: Resistance Rising."
The New York Times arrived very late to cover the Battle of Wisconsin, he charged. The morning after the Republicans rammed Walker's union-busting bill through in the dead of night, the Times printed an editorial proclaiming the battle over.
"Its too bad Wisconsin farmers didn't get the news from The New York Times because they arrived in Madison on their tractors that morning to join the movement," Nichols said with an ironic grin. "They rolled up the boulevard to our beautiful Capitol and were greeted by 180,000 people who also had not got the news."
The battle continues, Nichols said, as the crowd cheered.