Spirit of Madison at Oregon rallies

The spirit of Madison came alive in Oregon at a pair of rallies Feb. 25 and 26 in Portland and Salem.

The actions were called to show solidarity with Midwest public workers who are under attack from governors determined to bust their unions, particularly in Wisconsin.

The Portland event, organized by Portland Jobs with Justice and the Oregon AFL-CIO, drew as many as 800 to a rally in Director Park and a subsequent march that snaked through downtown Portland.

Walker and other governors have energized, mobilized, and organized members across this country like never before, said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, in town for a regional conference of affiliated teachers unions.

“Let’s not dance around what’s going on,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “Let’s not tiptoe. Let’s call it like it is. This is class warfare.”

“We’ve been here before,” Chamberlain said. “Your grandparents and great-grandparents stood in these streets 75 years ago and fought for our right to create a union, fought, bled, and died to create the middle class. We remember their courage. We remember they made a better life for us. If we stand our ground, 75 years from now, our descendants will be standing in the same place, thanking us for what we did in turning back the tide.”

“This fight is not about state budgets,” said Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen. “Wisconsin AFSCME already agreed to the pension and health care concessions that that despicable governor demanded. We agreed to those concessions and he still wants to eliminate collective bargaining.”

Portland teacher Adam Sanchez reported on several days he spent with the protesters in Wisconsin. Sanchez slept in the state capitol building alongside hundreds of high school, college and grad students, workers union and non-union, private and public sector from all across the state and other states who had come to join them in solidarity. He described a high degree of self-organization, with organized distribution of donated food, a sign-making station, info center, a lost and found, free earplugs, mittens, and hand warmers, organized cleaning crews.

The following day, an estimated 1,000 people turned up outside the state capitol building in Salem for a rally set up by MoveOn.org with help from many other groups. The crowd was mostly nonunion, but citizen after citizen expressed what diehard unionists have been longing to hear: gratitude for past victories, and an understanding that union workers set standards for all.

“We’re not union members, but we know how important unions are to our wage scale,” said one business owner.

Oregon State Rep Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie), a union rep at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, said he sees this struggle leading to a rebirth of the American labor movement. “You’ve woken up the sleeping giant,” Witt said. “There is no division. There is no public sector and private sector. This is trade unionism: You take one of us on, you take all of us on.”

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