City Council members joined labor leaders on the steps of City Hall this morning to condemn what they called concerted attacks on unions in Wisconsin.
Standing before a raucous crowd of union employees, speakers equated moves to diminish collective bargaining rights with an assault on the middle class and charged that such measures were motivated more by political calculus than by saving money.
“The conversation that is going on in Wisconsin is not a conversation,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. “This isn’t a discussion with municipal or state workers about how to balance a budget. This isn’t a discussion about how to keep a pension system sustainable. This is a governor standing up and engaging in union busting.”
Jack Ahern, leader of the city’s Central Labor Council and acting master of ceremonies, kicked off the event by setting attempts to roll back union rights in an historical context, saying that the rise of unions accompanied a growing middle class.
“We are confronting an assault on labor that is so corrosive, so sweeping that if it is allowed to succeed, it will roll back a century of American workplace reforms,” Ahern said. “Be aware, this is not about saving money. This is a political agenda to attack the middle class.”
Many other labor leaders echoed this point and added a fierce indictment of corporations and other affluent interests that they said were mobilizing against the working class.
“There’s been prosperity in this country for the last 20 years but that has not been a shared prosperity,” United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said. “What we know, there also hasn’t been a shared sacrifice because the middle class and the working class has been doing the sacrifice.”
Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Union, took the populist anger a step further, crystallizing a sense of outrage that union members have been unjustly blamed for foundering state budgets.
“Let’s not mince words. The financial elites and their political mercenaries are waging class warfare against working people and the middle class,” Applebaum said. “The American public bailed out the banks and the financial institutions, and now these moneyed institutions are rewarding themselves royally while asking the rest of us to sacrifice.”
In addition to Quinn, Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mathiue Eugene, Jumaane Williams, Letitia James, Charles Barron, Gale Brewer, Elizabeth Crowley, James Sanders Jr., and Assemblyman David Weprin attended.