MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Rallies were held across the country Saturday to support thousands of protesters holding steady at the Wisconsin Capitol in their fight against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.

Union supporters organized rallies from New York to Los Angeles in a show of solidarity as the protest in Madison entered its 12th straight day and attracted its largest crowd yet: more than 70,000 people. Hundreds banged on drums and screamed into bullhorns inside, while others braved frigid weather and snowfall during a rally that spilled into city streets.

“I want to thank you for coming out here today to exercise those pesky First Amendment rights,” actor Bradley Whitford, who starred in television’s “The West Wing,” told his hometown crowd. “This governor has to understand Wisconsin is a stubborn constituency. We fish through ice!”

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has introduced a bill that includes stripping almost all public workers, from librarians to snow plow drivers, of their right to collectively bargain on benefits and work conditions. Walker has said the bill would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget. He also argues that freeing local governments from collective bargaining would give them flexibility amid deep budget cuts.

The bill has sent Democrats and unions into an outrage nationwide. They see it as trampling on workers’ rights and as an attempt to destroy Democrats’ strongest campaign allies.

“Wisconsin is opening up people’s eyes a little bit,” said Jay Van Loenen, a teacher who attended a rally in Denver that attracted about 1,000 people. “So I think that the move is to try to get people more involved in their unions and create a stronger front so that if something happens here, we are prepared.”

Several thousand people gathered for a rally in Columbus, Ohio, where lawmakers are considering a similar bill. Indiana Democrats successfully blocked a Republican bill last week that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment.

Large crowds of teachers, firefighters and public workers also gathered for rallies — holding American flags, wearing pro-union clothing and holding signs — in other capital cities including Topeka, Kan.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Olympia, Wash.

In Los Angeles, public sector workers and others held signs that read “We are all Wisconsin.” Some wore foam “cheeseheads,” the familiar hats worn by Green Bay Packers fans.

Covered in layers of coats, scarves, hats and gloves, about 1,000 rally goers outside the Minnesota Capitol chanted “Workers’ rights are human rights” and waved signs, some reading “United we bargain, divided we beg.”

“The right to collectively bargain is an American right,” Eliot Seide, a local union leader, told the crowd in St. Paul. “You can’t have American democracy if you don’t have a strong trade union movement.”

The rallies were part of a campaign by the liberal online group to hold demonstrations supporting Wisconsin workers in major cities across the country. Some of the demonstrations attracted counter-protests, though the pro-union rallies were larger.

Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said he didn’t have a firm estimate on the Wisconsin capital’s crowd, but said it was larger than last weekend when nearly 70,000 people descended on the Capitol.

The crowd cheered as pilot Jeff Skiles, the first officer on the US Airways Flight that landed in New York City’s Hudson River in January 2009, told them that “justice and righteousness will always win out.” Skiles helped pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger land the plane, whose 155 passengers and crew members were safely rescued.

Protesters jammed the Wisconsin Capitol steps, packed the ice-covered lawn — some sat in trees — and filled surrounding streets. Several thousand counter-protesters came out last Saturday to support Walker, but they were hardly visible this time.

Capitol police planned to let protesters stay overnight Saturday into Sunday, but plan to finally close the building Sunday afternoon to let crews clean it.

People held signs that called Walker a parasite and a dictator and demanded voters recall him. Michael Janairo, a 4-year-old of Sheboygan, held a sign that showed Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews tackling Walker. Michael’s mother, Lisa Janairo, is not a public worker but drove to Madison to show support.

“For him to dictate and not negotiate is just wrong and we won’t stand for it,” the 45-year-old said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (21)
  1. Hal Groar says:

    I support the Walker, I hope the rest of the country will catch on to this and do the same thing! Unions do not belong in the public sector workplace!!

    1. GN says:

      I am with you on this Hal. 7% of private sector is union. 36.4% of public is union. The unions made a major push, with lots of money, to get their president elected and their legislators. Miss Klobuchar has voted, in Congress, to unionize all federal employees. Franken has followed suit. The push now is to funnel all missplaced workers through the secondary educational institutions.
      They are all unionized. Talk about a steady stream of income to unions. It is all at taxpayer expense.

    2. PS says:

      walker is a dictator and needs to be IMPEACHED

  2. Gary says:

    I think Scott Walker should succomb to Colt Walker!

    1. GN says:

      Gary, you must be union. Brainwashed idiot. See comments below under GN.

    2. Phid says:

      It is a wonder why violent comments like Gary’s are not used in the media to paint the pro-union crowd as “incendiary”. Of course, the media is not concerned with characterizing the pro-union protests in a negative light, so Gary’s comments will be ignored. In the media, only the Tea Party is trampled upon, but the left gets a free pass. Ever wonder why?

  3. Henry Corp says:

    Thanks for the coverage, but not a single mention of Koch Industries or Ellison’s great speech? Or corporations buying politicians like Walker and getting them elected? This was a nation-wide protest not just for unions but for basic voter and worker rights, and you’d think, in a capitalist economy, human rights to bargain and for the people to vote for people, not corporate subsidiaries.

    MoveOn is also providing video and photos from the rallies:

    1. John says:

      Walker rules! Keep on canceling school. (Sent by a Wisconsin high school student).

    2. GN says:

      Your an idiot Henry Corp — you don’t follow politics at all. Unions are in control of the government and has been for the last two years. Get away from the TV, do some real research. This country is in debt up to its eyeballs because of union control. Detroit is a almost a ghost town because of unions. I am sick of paying UAW pension plans. Unions do not represent labor, they represent unions. They need to be broken in government.

  4. Val says:

    Koch must be kicking himself in the backside for pairing up with Walker. Walker has become the poster child for union support all over the country and words of support from other countries around the world. Unions could not have bought advertising like this in a million years.

    Note to Republican supporters – the party has you doing exactly what they want you to do – you’re falling for their tactics. Never mind that someone else has worked many years at a job and making a fair living from it. You should be happy for them and hope you can better your own situation as they have. But, no. These corporate bosses, that are merely Koch puppets, have you tearing down your neighbors. They can just stand back to watch and laugh as neighbor is turned against neighbor – just because they a few bucks more? Or because they still have a pension? Most all corporate employees had pensions into the 80’s – then Reaganomics made the non-funding of pensions a no-penalty offense. They quit funding them and turned them over to the Wall Street guys that finished their destruction. Welcome to the 401K.

    The GOP party bosses are laughing at you all as they’ve gotten you to want to tear the other person down using pay-check envy. Don’t be sheep. Think for yourselves. Get real facts. Even Walker was spouting the faked numbers Fox News was reporting. Now even Walker is basing his talking points on Fox Lies and he doesn’t even realize it.

    These are your neighbors – people! These are the people that have decided their career will be educating your children, responding to your emergencies and burning homes, being that cog in the wheel that makes sure our veterans are having their business and needs attended to. If we fight amongst ourselves, then they don’t need to get involved – they just go on collecting riches from billionaires bent on getting us measly punks out of their hair.

      1. ps says:

        gn you are so intellegent ……………………………………..NOT………..what grade did you finnish 1st or 2nd !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Nica says:

      Very well said!

  5. Murph says:

    There will be turmoil until the politicians start acting less like stooges and more like leaders. Labor without bargaining rights,is slave labor.Everyone is adversly affected by this except for the super rich CEO’s and those who recieve their bribes! Those politicians who keep saying they want revolutionary change will soon get it! Yet,it may not be what they have hoped for! The clock is ticking.

    1. GN says:

      Hate to tell you this Murph but only 7% of private sector is union. We don’t want them, they outlived their usefulness, Union is for Union. Have no interest in paying for every little thing you whine about.

  6. digger says:

    you are wrong wrong wrong

    1. GN says:

      Your right digger — Murph is definitely wrong.

      1. ps says:

        digger and GN you are WRONG and morons also

  7. lib says:

    If Walker can hold the line with these thugs, we may have a presidential candidate.

    1. PAUL says:

      why do you people consider ALL Union workers thugs? you don’t know us! those are pretty harsh names to call people who have different beliefs than you just because you disagree with us !

  8. Kieth says:

    From the above comments, you can tell who is lazy and who is the real american worker. It is obvious who wants to work for less for more money, back by mob or gang mentallity organization. That is why some manufacturing corporations are outsourcing to other countries because some people or idiots just like to get over paid for doing nothing….. WASTING OUR TA X PAYER