by Sen. Spencer
As I write this column, the halls of the Capitol and streets of Madison are filled with a wonderful cacophony of teachers, firefighters, EMTs and other public servants making their voices heard in opposition to Scott Walker’s efforts to break Wisconsin’s public unions.
I joined my fellow union brothers and sisters in opposing this radical and unprecedented attack on workers. My fellow Democratic Senators and I have even held up the Republicans and Gov. Walker from voting on their union-busting budget repair bill.
I asked Scott Walker: “If you felt so strongly about breaking public unions, why didn’t you say anything on the campaign trail? Why did you wait until you got elected?”
The answer is because Scott Walker would have never been elected Governor of Wisconsin. His actions are contrary to the spirit and ideas of Wisconsin’s Progressive tradition. We are a just and open society, and we will fight to uphold those values.
Again, not knowing the outcome of this struggle as I write this article, we must keep in mind that – win or lose – the workers’ struggle continues as it always has. There are always those who will attack us. And, we have been brought low before, grievously low.
In the spring of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support sanitary workers, who were members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or AFSCME. They went on strike demanding better wages and working conditions. Dr. King gave voice to those without power or privilege. Speaking in Memphis, he supported the rights of all workers to be recognized for their worth and contribution to society:
“You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor,” Dr. King said. “Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.”
The next day, Dr. King was felled by an assassin’s bullet. It was an appalling loss, still felt today. But then, as today the struggle continued. That tragedy brought labor and civil rights activists together. They joined hands across the country and spread freedom and democracy to the most perilous corners of the Deep South and bigoted enclaves of the North.
I am proud to say that I am a union man, an AFSCME member and a former union steward. I have seen firsthand the positive advancements that unions have made to provide dignity for workers, safety in the workplace, and wages that support families. And, I am proud to be a resident of Wisconsin, the birthplace of the public union where AFSCME, the first public union in the nation began.
Win or lose, the struggle continues. We need to come together, remember those who fought for us, and in some cases gave their lives. We must continue the fight in their memory and in the cause of those who will follow in our footsteps.
Sen. Coggs represents Sen. District 6, which encompasses the central and northwest side of Milwaukee.