February 25, 2011- Despite heavy protests against Republican Governor Scott Walker's 'Budget Repair Bill', the Republican-controlled State Assembly in Wisconsin abruptly passed the bill – which would strip the labour force of its collective bargaining rights – early Friday morning.
The vote ended three straight days of strenuous debate in the Senate, but mass protests appear far from over.
"If I am not carrying this sign, the next one I'm carrying will read 'I work for food'," Jeannie Dahm, a steel worker from Minnesota, told IPS after the vote in the Assembly.
Starting on Feb. 15, when the Legislature held its first public hearing on a bill that according to the governor is aimed at overcoming a 137-million-dollar deficit but would effectively end collective bargaining rights for state and local employees in Wisconsin, there has been a 24-hour presence of protestors in the state Capitol.
Handmade posters cover the walls of the Capitol, drum circles and horns can be heard from afar and hundreds of protestors are engaged in a non-stop chanting of slogans like "Kill the Bill", "This is What Democracy Looks Like," "Forwards. Not Backwards," "The People. United. Will Never Be Defeated". Through the night, many of them stay to camp out on blow-up mattresses and makeshift beds.
"To me and a lot of others, the right to collectively bargain is a basic human right. It's right there with freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. To try to take it away in just one week with just one public hearing is simply outrageous," said Bob Christofferson, a retired union member from Poynette, Wisconsin.
Many protestors criticised the speed with which Republicans sought to pass the bill.
"The budget can wait until Jun. 6. Why do things have to be pushed through in a week?" asked Nick Brooks, a history teacher from Racine, Wisconsin.
"Our founding fathers managed to compromise when drafting the Declaration of Independence. Why can't our government do the same with bargaining rights? This is disgraceful. We are not extremists. We are the nicest people in the country," he added.
Meanwhile, protestors' hopes rest on the 14 Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin last week to prevent a final vote on the bill.