March 12, 2011- A massive crowd gathered at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Saturday, one day after Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law union restrictions that have sparked a national confrontation with organized labor.
Madison Police predicted the 27th consecutive day of demonstrations against the law to severely restrict the power of public sector unions would approach the 70,000 to 100,000 on February 27, which was the largest demonstration at the state Capitol since the Vietnam War.
Though an official count was not yet available, the crowd Saturday seemed to surpass those numbers.
Democratic state Senators who left Wisconsin for Illinois, and stayed for three weeks to block the measure's path to approval, appeared at the afternoon rally. Though they ultimately failed to stop Republicans from passing the law, they received a hero's welcome from union members and their supporters.
"It's so good to be home in Wisconsin," said Democratic Senate minority leader Mark Miller, speaking to demonstrators, who chanted "welcome home" and "we're with you."
"Our fight to protect union rights has become a fight to protect all our rights — a fight to protect Democracy," said Miller. "You have inspired the nation with your passionate and peaceful protests."
In a statement, Republican Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, who was instrumental in shepherding the proposal through the legislature, said the 14 Democratic senators "pretend to be heroes for taking a three-week vacation."
"It's an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois — with pay," Fitzgerald said.
Protests were held across the state on Saturday in addition to those in Madison.