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US Protesters Counter Austerity, Anti-Union Proposals

Pro-union protesters rally in Washington for union rights and speak out against austerity measures, Feb. 26, 2011
Pro-union protesters rally in Washington for union rights and speak out against austerity measures, Feb. 26, 2011

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Nico Colombant

Protests have taken place in state capitals across the United States to denounce proposed federal austerity measures as well as anti-union curbs.

Hundreds of protesters chanted “We are united, save the dream” in Washington’s Dupont Circle as part of a countrywide pro-union protest.

One of the protesters, Ellen Murphy, said she was worried about many state proposals by newly-elected governors which would reduce negotiation rights of public worker unions.

"These governors want to take everything away. They just want to say, well you can be a union, but you can’t do anything. You can just wear fancy tee-shirts that say union on them but you are not going to have any rights," she said.

One of the podium speakers, Jeff Blum, from the pro-union grassroots group U.S. Action, said protesters should seize the moment and fight for more union rights in the private sector as well.

“Let me be loud and clear. When we have stronger unions, they will make corporations share their wealth with the people who create that wealth, their workers, and not just the bankers and the hedge fund managers and the greedy executives who loot the company and pollute the planet," he said.

He reminded protesters that it was because of historical union efforts that most workers at the rally had the day off on a Saturday.

The state where the anti-union proposals have garnered the most attention has been Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker wants to allow union bargaining only on limited wage increases.

He says the move is part of much needed spending saving measures amid soaring deficits at all levels of government. Wisconsin’s state Assembly approved his plan early Friday.

But Democrats have prevented a vote from taking place in the state’s senate by hiding in nearby states.

At the national level, Republicans, who control the House of Representatives following last year’s election, have approved a bill that would cut about $60 billion in federal spending. Democrats who remain in control of the U.S. Senate say they want to make cuts as well, but not as many, while 9 percent of America’s workforce remains unemployed.

In Washington, Saturday, a side protest also took place, calling for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, rather than cuts in social services.

Stina Janssen, a community educator, was one of those distributing pamphlets.
“It makes me really afraid when I see that so many vital and necessary public services are getting cut. Then I learned a little bit more about our budget and realized that a lot of the reasons we have such a big deficit is because of corporate tax avoidance," she said.

President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party have until March 4 to reach a temporary or final yearly budget plan with Republicans to avoid the shutdown of some government services.

With current spending, the U.S. national deficit is projected to rise to above $1.6 trillion this year. Republicans say government needs to become smaller and companies more competitive, while Democrats say the government needs to play a vital role as the economy continues its recovery.

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