Firefighters, teachers, public employees, community members and students and faculty of the College of William and Mary gathered Saturday at the International Association of Fire Fighters Local Union Hall in Williamsburg to support workers’ rights and union protection at a rally hosted by Virginia’s Working Middle Class.
Among the speakers were former democratic congressional candidate Krystal Ball, Maggie Russolello ’12 of the College’s Living Wage Campaign, union leaders and firefighters. The rally was sparked by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill that some say removes collective bargaining rights from public employees.
Speakers addressed the shrinking middle class, the need for safety in the workplace, immigration policies, wages and unions’ ability to negotiate on behalf of public employees.
Some of the speakers suggested that Walker manufactured a fiscal crisis by cutting taxes for small businesses, and that he was taking the opportunity to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
“Gov. Walker and the Republicans have overreached in this fight,” Doris Crouse-Mays, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO, said. “[Virginia] Gov. [Bob] McDonnell has overreached as well by stating that Gov. Walker is courageous and brave for his position.”
The VWMC wrote a letter to McDonnell regarding the bill.
“Blaming public sector workers for budget problems caused by the worst economic downturn in decades is a shortsighted, misguided approach at best and opportunistic and autocratic at worst,” the VWMC said in its letter to McDonnell, who has voiced support for Walker’s budget bill.
Spreading information about unions to younger generations was another major focus of the rally.
“A lot of us today don’t feel as connected to the importance of unions as our parents were, but the fact is that unions are the only voice for the working class against domination,” Ball said.
Anthropology professor William Fisher said it was important for students to hear public employees speak.
“Students could learn a lot from what the working class has to say,” he said. “They are not exposed to this perspective and it is something that we cannot learn in the university.”
Donald Dinse, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2498, wanted to send a direct message to college students.
“This is your future being stolen,” Dinse said. “Don’t let a hundred years of fighting be flushed down the toilet. My generation is fighting now to protect your generation from letting the richest [people] in the country give you third-world country salaries.”