Milwaukee’s 2011 May Day Rally

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Ho hum.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addressed this year’s May Day labor and immigration rights rally at Milwaukee’s lakefront on Sunday. Trumka attacked Governor Scott Walker in his speech accusing Walker of “declaring war on Wisconsin workers.”

Trumka accused Walker of wanting to take away the collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and police officers.

“And we’re saying no to the Scott Walkers. You cannot take our basic rights and jobs away from teachers and firefighters and police officers, the people we rely on to make our community safe and worth living in. We won’t allow it,” he said.

The recent budget repair bill that was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Walker allows teachers unions to collectively bargain on wages but removes benefits from collective bargaining. The new law does not affect police officers and firefighters who were specifically excluded.

However, some Wisconsin mayors have questioned why the police and firefighter unions were excluded given the portion of city budgets that is dedicated to those employee costs. Among those is city of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who was on the stage as Trumka spoke.

“Two-thirds of my wages and salaries are for public safety and yet, the governor does not touch that,” Barrett told WISN-TV in March.

Perhaps Barrett reminded Trumka of the exception for police and fire as they left the stage. Barrett might have even asked Trumka for a little help with those unions who have not agreed to the wage and benefit concessions Barrett has asked of them.

Of course, Trumka might ask Barrett why he wants police and firefighter union members to be captives in the city rather than being free to live where they want.

But I digress.

There were no tanks and nuclear missile carriers driving through the streets this May Day, but there was a parade. Veterans Park was the site of this year’s May Day labor and immigration rights rally following a march from the Voces de la Frontera offices on Milwaukee’s near south side.

The over two-mile walk to Milwaukee’s lakefront was too much for many of the marchers who chose to head back to their cars rather than brave the winds at the rally. As the marchers arrived at the site and began to turn around, one of the speakers implored them to return to hear the “important messages” from the day’s speakers.

Still, possibly 10,000 people remained (according to one unofficial estimate) to hear AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Voces de la Frontera executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. After Neumann-Ortiz spoke, the crowd began to disperse rather than brave the winds blowing in from Lake Michigan despite a plea from one of the organizers to remain.

Unlike past May Day immigration rallies, there were few Mexican flags flown. Instead the crowd carried American flags and waved them during the speeches. The crowd might be a little out of practice with flag etiquette. A 15-year-old girl led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance but did not remove her Dallas Cowboys hat despite the rather loud stage whisper from one of the events organizers. It’s okay because the audience near the stage failed to remove their hats during the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

If the revolution will not be televised, it will have karaoke and decent food. Not too far from the stage were tents selling food. Three bucks for a sandwich and a buck for a soda. Unfortunately it didn’t look like they took credit cards so I was unable to sample them on the MacIver Institute’s dime (in the interests of providing a complete report, of course).

The crowd was entertained before the speeches by a person singing in Spanish accompanied by music on a compact disc played over the rather large sound system. Simon Cowell was not in attendance to give us an appraisal.

The English language speakers’ speeches were punctuated by a translation in Spanish at every pause. The speech translator could have been an instructor at the Garrett Morris School for the Hard of Hearing as she gave the speeches even more vehemence than the actual speakers.

I wondered if we were to be treated to a re-enactment of the scene in Reds when Warren Beatty wonders why the crowd is cheering so loudly at a point in his speech in Baku only to discover that the translation was different from what he was saying.

Walker was not the only politician under verbal assault at the rally. Trumka and other speakers also attacked Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner for the bill he proposed that would make illegal immigration a criminal offense.

But Walker was clearly the subject of the day, especially for the union members present. In one corner of the rally was a small booth for signatures for a Recall Scott Walker petition. The only politician specifically mentioned on any signs was Walker. Even the buttons being sold by enterprising Socialists (they make good capitalists) said, “F#*& Walker.”

The state Supreme Court election recount went completely unmentioned by the rally attendees. There were no signs supporting JoAnne Kloppenburg in the crowd. That cause is over.

After the few remaining crowd members left after the final speech, the Spanish singer took the stage once more to sing to an audience that was no longer there.

Given the push by leaders in other states, including Democrats  in Massachusetts, who are trying to bring their own public employee unions under control, I wondered if Trumka would share the same fate as the singer the crowd left alone on the stage.