MADISON — Thousands of pro-labor protesters turned out for more demonstrations at the Wisconsin Capitol on Saturday, seemingly undeterred by the fact that a contentious collective bargaining bill had been signed into law the day before.
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The demonstrators insisted the fight wasn’t over, and many said their focus would now be on recalling the Republican lawmakers who had pushed through the bill. Efforts to recall from office eight Republican state senators and some of the 14 Democratic state senators who fled to try to prevent a vote on it have already started.
Democratic senators were expected to make their first appearance in Madison since fleeing the state later Saturday. Their departure had left the Senate one vote short of the number needed to pass measures spending money. Republicans got around that by breaking out the collective bargaining provisions of the legislation, which could be passed with fewer members present.
The proposal to eliminate most of public workers’ collective bargaining rights touched off a national debate, and its passage was a key victory for Republicans who have targeted unions in nationwide efforts to slash government spending. But labor leaders have said they plan to use the setback to fire up their members nationwide and mount a major counterattack against Republicans at the ballot box in 2012.
Saturday’s protest got a boost from a parade of more than 30 tractors driven by farmers supporting the union workers. Thousands of people lining the sidewalks cheered as tractors rolled by bearing signs with messages such as “Planting the seeds for a big season of recalls.” The farmers thrust their fists in the air in response.
Tod Pulvermacher, 33, of Bear Valley, drove a tractor towing a manure spreader carrying a sign that read, “Walker’s bill belongs here” — a reference to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
“Farmers are working-class Americans,” he said as the crowd around him started to cheer. “We work for a living as hard as anybody, and this is about all of us.”
Pulvermacher said the fight against the law was “everybody’s fight” and it was just beginning.
“If we can keep the energy high, we can change a lot of things in Wisconsin in the next year,” he said.
Judy Gump, 45, who teaches English as a Madison high school, also said the fight wasn’t over. She said that if the first person who got arrested during the civil rights movement had given up, the movement would have failed.
“It was illegal,” she said, talking about the vote on the bill. “This is so not the end. This is what makes people more determined and makes them dig in.”