People have been protesting for days in the US state of Wisconsin against proposals that will limit the power of trade unions.
And thousands have joined the protests now, including Michael Moore (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk). In the city of Madison, the famous filmmaker told protesters : “We’re going to do this together. Don’t give up.”
As part of a budget-cutting bill, Republican governor Scott Walker has proposed stripping collective bargaining rights.
In order to prevent any legal vote on the bill, State Democrats fled to Illinois, depriving the state legislature of a quorum.
In response, on Thursday Senate Republicans voted to hold the missing Democrats in contempt and force police to bring them back to the capitol.
On Friday, after the failure to pass the bill, governor Walker sent out redundancy warning notices to unions representing state workers, saying the measures are needed to tackle a $3.6bn budget gap over the next two years.
According to Mr Moore : “Madison is only the beginning. The rich have overplayed their hand.”
Senator Chris Larson also urged protesters to remain strong : “We’ve been here for the last 16 days [and] we’ll continue to be here until worker’s rights are removed as the target in this budget repair bill by our governor.”
Governor Walker has argued that his proposal would allow him to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes or cutting jobs.
The bill is part of a broader economic policy and must pass in both chambers of the legislature.
The proposal intends to get the deficit under control in part by restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights and by requiring them to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare.
State unions have said that as long as they retain collective bargaining rights, they will agree to Mr Walker’s proposed changes to their benefits, which would represent an 8% pay cut.
Critics of Mr Walker’s proposal say the aim is to weaken the power of the unions, which tend to back the Democrats in elections.
Last November Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives and state capitols across the country. And Mr Walker’s attempt to balance the budget without raising taxes has been praised by other Republicans.