Update: From the facebook wall of Rep. Terese Berceau: ” Senate rejection of the mining reforms in Assembly Bill 426 sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message. GTac is ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine. We thank the many people who have supported our efforts.” – Letter just distributed on floor from Gogebic Taconite, President Bill Williams, evening of 03/06/12
Though I’m squarely against the mine, I made a decision to just document a pro-mine rally today and not counter-protest. When I walked up to the Capitol building, my friend Bruce was the lone anti-mine sign holder. I was glad for his vigilance.
About 300 members of 5 unions assembled. The crowd was primarily men with a few women also interspersed. I met men from Green Bay, Milwaukee, Wausau, and Crandon. The private labor unions pledging their support are the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, the Iron Workers District Council of the North Central States, Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, and Wisconsin Laborer’s District Council. *
I talked with Chris Schoenbeck, President of the Wisconsin Pipefitters Association. I tried to get more info on the letter of understanding that five private construction unions worked out with mining company, the Cline Corporation. Schoenbeck replied with the same information I got out of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: there’s a promise that 95% of the people employed to work on the mine would be from Wisconsin and that they would come from the unions.
I spoke with Steve who lives in Wind Lake [near Milwaukee]. of Operating Engineers Local 139. Steve said his union has 6,900 active members and that his men would be the first people to work on the proposed mine site. He said that engineers would usually be doing road construction and any building work on campus.
I wondered if these folks supported public unions in Wisconsin last year but are now breaking with them.
Doing a bit of checking, I learned that Steve’s union has supported Walker from day one, though his union’s business manager was taken to task for it. Terry McGowan, the business manager for Local 139, wrote a letter to union members in December of 2011 to members to explain that Scott Walker was and is backed by his union because “Tom Barrett made his position clear that he was a mass-transit guy. He told me three times that he saw no reason for any additional highways. in Wisconsin if we can steer the public to utilize mass transit…. Scott Walker on the other hand
believes that we need extra lanes on most of our Interstate system. Not only that, he supports High-Occupancy
Tolls, or HOT lanes in congested areas for additional revenue. He is making a solid commitment to make it impossible if not illegal to transfer money out of the transportation fund and will seek to utilize taxes paid on all car parts and most automo-
bile-related sales toward the highway program. He also told me that the day he is sworn in, the public sector is out of the road-building business.” Read more HERE if you like.
I also spoke with a member of LiUNA. (These are the men you’ll see wearing orange in many of my photos). I asked him if it wasn’t a conflict for his union to side with the mine when many unions were siding against the Walker administration and recalling Scott Walker. He replied that “when it comes to politics we encourage people to go to make decisions that are work-oriented. To make the best decision for laborers.”
I asked him what LiUNA members do usually on a site and he replied demolition, clean-up, hauling debris, bricklaying – “all across the board”.
We talked for a while about the economy and its role in union membership. He said when the economy drops their membership does drop. He added that if the Keystone XL pipeline goes ahead that will yield a lot of labor for his union.
I said nothing about how I feel about the Keystone XL to him but in my mind I flashed to a moment that morning when I had urged Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” to do a story on 5 Lakota Indians who had been arrested for creating a blockade against equipment on its way to be used on the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
After I shared some of the photos from today on facebook, a friend asked if LiUNA wasn’t in the streets with us a year ago.
Indeed they were. From February 25, 2011, “In Wisconsin where it all started, thousands of LIUNA members have joined tens of thousands of protesters occupying the Capitol building in Madison to prevent lawmakers from stripping workers of collective bargaining rights. And today, state police announced they will join the protestors to defend workers’ rights.”
I am disturbed because I assume that LiUNA and the other unions assembled today will not bite the hand that feeds them – I’m assuming they will not both accept mine jobs and turn on their provider, Scott Walker.
But hold it. WHAT mine jobs? Isn’t the streamlined mine bill Cline Corporation wants too dirty – so dirty that my scientifically pedigreed friends insist the EPA will stop it? Aren’t the tribes vowing to halt it?
In the process of getting from here to there we must deal with a charade – an assumption that Scott Walker and the mine provide jobs. Once again the corporation brings laborers to their knees. In the process the GOP gets a delicious bonus: men from LiUNA come into the Capitol not as allies to public unions and to Dems, but instead as their adversaries.
As I walked into the building I saw a man who was wearing a blue fist AFL-CIO button. I asked what the insignia was on his jacket and he replied “plumbers”. He was one of the rare men wearing any button at all. That blue fist button is usually marching with the anti-Walker crowd.
There was tension enough in the rotunda to make at least one friend leave the space but the only conflict that came of it was a chant from the visitors that overpowered the singers for maybe 3 minutes: “We want jobs”.
The chanting settled down and the Solidarity Sing Along picked up with , “We are a gentle angry people”.
Some of the assembled pro-mine visitors wandered off to lobby legislators and some stayed. At the very end a singer with a booming voice broke into the brief chant of “Jobs AND Environment!” and many of the other singers joined in.
This well of sound and beauty, the rotunda, is where chants of “Recall Walker!” and “General strike!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” were sounded one year ago. It’s not exactly a think tank, but maybe it’s a yell tank. Now it’s generated competing chants – new divisions.
The state senate was scheduled to take up the bill at noon today, then 1:30PM and then I realized it was 5PM and I was in a vehicle on the way home and the bill was being pushed off again. “All the better to be seen by people after work” I thought. And that’s how it worked out. Ulimately the legislation that came out of the JFC was voted down and the compromise that Jauch and Schultz labored over was not even taken up (though they did speak eloquently to defend it ). The senate voted unanimously to send the Assembly bill to the Org. committee. That’s where the bill might die.
Today a statement came out from Geogobic Taconite that said it would reject any bill that improved on the original one written to the mine’s specifications, nevermind your wishes for democracy.
*A friend has reminded me that a regional union that has signed on may or may not have the approval of all of the locals within it especially when the agreement was arrived at within a tight time frame.
This was initially titled “Solidarity weakens and the Wisconsin mine goes to committee again. ” The Cline company shared their letter on quitting Wisconsin not long after I wrote this post.