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Political unrest in Wisconsin spreads to other states

Political unrest in Wisconsin spreads to other states
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mary Bell, left, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, join hands during a rally at the Capitol in Madison, Wis., Friday. It was the fourth day of large protests over collective bargaining rights. Similar protests are spreading to other states.

The unrest in Wisconsin this week over Gov. Scott Walker's plan to cut the bargaining rights and benefits of public workers is spreading to other states.

Already, protests erupted in Ohio this week, where another newly elected Republican governor, John Kasich, has been seeking to take away collective bargaining rights from unions.

In Tennessee, a law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers passed a state Senate committee this week despite teachers' loud objections. Indiana is weighing several proposals to weaken unions. Public workers in Pennsylvania, who are not facing an attack on their bargaining rights, said Friday that they nonetheless planned to wear red next week to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin.

In many states, Republicans who came to power in the November elections, often by defeating union-backed Democrats, are taking aim not only at union wages, but at union powers as they face continuing budget gaps in the years ahead.

The images from Wisconsin — with its volatile protests, the shutdown of some public services and an exile by Democratic lawmakers, who fled the state to block a vote — evoked the Middle East more than the Midwest.


The parallels raise the inevitable question: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?

FreedomWorks, a Washington group that has helped cultivate the Tea Party movement, said it was trying to use its lists of activists to turn out supporters of a variety of bills aimed at cutting the power of unions — not just in Wisconsin, but in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio as well.

And officials seeking to curtail union powers in some other states said that by focusing public attention on the powers of public sector unions, the tense standoff in Wisconsin could give them some momentum.

With the falling popularity of unions in recent years, some union leaders see the attempt to take away bargaining powers as an overreaching that could have the effect of shifting the question from whether public sector workers are overpaid to whether they should have the right to negotiate contracts at all.

To that end, unions and Democrats are preparing their own post-Wisconsin campaigns in a number of states against what President Barack Obama called "an assault on unions" in a television interview this week.

''Workers' rights — including the fundamental right to organize and bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions — are under attack in states from Maine to Ohio, from Wisconsin to Florida," said Gerald W. McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the main union of state employees, which is known as AFSCME.

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