The head of the largest federation of unions in the United States, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, jokingly thanked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Thursday for igniting an impassioned debate on workers' rights.
"Well, thank you, Scott Walker," Trumka said during a speech in Washington, DC to the group Campaign for America's Future. "We should have invited him here today to receive the Mobilizer of the Year award! Because Gov. Walker's over-reaching has brought us to this moment to talk about jobs. This is the debate we've wanted to have. Well, guess what? Suddenly the debate came to us, and we're winning."
"In your lifetime, have you ever seen this much solidarity, this much excitement, this much activism?" he continued. "As progressives, it is our job to transform the outrage and make this moment a movement – to ensure that this corruption in the Midwest does not stand."
On Thursday, the Republican-led Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill to bust public workers unions, after Republican state senators managed to bypass Senate Democrats who fled the state and pass the legislation Wednesday night. Trumka called the move an "absolute corruption of democracy."
"Last night Scott Walker and his Republican tools in Wisconsin showed just how far they're willing to go to pay back their corporate donors," he said. "Destroy the rights of nurses, teachers, snow plow drivers and EMTs? Done. Blow up the constitution and state law to take away those rights? Absolutely."
The bill to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights was passed by a 53 to 42 vote in the Wisconsin Assembly and will now head to Gov. Walker's office to be signed into law.
Trumka said the massive protests that erupted in Wisconsin because of the bill were the result of Americans being "pushed to the brink" by intense fear and anger about employment.
"We have been in a jobless recovery," he said. "And into the economic pain and the political vacuum stepped the corporate-powered right wing and its politicians—using insecurity and fear to divide us. To pit worker against worker, to blame an economic crisis caused by Wall Street on teachers and the immigrant poor."