NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of people rallied in cities across the United States Saturday against a Wisconsin plan to curb the power of public sector unions that has sparked similar government efforts in other states.
Protesters see the proposals as an effort to weaken the labor movement. Other states considering similar proposals include Ohio, Tennessee, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa and Kansas.
"We all support the people in Wisconsin and all over the country where labor is being threatened, and we know that the real agenda of the (Wisconsin) governor and many others is just to destroy unions," said New Yorker Judith Barbanel.
Barbanel, an English language teacher at the City University of New York, joined several thousand people at a "Save the American Dream" rally at City Hall to show solidarity with protesters in Wisconsin.
People waved signs reading "Cut bonuses, not teachers," "Unions make us strong," and "Wall St is destroying America," and wore stickers that read "We are all Wisconsin."
Anne O'Byrne, 44, a philosophy professor at Stony Brook University who brought her daughter Sophia, 2, to the New York rally, said she was disturbed by events in Wisconsin.
"If we don't have collective bargaining rights I don't know what's left for workers in America," she said. "It seems important to me to resist any attempt to take away those union rights that have in fact brought us so much over the years."
Wisconsin's state Assembly on Friday approved Republican Governor Scott Walker's proposal to strip public sector unions of most collective bargaining rights. The plan now needs state Senate approval, but Senate Democrats have fled Wisconsin to prevent a vote.
The bid by Wisconsin Republicans to try and balance the state budget by rewriting labor laws has turned into a national standoff with Republicans and business interests on one side, and Democrats and union groups on the other.
About 1,000 people turned out in Chicago at the Illinois state building to show support for the Wisconsin protesters, chanting "Save the American Dream." Up to 1,000 rallied in Columbus, Ohio, while a rally in Miami attracted only about 100 people.
Tens of thousands of people rallied at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison, chanting underneath Walker's office window "Hey hey, ho ho, Scott Walker has got to go."
"I understand that there are tough times ahead, things are going to be difficult no matter what. I think most people understand that," said Tamarine Cornelius, 36, who works for the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.
"The provisions on collective bargaining don't do anything to address the (budget) shortfall," said Cornelius, who took her 10-month old son Walton to the protest.
The stakes are high for labor groups because more than a third of U.S. public employees, including teachers, police and civil service workers, belong to unions. Only about six percent of private sector workers are unionized.
In New York, John Cody, 26, of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said unions were "under assault" in the United States and some protesters had drawn inspiration from the popular uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
"Egypt is inspiring Americans and labor movements," he said. "Unions need to work like the corporations in some ways in that the world's become a globalized economy so unions need to show acts of solidarity not only across the United States but across the world." (Additional reporting by James Kelleher and David Bailey in Madison, Christing Stebbins in Chicago, Jim Leckrone in Columbus and Thomas Brown in Miami, editing by John Whitesides)
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