Our VoiceNews & Politics

Labor Rights are Human Rights

Ana Turck • Feb 24, 2011

I woke up at dawn this past Saturday, my one day off from work and looked around my house. There was laundry to be done, dishes to be washed, writing to catch up on and a relaxation session to be squeezed in this hectic period lasting 16 hours. A night prior, my husband and I were watching the coverage of the week–long protests in Madison, Wisconsin and the emotional fight of its Public Workers to preserve their human right to bargain for conditions and terms of their labor.

I watched this story unfold and my anxiety steadily rose. My short stint as a high-school teacher made me keenly aware of the challenges and the value of educators’ work. However, it was my experience of protesting for the rights to economic and national self determination in Sarajevo, prior to the Bosnian war, that helped me understand the importance of this battle.

I wrote about the Sarajevo protests in my post Part Two:Forgetting-The Protest Turns Deadly. Yugoslavian economy in the early nineties was destroyed by its political oligarchy and the systems of oppression, fueled by human fears and bigotry were manipulated to obscure the systemic robbery of the country. In the process, people were stripped of their basic human and civil rights, one of which was the ability to successfully fight for fair labor practices.

In fact, many people like my mom, worked without receiving pay for several months. Government-sponsored erosion of their rights to feed their families and fight the corruption culminated in the anti-war, pro-labor protests which were violently squashed and used as a pretext to a brutal and bloody war. And I was there, a participant and a witness.

Fast forward nineteen years and I am in my bedroom, hastily dressing in layers of clothing for the warmth and packing our lunch bags with apples to fuel our energy as we were going to join the protest. What does one eat when joining a Revolution anyway?  Unsure whether the anxiety or anger fueled my decision, I was excited to embark on a six- hour drive to spend several hours in solidarity with those for whom this was the fight for their livelihood and the future of their children.

Within three hours we approached Madison and saw lines of cars and buses entering the city which brimmed with a nervous energy. People were carrying signs, walking alone or in groups, all moving toward the Capitol Building. We walked uphill, walking in the rhythm of drums that became louder as we neared closer to the designated protest area.  At the top of the hill, there were thousands of people walking peacefully in a circle around the Capitol. In unison they were chanting “This is what a Democracy Looks Like.”

There were groups of teachers, cops and firefighters, mothers with babies; a guy dressed as a banana (demonstrating that Governor Walker “has gone bananas,”) business owners, musicians, writers, students, all of whom carried the signs “for labor.”

The orderly protest continued into the Capitol building, where people occupied every inch of the interior, clapping frantically when the iron workers union showed up in solidarity. Energized I marched with all of them, a participant and a witness. This time I marched to the rhythm of drums instead of the sound of bullets. I was dissenting and I was not in an immediate danger of losing my life. So this is what a Democracy looks like!

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