By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – Union activists and their allies thundered in opposition to Governor Bruce Rauner and his anti-worker, anti-family policies in front of the Illinois State Capitol recently.
An estimated 10,000 union members, religious leaders and representatives of community groups joined in the “Rauner Is Wrong” rally, hosted by the Illinois AFL-CIO.
The tidal wave of working family union members gathered in downtown Springfield and then marched a few blocks to the Capitol, where they filled a two-block section of street in front of the building’s east entrance and its Abraham Lincoln statue.
The talk focused on public employees, but the crowd was also full of private-sector union members.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan delivered the gospel, describing the effects Rauner’s 16 months in office have had.
“Social service agencies are closing their doors, cutting off access to vital programs and laying off dedicated workers,” he said in an angry voice.
“Schools may not open in the fall. State government has been shut down as the governor tries to force state employees out on strike.
“Local governments are cutting staff and services, and the state’s debt is piling up as medical providers and other vendors take to the courts to secure payments owed.”
Carrigan continued, chalking it all up to Rauner’s hatred of unions: “Governor Rauner is determined to ram through his extreme and harmful agenda, and he doesn’t care about how much damage he inflicts on you in that process.
“He doesn’t care about the hundreds of thousands of people – seniors, students, parents, veterans – who are struggling as never before, because of his destructive policies, policies focused first and foremost on destroying the labor movement in our state, whether it’s getting rid of prevailing wage, or cutting assistance for injured workers, trampling on collective bargaining rights or undermining retirement security.
“Every demand that Rauner has made is designed to weaken our rights and drive down our standard of living.”
Jeb Maher, president of Galesburg Local 555 of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, described how Rauner has even made it difficult for emergency workers to carry out their duties.
“Our members are highly trained professionals whose sole mission is to protect the safety and well-being of citizens in communities across Illinois and respond immediately when they have an emergency,” Maher said.
“But Bruce Rauner refuses to apply that same concern for his constituents’ safety when he fights to strip first responders of our right to negotiate not only a living wage, but also our sacred right to sufficient response resources.”
Maher was also speaking for other state and local government workers.
“We’re not in this alone,” he said. “Rauner is trying to do the same thing to all local government employees, silencing the voices of not just firefighters, police and EMTs, but library workers, street and sanitation workers, school district employees and countless others.”
Rauner, he noted, has been helping corporations seeking to privatize police and fire departments for profit. “That’s not fiscal responsibility, people, that’s reckless endangerment to the lives of the people he swore to serve,” he said.
Maher drew a link between his department’s emergency efforts and trying to rescue beleaguered state workers.
“In spite of the misguided efforts of Bruce Rauner, my brothers and sisters across this great state of Illinois will continue to rush to help those who need help the most,” he said. “It is what we do!
“So if Bruce Rauner slashes services and cuts money owed to local government, we will rush to help our cities, communities and the citizens that we serve.
“When Bruce Rauner uses phony phrases like local control and flexibility to strip the rights of first responders, teachers and other city and county workers, we will hurry to be there to put out that blaze.”
John Bouman, head of the Responsible Budget Coalition, a group of some 250 Illinois community groups, called on Rauner to quit stalling on a state budget in hopes of winning union-killing compromises, because the state’s neediest people are the ones being hurt the most.
“They’re the people who are in the lower part of the middle class or they are trying desperately to get there,” he said. “They need the programs and policies of government. They need the good work that is being done and that is now being torn apart because we don’t have a budget.
“We need a budget now,” he added. “We don’t need it at some hazy future date when somebody’s willing to give in. When you get elected governor under our form of government, you have a job. You are the chief executive of the state. That means your job is to execute the laws and policies of the state. And I don’t mean kill them, I mean implement them.”
OUT OF TOWN
Rauner wasn’t in town to see or hear the giant assembly, having left the day before – too bad, since the marchers went right past the Governor’s Mansion.
But Carrigan closed with a ringing pledge to keep up the fight on behalf of workers and their families.
“Today we’re making a solemn pledge,” he vowed. “We’re not going to be bullied, we’re not going to back down, and we’re not going to give up. We’re going to bring the fight every day to make a better Illinois.”