Sunday, February 20, 2011

Interfaith Support Building Behind Wisconsion Labor Protesters

In a display of solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin, religious leaders in Wisconsin and Illinois offered their homes and congregations to the Democratic state senators who have left the Wisconsin capital in order to prevent a vote on a controversial bill which would slash the the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The bill has the support of Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker, who remains unwilling to compromise on a measure which he considers essential to balancing the state budget.

The sanctuary efforts is being coordinated by progressive labor rights organization Interfaith Worker Justice. According to Kim Bobo, the executive director of the Chicago-based organization,
"[The proposed cuts are] antithetical to all religious traditions...They are using the guise of a budget crisis to completely undermine workers' rights to organize."
Many faith traditions from across the religious spectrum support workers' rights on moral grounds, and area religious leaders have joined union representatives adn Democratic lawmakers in weighing in on the proposed rollback of collective bargaining rights. From a Friday article in Milwaukee's Journal-Sentinel :
"For those brave senators seeking shelter from the storm . . . we'd be glad to provide you sanctuary, to give you a home, until this is resolved," the Rev. Jason Coulter of the Ravenswood United Church of Christ in Chicago.

"I appreciate the bold stand they have taken . . . to speak out for those who are disempowered," said Rabbi Bruce Elder of Congregation Hafaka in Glencoe, Ill.
To further pressure Gov. Walker into compromising on the proposed legislation, Interfaith Worker Justice has also circulated a letter signed by more than 50 national religious leaders opposed to the proposed legislation, and the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ issued a statement last week, in which it described the basic right of workers to engage in collective bargaining as "an essential framework of a democratic society and . . .  consistent with the moral and ethical principles that come out of our Christian faith."

The history of religious support for workers' rights spans more than a century, with progressive movements like the Social Gospel movement and the Catholic Worker movement making significant contributions to gains in protecting the rights and dignity of working people. As the out-pouring of support from religious communities for the efforts of protesters in Madison demonstrates, progressive religion and support for workers' rights remain inextricably bound in the 21st century. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the protesters in Madison and the public servants of Wisconsin, as they continue the struggle to protect their basic rights and dignities.

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