Thousands of Wisconsin union members workers traveled from around the state to the capital, Madison, on Saturday to demonstrate against the impending adoption of a law that would ban private sector workers from being required to join a union or pay dues.
The bill, which was approved by the Republican-led state senate on Feb. 25, would make Wisconsin the 25th state to adopt a so-called "right-to-work" law. It is supported by Governor Scott Walker, a potential Republican presidential candidate. The state assembly is expected to vote on the measure within a week, and it will take effect once Walker signs it.
A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Monday at the Wisconsin state assembly, which is also controlled by Republicans.
About 5,000 people gathered at Saturday's rally, organized by the the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, at the state capitol building despite below-freezing temperatures. The protesters waved U.S. flags, rang cow bells and chanted, "This is what democracy looks like." Many held signs denouncing the bill, some reading: "Right to Work for Less" and "Right to Lose Wages."
William Carroll, a Teamsters business representative from West Bend, Wisconsin, called on workers to become more active in their unions, telling the crowd, "If we don't do this, we will die a death of a thousand cuts."
Opponents have cast the bill as an assault on organized labor and blue-collar workers that would limit union revenue and further erode the political power of organized labor. Supporters say it could help to attract more jobs to Wisconsin.
Mark Buss, 59, a union member from Appleton, Wisconsin who attended Saturday's rally, said that in order to survive, unions must educate younger workers about the value of organized labor. "The bigger issue is equality for all workers," he said.
Walker became a favorite of some in the Republican Party in 2011 when he pushed for a law to limit the power of public sector unions shortly after becoming governor. The measure prompted a series of mass protests that attracted at times over 100,000 people. He survived a union-backed recall election in 2012.
Walker was criticized by pro-union protesters and by Democrats for comments he made in an address to CPAC, an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the U.S., on Feb. 26. The governor, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, implied that his battle with labor had given him the mettle needed to take on armed groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same in the rest of the world," Walker said.
Al Jazeera and wire services