“Say it loud! Say it clear! Scott Walker is not welcome here!” chanted a gaggle of union members and supporters gathered on a hot strip of strip of sidewalk in Grand Army Plaza Park on the Upper East Side this afternoon.
Walker, the first-year governor of Wisconsin, became a national villain of the labor movement in February, when–after a protracted stand-off that saw the state Capitol taken siege by activists–his bill to balance the state budget succeeded in stripping government workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
“I’m here because Mr. Walker is not only not representing the people of Wisconsin, but he is not representing the people of the United States,” said Robert Carpenter, whose printed baseball cap proclaimed that he was a member of the Veterans For Peace, Chapter 34. “It’s a bad game. He basically wants to go back to the year 1910, where there were no unions, where people were working for a dollar or ten cents an hour.”
Governor Walker was in New York for a fundraising dinner honoring the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, hosted by Gilbert Haroche, the co-founder of Liberty Travel.
The crowd of enraged, sweaty protesters—organized by AFSCME, the country’s largest public worker union–posted themselves across the street from Haroche’s home, hoping to give Walker a “warm welcome” when he arrived.
“If I were Scott Walker, I’d stay home,” said one union member as he pulled on a bright green AFSCME t-shirt, emblazoned with the Federation’s logo and the slogan We Make American Happen. He picked up a megaphone and donned a matching green hat. “We want him to know that this is a union town.”
The eighty or so rally-goers were an older crowd, but they chanted and whistled with passion.
“Hey, hey, ho ho! Scott Walker has got to go!”
A large group from the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council pushed to the front of the pack, waving large, circular posters. Other protesters carried signs: “Stop Republican Attacks On America!”; “Walker Is Wall Street’s Puppet!” and, “Stand With Wisconsin!”
Three inflatable rats, taller than even the buses rolling by, stood in menacing solidarity alongside the chanting union supporters.
A man waving the Greek flag darted through the throng, screaming “FREE MONEY!”
The raucous crowd was a stark contrast to the low-key announcement this week that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had negotiated an agreement with CSEA, one of the state’s largest public sector unions, which agreed to a temporary pay freeze and a renegotiated health care plan.
But Cuomo still has considerable work to do with the remaining public sector employees, and with his broader union base, after a campaign that focused on the need for labor to make deep concessions.
“He has a lot of work to do, in order to develop a good relationship with labor,” said Elba Serrano. “You’ve got to understand that the reason the economy is the way it is right now is not because of labor, especially not government workers. They don’t get paid high, you know? Their salaries are among the lowest. Yet, the rich people get away with it. You know, you’ve got Wall Street, you have all the banks, AIG, they got away with murder. With murder!”
By 5:15, there was still no sign of Governor Walker. Members of the crowd gleefully wondered if he’d been scared off by the rally, or if perhaps he’d been forced to enter through a rear entrance. A few intrepid attendees ventured across the street to see if there was a back door, while others began to pack their posters and head home—hoping they had sent a message.
“We don’t want to see what Walker’s done in Wisconsin happen in New York,” said Peter Verdon, a teacher from Long Island.