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Published February 26, 2011, 05:28 PM

Groups Rally in St. Paul to Support Wisconsin Workers

About 1,000 protesters chanted and held pro-union signs outside the Minnesota Capitol on Saturday to rally against the Wisconsin governor's plan to strip most public workers of almost all their collective bargaining rights.

By: Tara Bannow, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — About 1,000 protesters chanted and held pro-union signs outside the Minnesota Capitol on Saturday to rally against the Wisconsin governor's plan to strip most public workers of almost all their collective bargaining rights.

The gathering was among at least 50 rallies scheduled nationwide to support public workers and protest legislation that critics believe are aimed at weakening unions.

Covered in layers of coats, scarves, hats and gloves amid frigid temperature and snow, rally goers in St. Paul chanted "Workers' rights are human rights" and waved signs that read "United we bargain, divided we beg" or "Save the American dream."

"The right to collectively bargain is an American right," Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, told the crowd as he introduced speakers. "You can't have American democracy if you don't have a strong trade union movement."

The government can stop collective bargaining, but it can't stop collective action, Seide said.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, gave a spirited speech encouraging people to endure through the struggle. Thousands of protestors have held steady at the Wisconsin Capitol for about two weeks, though their governor contends the legislation is necessary to deal with the state's budget deficit.

Ellison said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker isn't the only one to blame. He cited David Koch, who along with his brother owns Kansas-based energy conglomerate Koch Industries and were big contributors to Walker's campaign. Walker candidly described his union-busting strategy in a phone conversation last week with a caller he thought was David Koch. It was actually the editor of a left-leaning, New York-based website, and a recording of the conversation quickly spread online.

Ellison called David Koch "that evil guy behind the curtain."

"He believes he does better when our jobs go overseas," Ellison said. "He does better when he's attacking our public workers and teachers who help educate our people. We've got to be clear about what we're up against."

Many attendees wore pro-union clothing and held signs promoting various labor groups. Members of several unions including Minnesota AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Service Employees International Union, Teamsters Local 120 and others were in attendance. MoveOn, a progressive political group, encouraged its members to attend the rally through e-mails and social media.

Wearing cheesehead hats and waving signs, Pam Winkler and her two children made it a family outing. Winkler has been a teacher in White Bear Lake for 22 years, and her sister is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin.

Winkler said she came to the rally simply because people must have the right to collectively bargain.

"It's not about money, it's about having a say at the table and discussing," Winkler said. "We need to have those rights."

Winkler, whose sister is protesting at the Wisconsin Capitol, said news of the proposed budget has been hard on her family. Her parents are both retired and could face massive cuts to their savings.

"We can't just have people walking all over us," she said.

State Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, told rally goers that the "corporate elite" won't succeed in its mission to steal people's health care, education and retirement because the public will fight back.

"When they do that, everyone is going to see them for who they are," Dibble said. "Extremists bought and paid for by the business partnership by the chamber of commerce."

Although a handful of state troopers were on-hand, the rally was peaceful. Protesters, many of whom went inside the Capitol to warm up, began to disperse Saturday afternoon.

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