Wesley Brown of Medford and Mona Kool-Harrington of Phoenix rally for the rights of union workers both in Wisconsin and at home during a solidarity rally Saturday in downtown Medford. 2/26/10 Denise Baratta

Union supporters lend voices to controversy in Wisconsin

Waving placards, singing union songs and shouting for worker "solidarity," some 300 people rallied at noon Saturday in downtown Medford's Vogel Plaza, opposing efforts in Wisconsin to wipe out collective bargaining and warning such a change could happen here.

A similar solidarity rally was held in Ashland at the same time Saturday, as well as in other U.S. cities.

Speechmakers in Medford said the conflict in Wisconsin could be the start of attempts by Republicans and corporations to get rid of unions and impoverish the middle class.

"What's happening in Wisconsin is important because it's coming. It's an all-out assault on workers," said city of Medford employee Ralph Browning, president of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"If there's no collective bargaining, you're taking away individual rights and you'll return to the system of patronage — jobs based on who you voted for in the last election," Browning said.

Laurie Terrall of Medford, who said she had been laid off from Harry & David, carried a sign that said, "3% of the population should not control 97% of the national wealth, nor our government."

The other side of her sign noted, "Served my country, got educated, raised great kids, worked hard, whoops, forgot to not get sick."

While passing cars honked and a guitarist sang into a bullhorn, "I won't back down from the governor's men," Rich Rohde of Oregon Action called the Wisconsin statehouse standoff "an attack on workers."

Protesting the policies of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, retired teacher Jack Dwyer of Selma, said, "Working people need to stick together, otherwise powerful forces in the country will drive us down and pay us as little as possible. We're all part of the working class and will sink or swim together. We have to be the countervailing force against the corporations."

Toting a sign that said, "Republican greed, stop them" and "unions made our country great," protester Joan Diefenderfer said, "It's about worker's rights being taken away by Republicans. We worked long and hard to get here. We wouldn't even have the five-day workweek if it weren't for unions."

Allen Hallmark of Citizens for Peace and Justice said Wisconsin has no right to end collective bargaining because of a budget crisis.

"We need a middle class in this country and unions are the bedrock of it," said Hallmark. "With no collective bargaining, the state can hire and fire you and you have no recourse. You take what money they offer. This (in Wisconsin) is about squelching the middle class so corporations can do better."

If the Wisconsin proposal "catches fire," Hallmark predicted, "the wealthy will live higher on the hog and the middle class will continue to get less stable and most will be living in third-world conditions."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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