Hundreds gathered Saturday on the south lawn of the state Capitol along with tens of thousands across the nation in a show of solidarity for union workers in Wisconsin.
In Hartford, Capitol Police estimated 280 demonstrators showed up for a rally organized mostly by MoveOn.org. It was the second such event this week at the Capitol in support of workers in Wisconsin.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, climbed one of the columns to get the crowd warmed up with a chant “We are the people.”
Evoking the recent working-class uprising in Egypt, Donovan said money doesn’t control everything.
“I don’t know if you’ve read in the paper, but the CEO of United Technologies just made $20 million-something dollars when they spent all year trying to layoff people in Cheshire,” Donovan said. “It’s time we had jobs for people so that they can have health benefits and a pension.”
He advocated for a plan to open up the state employees health insurance pool to everyone.
Laura Donnelly, a teacher from New Canaan, reminded the crowd that they weren’t the ones who created the current economic crisis. Rather, she said, it was large corporations and the greed of those on Wall Street. She added that the two wars former President George W. Bush got the United States into at the same time he was cutting taxes didn’t improve the situation.
Ed Vargas, the retired president of the American Federation of Teachers in Hartford, said hardly any employers are offering good benefits to workers these days.
“You work 20 hours a week for this guy, and 20 hours a week for that guy, and you have no health benefits or pension,” Vargas said. “We’re rushing down to the lowest common denominator.”
He said people deserve better than $8-an-hour jobs with no fringe benefits, no personal time, and no sick time.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford said he was impressed with the turnout at the rally and the number of people he met that drove from the shoreline and the northeast corner of the state to attend. He said the rally was about more than Wisconsin and union workers, that it was a rally for workers everywhere.
But the speakers and crowd all seemed to share the unions’ view that, in Connecticut, the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share or at least should be asked to pay more.
The most popular chant of the afternoon was “tax the rich.”
AFL-CIO President John Olsen, who was not in attendance Saturday but who did attend the rally Wednesday, has said Connecticut doesn’t have a spending problem. Rather, he said it has a revenue problem. However, Saturday’s rally was less about Connecticut’s budget, which asks state employee unions to sacrifice about $2 billion over the next two years, and more about what has happened to workers across the nation.
The rally drew a seven-person counter-demonstration with attendees waving the Gadsden Flag, which has become an almost universal symbol associated with the Tea Party movement.
One of the signs they held read, “Don’t be bamboozled.”