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On the eve of more labour law changes in Saskatchewan, CUPE members gathered in Regina last week to hear what happened when the Wisconsin state governor launched a ferocious attack against public sector unions.

Wisconsin firefighter and union leader Mahlon Mitchell told delegates attending CUPE’s Solidarity Conference that Wisconsin public sector unions were “asleep at the wheel” in the years leading up to 2011, when the Republican Governor assumed office and stripped public sector unions of collective bargaining rights.

Within a few months of taking office, the Republican governor had cut $1.6 billion from public education, slashed public sector pension benefits and eliminated collective bargaining rights for public sector unions.

Governor Walker didn’t just dream this up overnight and say: ‘You know what? We are going to attack public sector employees,” Mitchell told the crowd.

The sustained attack on public sector unions and the middle class – through essential services legislation, cuts to pension benefits, and public private partnerships – had been taking place for years, but the labour movement failed to recognize the early warning signs.

Like the frog in the pot of water, we didn’t notice the water was getting hotter, until it was too late.”                                                                     

In fact, 40 per cent of public sector workers voted for Governor Walker, which Mitchell said was like a chicken voting for Colonel Saunders.

Union members always have to be ready to defend their rights – always,” he stated, adding the labour movement doesn’t have the money or influence of Wall Street or Bay Street, but “what we do have is each other. The strength of the labour movement lies in its people.”

He urged CUPE and other public sector workers to strengthen their ties in the communities and support coalitions working to bring about changes that would truly make life better for ordinary people.

Mitchell’s speech resonated with CUPE Saskatchewan members, who have seen their bargaining power eroded by essential services legislation and changes to the trade union act. Later today, the Saskatchewan government will announce its latest plan to overhaul labour legislation, following a controversial review of 15 bills.