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Ben Smidt, Herald photo

TAA rally ends in echoing chants at the Capitol

by Matthew Dolbey, Campus Editor

April 29, 2004

The Teaching Assistants' Association rallied Wednesday evening inside the state Capitol building, concluding the two-day strike consisting of more than 1,200 TAs and project assistants walking off the job.

The striking members of the TAA picketed several buildings around the University of Wisconsin's central campus, holding signs pleading with students to support the strike and to not go to class, chanting and singing union songs. When picketing ended for the day after 4 p.m., the graduate employees gathered atop Bascom Hill, marched through State Street and rallied at the Capitol steps, which featured local TAA speakers and orators from various unions across the Midwest.

Dave Dobbie, a graduate student employee at the University of Michigan was one of the speakers who rallied with the TAA. Dobbie said Michigan negotiators proposed a similar cut in health care, but the TAs and PAs at the university threatened to strike, and "they backed down."

Representatives from the University of Illinois, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Pennsylvania State University also lent their support by rallying at the steps.

David Newby, an official of Wisconsin's AFL-CIO and former TA at UW told the crowd via megaphone that they are helping to bring about change in the nation.

"Every single person in this country should be allowed affordable health insurance," Newby said, making sure to add AFL-CIO supports the TAA "all the way". "[Change] can't come from the top down, it has to come from the bottom up."

Representatives from the east and west coast also showed up at the rally and picketed with the TAA to show solidarity in the labor movement. John Edmonds from New Jersey and Myra Hepburn of California said their organization, the office and professional employees international union, works with various unions in part because others also work for their cause ? but also to show overall support to the cause.

"This strike is to try and force [legislators and negotiators] to open up their eyes a little bit," Edmonds said.

John Lucas of UW communications said there were few reports of harassment and obstruction of UW business after several minor incidents occurred during Tuesday's picketing.

One such incident occurred Wednesday, when about 40 student activists supporting the TAA's strike started walking around the administrative Peterson Building after picketing around the building for nearly half an hour. Police were onsite and told the students they should leave on their own volition or get arrested. The students, who consisted of members of various campus groups ? such as the International Socialist Organization and the Student Labor Action Coalition ? marched through every floor of the building, sang and hummed, according to UW junior Chris Dols.

"We picketed inside and outside, because there's so much university business going on [at the Peterson Building]," Dols said. "[The point was] to disrupt as much business as possible."

Dols added that the antics, of which he readily admitted that some were illegal, were to show that the TAA does have the support of undergraduates, even though some have expressed firm disagreements with the strike, saying it is at the cost of students' education.

"[We're] building a more militant...labor movement," Dols said, adding many students will soon become members of the unionized work force.

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