Madison Rally Attracts Thousands

In the US state of Wisconsin nearly 70,000 of demonstrators have taken part in rival protests in over moves to curb union activity. They converged on the state capital on Sunday and outside the governor’s residence, marking the start of a second week of growing protests with threats of wider dissent ahead.

Opponents of the Republican state Governor, Scott Walker, outnumbered supporters of the bill.

The bill introduced in the Wisconsin congress would cut sharply the wages and benefits of public sector workers.

Wisconsin faces a $3.6bn budget deficit in the coming two-year period and the public employee bill is expected to save $300m in that period.

Governor Walker is arguing that the bill is necessary to avoid painful job cuts. Walker said the alternative is to lay off more than 10,000 public employees.

Union supporters in the state capital Madison the pro-Walker rally organized by the conservative groups Tea Party Patriots and Americans for Prosperity, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Among the Walker supporters was “Joe the Plumber”, real name Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who figured in the 2008 Republican presidential campaign.

The Wisconsin State Assembly is due to take up the proposals on Tuesday.

U.S. state and local governments are struggling to balance budgets after the recession decimated their finances. Other states like Texas, Arizona and Ohio are relying mainly on cuts in spending, while Minnesota and Illinois are raising taxes.

The changes sought by Walker in Wisconsin would make state workers contribute more to health insurance and pensions, end government collection of union dues, let workers opt out of unions and require unions to hold recertification votes every year.

Union and Democratic leaders say they are willing to compromise on benefits if Republicans back off the bid to weaken collective bargaining, but Walker and his allies have stood firm.

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