An estimated 1,000 union members and allies rallied on Beacon Hill this afternoon in support of public sector workers in Wisconsin, at times clashing with a smaller group of Tea Party movement members who came to support Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Late this afternoon, Governor Deval Patrick sent a note to state employees vowing to work with the leadership of state employee unions to find ways to ease the Massachusetts budget crunch. "Union leadership has been and will remain at the table,'' Patrick wrote.
Patrick late today addressed the crowd personally.
“I’m here to deliver one very simple message, which is we don’t need to attack public sector workers to make change for the people of the Commonwealth,” Patrick said as he looked out on a sea of workers who spilled onto Beacon Street, cheering, waving signs and blocking traffic.
Boston Police Superintendent William Evans said he ordered the shutdown of Beacon Street in front of the State House to ensure the safety of the hundreds of protesters on both sides, a move that drew roars of approval from the union side.
Around 5 p.m. Evans said that no one has been arrested, although there is obvious tension between the two sides. “There’s some screaming and yelling, but for the most part everyone is respecting each other’s opinions,’’ Evans said.
About 100 Tea Party protesters appeared on Beacon Hill where they were heavily outnumbered by supporters of the Wisconsin unions.
"It's crazy here," said Bob Kring, a Newburyport man who came to oppose public sector unions and carried a sign that said "The silent majority is asleep no more."
Tea Party members were holding mostly handmade signs with slogans like “Don’t Tread On Me’’ and “Unions are Un-American.’’ A large number of the Wisconsin unions' supporters had pre-printed signs with the words, “Stand Up for Wisconsin Workers.’’
Earlier in the protest, as union supporters crossed Beacon Street to confront some of the Tea Party supporters, police tried to separate several people involved in shouting matches.
In his note to state employees, Patrick said he wants to avoid Wisconsin-like budgetary actions to ease the Massachusetts fiscal problems.
“Unions are good - and they can be part of the solution,’’ Patrick wrote. “Our public sector unions have demonstrated over and over again their and your willingness to work with us to build a stronger Commonwealth…You and your union leadership have been our partners as we have tackled serious issues and made decisions that improve the Commonwealth in the long term.’’
He added, “ I am grateful for that.’’
Patrick noted that he and the Massachusetts state employee unions have sometimes struggled with each other.
“But I believe in a politics that says we don't have to agree on everything before we work together on anything,’’ he wrote. “As tough as our outstanding issues may be -- whether it's ‘plan design’ or the next phase of pension reform or consolidating state agencies -- union leadership has been and will remain at the table,’’ Patrick wrote.
He finished with a strong endorsement of the union movement in the state, and for state employees.
“The attack on public sector employees and their unions is wrong for Massachusetts,’’ he wrote. “As long as I have anything to say about it, we will continue to modernize our government and renew our social contract with balance and respect. We will remain focused on finding solutions….Keep your chin up.’’
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