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New Jersey Unions Hold Unity Rally For Wisconsin Workers

TRENTON, NJ (CBS) -- Thousands of union workers gathered in Trenton today to express solidarity with state employees in Wisconsin who are embroiled in a budget battle with that state's governor -- a fight that is similar in many ways to the one expected in the next few months in New Jersey.

(Chanting:) "We stay until we win! We stay until we win!"

The cheers outside the New Jersey State House became the rallying cry for hundreds of union members, who say their rights are under attack.

"I was a teacher until Governor Christie cut my job," says Karen Buerkle, once a music teacher in Neptune, NJ. "I am a Christie casualty."

The crowd held signs and chanted in unison to protect their own rights and support their fellow members in Wisconsin, where the governor is trying to slash union benefits.

"We are going to be stronger than them," insisted union member Sue Blaustein. "We have to win here."

Firefighters were wearing their gear and helmets, and laborers were wearing slickers and hardhats.

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(Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Photo by David Madden)

The message from Wisconsin union leaders was, our fight is yours, too. Just ask Wisconsin AFL-CIO official Stephanie Bloomingdale (right).

"The union movement is the only thing that stands between unbridled greed and economic justice. This is our last stand for the middle class," she told the huge crowd gathered in the rain outside the New Jersey statehouse.

Bloomingdale says her state is ground zero in a nationwide attack on union workers. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to end nearly all bargaining with public employee unions to help balance his state's budget.

State police had to step in as tempers flared between unions and anti-union protesters.

The two groups, standing only feet apart, shouted at each other while state troopers stood in the middle.

Nearby, the Tea Party and Americans for Progress, a group that favors union reform, held their own rally.

"What's happening down the street is an attack on our future," shouted one of the speakers, which immediately drew a round of applause from the Governor Christie supporters.

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(Teri Adams, a Tea Party member, speaks with reporters. Photo by David Madden)

"We stand in solidarity with Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Christie, and all those governors across our country who are standing up to the selfish interests of public sector unions," said Teri Adams (left), who heads up the Independence Hall affiliate of the Tea Party.

But both messages went unheard by New Jersey's governor, who was out of state today.

Earlier, the governor had said he supports "responsible" collective bargaining. He has proposed raising the retirement age and requiring public workers to pay more for benefits.

The fight for workers' rights has become a nationwide movement. But as states face mutli-million dollar shortfalls, it is a movement facing nationwide opposition.

Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio; Oren Liebermann, CBS 3

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