By Dave Warner
TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - Thousands turned out in New Jersey's state capital despite heavy rain on Friday to show support for Wisconsin public worker unions fighting to preserve collective bargaining rights.
Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, has proposed rolling back those rights as part of a package of measures aimed at reducing projected state budget deficits,
Walker's move has sparked weeks of protests in Wisconsin and rallies nationwide like the one in Trenton.
"What happens in Wisconsin affects every man, woman and child in America. Nothing less than the fate of our middle class is at stake," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the demonstrators, many of them huddled beneath umbrellas against the downpour.
"Here is the key, something that every governor and state legislator from New Jersey to Arizona, from Florida to Alaska, needs to understand. They were not elected to dictate," the national union chief said. "They were elected to solve problems, not create conflicts."
Union leaders and other critics accuse Walker and fellow Republican governors and legislators pushing similar measures elsewhere of trying to ram through anti-labor proposals without due deliberation, and of using budget-cutting imperatives as a pretense for curbing hard-won union rights.
Describing the "Save the American Dream" rally outside the New Jersey State House as emotionally moving, Communications Workers of America member Jake Lake said, "There's a war going on with the middle class."
Signs carried by the demonstrators -- who appeared to number well over 2,000 -- bore such slogans as "We are one," "Stop Union Busting" and "I support Wisconsin workers."
Some also targeted New Jersey's own GOP governor, Chris Christie, who in his efforts to reduce spending has tangled with public employee unions in the Garden State.
"What happens in Wisconsin could happen here," Harry Harchetts, the business manager for a New Jersey painters and allied trades union council, told Reuters.
(Writing by Jerry Norton; Editing by Steve Gorman)