Reclaiming the Labor Movement As a People’s Movement

Posted on April 7, 2011


From Labornotes, via Portside, via Mayfirst:

Wave of Actions Proclaim `We Are One'

by Bill Balderston and Chris Garlock

Labor Notes

Chanting "we are one!" thousands of activists across the
nation marched on Monday-the 45th anniversary of the
assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The events showed solidarity with working people in
Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states "where politicians
backed by corporate CEOs are trying to take away the rights
for which Dr. King gave his life," said NAACP President Ben
Jealous at the Washington, D.C. rally.

More than 1,000 mobilizations nationally were organized
under the "We Are One" umbrella, in which more than a
million workers stopped business as usual either at work or
after work to join vigils at their workplace, community
rallies or marches at statehouses, coordinated by the AFL-
CIO and many unions, community, religious and student
groups. "We're putting all employers and all elected
officials on notice that we're mobilizing as we haven't in
decades," said CWA President Larry Cohen.

On the West Coast, longshore workers shut down the Port of
Oakland in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the
public sector.

Hundreds of ILWU members stayed off the job, leaving ships
waiting in the San Francisco Bay. Some joined about 75
fellow union activists in attempting to stage a sit-in at
the downtown Oakland Wells Fargo offices. They couldn't get
inside; the bank shut the branch down, as a sign on the door
said, "due to protests today."

The action was part of a "Make the Banks Pay" campaign
initiated by members of the Oakland Education Association,
the city's teachers union. It is linked to a broader effort
involving ACCE (the former ACORN), SEIU Local 1021, and
other groups that want to focus on the role of major
financial institutions in misusing public funds while
continuing to abuse homeowners and blame workers for budget

Protesters demanded Wells Fargo use its power to negotiate
forgiveness of the Oakland School District's debt, currently
more than $100 million, which had been securitized and then
bought by the bank and subsequently sold, much like the
mortgage derivatives.

They also raised a ruckus around stopping foreclosure,
lowering mortgages to reflect reduced market value, and
assessing corporate property value accurately for tax
purposes, especially when Oakland faces 600 teacher layoffs.

The protesters also noted that if Wells Fargo CEO John
Stumpf donated his $18.8 million salary for a year, that
would take care of the teacher layoffs, too. `I AM A WORKER'

Demonstrators at the D.C. march, which targeted the 14th
Street offices of right-wing funders Charles and David Koch
of the oil and consumer products conglomerate Koch
Industries, carried signs saying "I Am A Man," I Am A Woman"
and "I Am A Worker," linking the current struggles with the
1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike King was supporting
when he was assassinated.

As the crowd massed outside Koch Industries building
chanting "Shame, Shame!" a delegation led by Bob Edgar of
the open-government group Common Cause was turned away at
the front door. Demonstrators signed an invitation asking
the Kochs to "stand for working people and responsible
corporate behavior" and taped it to the door instead.

Shortly after the march and rally, an overflow crowd packed
the AFL-CIO to hear labor historian Michael Honey, whose new
book, "All Labor Has Dignity," collects Dr. King's speeches
on labor and economic justice.

"The Memphis sanitation workers were fighting for the same
things the Republicans are trying to take away now," Honey
reminded the crowd, "the right to bargain collectively and
for dues check-off."

The Memphis workers back then understood, as the GOP does
today, that "if your union can't bargain, then what good is
it?" said Honey, who also led stirring renditions of several
iconic civil rights movement songs.

Although King today is largely remembered for his "I have a
dream" speech, Honey said his research shows that King "was
a social revolutionary."

Honey noted that just before he was assassinated, King
called for a general strike in Memphis, telling the crowd of
15,000 there that without its workers the city would grind
to a halt and the workers would win their strike. WALK OUT

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