Massive rally starts laborís economic campaign
By Mark Gruenberg 12 August 2012
|PHILADELPHIA - With a massive rally and marches through the streets of Philadelphia on Saturday, the labor movement kicked off its long-term campaign for economic justice. Organizers estimated turnout at approximately 45,000.
|The drive will mobilize workers and their allies – faith groups, community activists, civil rights groups, womens’ rights groups and other parts of the progressive coalition – for a second Bill of Rights for the U.S.
This Bill of Rights document focuses on economic rights to a decent job, democracy at work and in the political arena, guaranteed quality education and better health care, among other goals.
As workers, “We built this country, we wake it up and we put it to sleep and it’s time to take it back!” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the crowd.
“Hard work alone has never led to decent wages and benefits and retirement for every American. It’s hard work and activism.”
The federation will lead the nationwide campaign for the second Bill of Rights along with its electoral work this fall, he told reporters later. Of 400,000 activists for both causes that labor wants to put in the field, Trumka said labor already has commitments from member unions to fill 325,000 of the slots.
Labor’s also campaigning for commitment from politicians to the economic bill of rights, he said. It will be presented to both presidential nominees – Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – and other officeholders for their endorsement and signature.
It got an “almost” commitment from Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The Florida congresswoman, who also addressed the crowd, told reporters afterwards the party supports the principles outlined in the second, economic Bill of Rights, and has done so through Obama’s term.
And the campaign will continue beyond the election, Trumka told reporters afterwards, to right the wrongs workers suffer. “There’s been a clear war going” against workers and the middle class “for 30 years,” he stated.
Romney’s platform is part of that war, Trumka added. He described Romney’s platform as “more tax cuts for the rich, fewer jobs for us and less regulation” in areas such as the environment and safety and health.
Wasserman-Schultz, signaling a Democratic campaign theme, added GOP efforts to “destroy Medicare as we know it,” to the mix, courtesy Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House GOP’s budget-writer.
The war against workers that the second bill of rights means to combat showed up in interviews with various participants at the Philadelphia rally:
• John Remington, one of more than two dozen Communications Workers illegally fired by Verizon last year – after a joint 2-week CWA-IBEW strike forced the telecom back to bargaining – told a crowd that “I’m still in the company’s buildings every day representing our members,” on behalf of CWA Local 13000. Some 5,000 CWA members rallied at Verizon’s Philadelphia offices, in the midst of the city’s Chinatown, before marching to the main rally.
Verizon, which is extremely profitable, wants to strip workers’ rights, seniority protection against abrupt transfers, pensions and pay from its 45,000 CWA members and 10,000 IBEW members. The strike occurred a year ago.
“The leadership at Verizon is nothing but a bunch of pension-robbing coupon-clipping bastards,” Steelworkers President Leo Gerard told the packed crowd in the narrow street, addressing them from the back of a flatbed truck.
• John Braxton, co-president of AFT Local 2026 at the Community College of Philadelphia, said both students and faculty are getting hurt by cuts – and by politicians’ lack of commitment to education. A commitment to quality education all the way from kindergarten through college is a second Bill of Rights plank.
The state and the city cut funds for the college, so students now pay 60% of the cost, he said. Enrollment is down from a high of 35,000. Many instructors hold down “two or three” part-time jobs at various community colleges, without tenure or benefits. Braxton’s members have been without a contract for 11 months, and pols say teachers’ raises will be depend on pols’ budget decisions.
• Plasterers and Cement Masons President Patrick Finley told Press Associates that the Great Recession has other impacts on his members besides the obvious economic ones. Federal data say joblessness in construction is now 12.3%, but Finley says that’s far too low – and that’s not all.
“I can confirm eight suicides among my members” due to joblessness, “and I can’t confirm how many we’ve had who have lost their houses, lost their health benefits and have had their kids uprooted from school. Politicians are cutting unemployment benefits now – benefits my guys have paid for all their working lives – when they need them, now more than ever.”
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.