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‘We Are One’

Thousands of Chicago workers will rally in Daley Plaza tomorrow (Saturday, April 9, 1 p.m.), the culmination of a week of activities around the state and part of over a thousand events nationally spearheaded by the AFL-CIO to “defend the middle class.”

The “We Are One” actions mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination while leading Memphis sanitation workers striking for union recognition, and links it with the recent upsurge of resistance to efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to roll back union rights for public workers.  

The central rally will be fed by marches from several locations, including the Hyatt Regency, where starting at 12 noon, teachers and hotel workers will protest the role of the politically prominent, billionaire Pritzker family: their Hyatt hotels are locked in a bitter contract struggle with UNITE-HERE, and the family has made major donations to a group pushing state legislation to restrict teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

In a separate event, the New New Deal Project is hosting U.S. Representative John Conyers, who will discuss his proposal for a federal jobs program and join a panel on realizing Franklin Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights,” guaranteeing employment, education, housing and health care for all (Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, Saturday, April 9, 3 p.m.)

Comments from participants:

Jackson Potter, Chicago Teachers Union.   On legislation backed by Stand For Children, which received $250,000 from Pritzker family members, days before new campaign finance limits went into effect this year: “Wisconsin has really muted some of the more virulent attacks that were planned for us.  I think legislators realize that that kind of conflict is not good for the state, and that there are reasons for making sure that teachers have a voice and an opportunity to negotiate.

“The reason we’re facing a lot of budget problems and attacks on teachers is not that the state doesn’t have money, it’s  the billionaires like the Pritzkers aren’t paying their share.  They aren’t paying their workers well and in addition to that they’re depriving schools of the resources they need because they’re not paying their fair share of taxes.”

Annemarie Strassel, UNITE-HERE Local 1:  Union members have been working without a contract since August 2009.  While there are negotiations with other hotel groups underway (the union recently settled with Hilton), “the issues are sharpest with Hyatt…The billionaire Pritzker family is using the recession as an excuse to squeeze workers” even as the hotel industry recovers, “trying to lock them into a recession contract.”

Working conditions are a big issue, too.  Housekeepers face higher injury rates as their workload has grown with layoffs:  some Hyatt hotels require workers to clean twice as many rooms a day as the industry standard; a study last year found that Hyatt has the highest rate of injuries of the five largest U.S. hotel companies.  Some injuries can cause permanent disabilities.  The company won’t even agree to “common sense” solutions like fitted sheets and long-handle mops, Strassel said.

Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31.  “The Memphis sanitation workers were struggling for the right to bargain collectively,” which is precisely what’s under attack in Wisconsin and Ohio. “The battles we’re fighting are more piecemeal in Illinois” – threats to retirement and health care; a legislative attempt to reclassify several thousand state workers out of their bargaining units.  “They could be terminated at will; it would make their positions subject to political patronage.”

“These are all manifestations of the larger, national attack by corporate and political forces on working people and, really, the middle class.  There are two very different visions of our country, a view by big business and its politicians of low wages, no benefits, no unions, which is been largely imposed in the private sector. That’s why wages have stagnated for thirty years and the proportion of income going to the top 1 percent has skyrocketed.  Now they want to impose the same Wal-Mart style vision on the American public sector.

“And there’s our vision:  we believe that if you work hard, you should have a stable job at a decent wage, with health care you can afford and the promise of dignity and security in your retirement.  Big business and Wall Street CEOs want to eliminate the example that public sector unions provide of an economy that works not just for the rich but for the rest of us.

“We’re fighting for ‘the dreams’: Martin Luther King’s dream and the American Dream.”

Bill Lucy, longtime AFSCME leader and president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists – who worked with the Memphis strikers in 1968 – will speak at the Saturday rally.  At Huffington Post, he recalls the events surrounding King’s assassination:

The Memphis workers ” were paid little more than the minimum wage, and not paid at all if it rained and garbage couldn’t be collected. Their work was often dangerous, lacking even minimal safety protections. In fact, it was the deaths of two workers chewed up in the trash machinery that helped to spark their walkout.

“They sought better pay and fairer treatment, but most fundamentally, they were striking for recognition of their right to have a union. The politicians attacked them relentlessly, claiming they just didn’t want to do their jobs. The mayor was willing to pay them a little more money, but flat-out refused to recognize their right to form a union that would allow them to bargain from a position of strength, not beg for crumbs from a position of weakness….

” Today we find ourselves once again facing politicians who are fiercely determined, no matter what the cost to the public good, to deny workers a voice on the job. In 2011, sanitation workers and nearly every other public employee in the states of Wisconsin and Ohio find themselves denied their right to collective bargaining just as their brethren in Tennessee were in 1968.

Amesha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative.  “We’re doing proactive organizing here, before the attacks hit.  It’s time for us all to come together.  It’s time to keep the pressure up and show that our values are the values of the majority of people.  The resistance in Madison generated so much energy here; there’s a lot of energy and spirit.

“The backdrop is the threat of a federal shutdown – with the alternative being massive cuts for working families, while keeping fully loaded corporate subsidies and tax cuts for the rich.  I think folks are starting to pick up the message, that it’s really not a budget crisis, there is plenty of money, the question is where it’s going, which is increasingly to the top.”

Bill Barclay, the New New Deal Project:  With D.C. Democrats signing on to Republicans’ budget-cutting agenda, what are the prospects for a progressive alternative focused on job creation?

“The fact is, the policies they are pushing aren’t going to work.  As of the last report, there are 20 million people who are officially unemployed or have given up looking for work, and another 8.4 million who are working part-time but want full-time work.  We’re nowhere near coming out of the jobs crisis.”

Conyers’ proposal would pay for a jobs program with revenue from a financial transaction tax.  It’s an idea that continues to gain ground, Barclay says, with the top leaders of France and Germany now backing it.

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Category: economy, hotels, jobs, labor, schools

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