Dear Sisters and Brothers:
We want to inform you of a potentially significant development unfolding within the labor movement. SEIU Local 1199, based in New York, and the NAACP have called for a Washington, D.C. demonstration tentatively on October 10, 2010, to demand jobs. [See article below titled “Labor and NAACP Plan October Rally,” reprinted from the May 10 issue of The New York Times.]
SEIU Local 1199 and the NAACP are calling on the AFL-CIO to support this demonstration. The current number of people who are unemployed now stands at 15 million. Any influence you can bring to bear on the AFL-CIO to respond positively to this campaign will be helpful.
The Obama administration has been dragging its feet when it comes to a federally funded jobs-creation program. When he was on the campaign trail, Obama incessantly emphasized the need for new jobs. However, once he became president, he suddenly became budget-deficit conscious, even though he showered hundreds of billions of dollars on the financial institutions that caused this current economic crisis. Obama is now proposing the most modest job program, which will create a million new jHobs by giving small businesses a tax break.
In response, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has recently called on the government to immediately create 12 million new jobs through a massive public works project while letting Wall Street foot the bill, noting that such a program would be the best stimulus for the economy. With Wall Street’s subsidy, the deficit would not be increased and would even be reduced, given that millions of people would be back to work and would be making taxable income.
If the October 10 demonstration veers in the direction of the Obama administration’s proposal, it will inspire no one except the Democratic Party politicians who are running for office in November and want to appear to be gung-ho supporters of working people. They will lip-sync Obama’s campaign speeches and put everyone to sleep by their lack of conviction.
On the other hand, if the October 10 demonstration veers in the direction of Trumka’s call, it could draw hundreds of thousands, if not a million people, to Washington, D.C. to demand that the government support the interests of working people for a change — and not the banks. If the AFL-CIO throws its weight behind this demonstration, it will indicate that organized labor wants to put up a real fight and push for what working people truly need: jobs for everyone.
Today, workers understand more and more that relying on the campaign promises of politicians to meet their needs is like relying on bankers to serve the interests of the public. But if they see that the AFL-CIO is offering its full support to this demonstration and that a serious fight is being waged, people will be inspired and want to participate.
We know that deep discontent among working people has been spreading and intensifying. It erupted in California on March 4, when tens of thousands of working people and many unions joined students in demonstrations to defend public education and social services. In Oregon, despite strong opposition from corporations, the unions succeeded in leading the struggle to pass progressive taxation, forcing higher taxes on the corporations and the wealthy. In both cases, working people demonstrated an eagerness to stand up and fight for their own interests. And they represent a huge reservoir of strength that can be tapped.
While the wealthy use their money to lobby politicians, ordinary working people have historically turned to organizing massive protests to press for their needs. Accordingly, such protests served as a vital tool in winning union recognition in the 1930s, they were key to the success of the Civil Rights movement, they contributed to ending the U.S. war in Vietnam, they have helped to defend immigrant rights, and they have brought down governments around the world. Their power emanates from their size: when they are huge, it becomes unambiguously clear that they represent the desires of the majority of society.
In the past, top officials of the labor movement have rejected the option of organizing a massive demonstration for jobs. They have viewed themselves as acting pragmatically by navigating through what they perceive as a permanent configuration of political alignments. In particular, many union officials have looked to the Democratic Party with the hope of winning some benefits, and they have not wanted to jeopardize the prospect of modest gains. Horrified at the possibility of inflicting the slightest injury on the Democrats, labor officials have been avoiding organizing large demonstrations that would pressure the Obama government into creating jobs. They have feared that the Republicans will be quick to take advantage of fissures in the relation.
The problem with this strategy, however, lies in the duplicitous role of the Democratic Party. On the one hand, it claims to be a friend of labor and has been quick to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from unions each year. On the other hand, it receives far greater contributions from corporations, which have been adamant in insisting that labor occupy a far subordinate position in this unsavory triangle. President Obama has received more money from financial institutions than any other sector of the economy.
Consequently, administrations, whether headed by Democrats or Republicans, have allowed banks to engage in predatory loans and charge interest rates amounting to usury when people have overdrawn their bank accounts (sometimes because they just lost their job); they have allowed taxes on corporations and the wealthy to slide increasingly downwards, thereby squeezing public education and social services; they have given corporations a free hand to proceed recklessly so as to cause environmental catastrophes; they have permitted corporations to keep wages low in order to push profits higher; and they have enabled the wealthy to become wealthier than ever before.
Currently, the Obama administration has failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, even though it had a super-majority in Congress, it refused to consider single-payer health care, it dropped any form of a public health care option, despite strong labor support, it applauded the mass firing of teachers in Rhode Island, and it is supporting charter schools, which constitute a direct attack on unions.
In fact, never before in the history of this country have so few had so much at the expense of so many. And it raises the question: For how long will huge amounts of wealth belonging to a small minority of the population who enjoy untold luxuries be allowed to prevail over the basic needs of the working people of this country, who constitute the vast majority?
The economic crisis for working people is far from over. Aside from high unemployment, public education and social services continue to be gutted, home foreclosures continue unabated, and the enormous federal government budget deficit is looming in the background. President Obama has already established his deficit-reduction committee, headed by Republican Allan Simpson, and there has been non-stop chatter about reducing Social Security benefits, which constitute the most modest lifeline for millions of Americans. The banks, the corporations, and the wealthy are pushing hard to compel the Obama government to protect their privileges at our expense.
The labor movement needs to stand up and fight. Otherwise, what little we have will be taken from us.
We are confident that the fight for jobs is not at an end but at the beginning. The organized labor movement needs to mobilize working people to defend their standard of living. And the only effective means at its disposal will be to establish a broad united coalition, led by labor, to bring people into the streets to demand the creation of 12 million jobs while taxing Wall Street to pay for them, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has proposed.
By refusing to rely on the politicians and by establishing an independent movement of labor, working people will be in a position to reach out and unite the majority of the population so that in solidarity we can create a powerful movement to fight for our common interests.
Jobs for All Now, Tax the Rich!
Bill Leumer and Alan Benjamin
On behalf of the Interim National Committee of the
Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign
Labor and N.A.A.C.P. Plan October Rally
By Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times, May 10, 2010
Several labor unions and the N.A.A.C.P. are planning a rally in Washington this October to push for stepped-up job creation efforts and to counter what they say is a misguided perception that the Tea Party represents the views of America’s working people.
The rally — which is being organized by the heads of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the largest local in the Service Employees International Union — aims to create momentum for President Obama and Congress to enact more progressive-minded legislation on jobs, a financial overhaul and other matters.
“It’s very annoying to see the Tea Party folks on television all the time as if they’re speaking for working people, while all they’re doing is divide working people and push our agenda back, both racially and economically,” said George Gresham, president of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, which is based in New York and with 300,000 members is the service employees’ largest local. “It is annoying that some people treat the Tea Party as the only voice out there trying to speak out about the economic downturn.”
Mr. Gresham and the N.A.A.C.P. have proposed scheduling the rally and march on Saturday, Oct. 10, and he is calling the event 10-10-10. Mr. Gresham and Benjamin T. Jealous, the N.A.A.C.P.’s president, are planning a meeting in June designed to attract additional groups and to finalize a name and themes for the event. Mr. Gresham has approached the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other labor and liberal groups about sponsoring the rally.
Mr. Gresham, who came up with the idea for the rally, said he saw it as a way to counter conservative pressures against Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats.
“I always thought we just can’t put President Obama into office, but we have to be constantly out there to support the change we believe in,” he said. “I remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the labor movement about reforms: ‘Go out and make me do it.’ ”
Mr. Gresham said, “While I was watching the health care reform effort, which so many people supported, one somehow got the impression that people didn’t want health care reform. That was wrong.”
Some Democrats have questioned the timing of the rally, asserting it would distract labor and liberal groups at an important moment during the fall campaign when their energy and resources might be better used knocking on doors and making campaign phone calls instead of converging on Washington.
But Mr. Gresham insisted that the rally would strengthen the Democratic campaign efforts. “We’re building up the kind of momentum that we think we need for a major march,” he said. “That could help in November. It will get people to follow up by taking assignments and fighting for the change they believe in.”
WORKERS EMERGENCY RECOVERY CAMPAIGN
P.O. Box 40009, San Francisco, CA 94140
Tel. (415) 641-8616; fax: (415) 626-1217