The Significance of October 2nd Demonstration in Washington, D.C.


Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign

It would be easy to miss the meaning of the October 2nd One Nation demonstration in Washington, D.C., given that all the media — and many on the left — focused their attention almost exclusively on the calls by top organizers of the action to vote for the Democrats in the coming election. This was, no doubt, part of the picture. But it was not the most important part.

In fact, the nearly 200,000 people who attended the event, almost all from unions, brought a different message. They were not there to support politicians; they were there to demand that the politicians support them. And they were insisting on demands that run directly counter to the Democratic Party platform.

The Obama administration, after bestowing a generous bailout on Wall Street — making these rich barons even richer — has decided against a massive jobs-creation program on the grounds it would increase the deficit. While many of the speakers at the rally emphasized the need to vote, the overwhelming message that working people brought to October 2nd was the demand for jobs. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, for example, demanded: “$800 billion for a Jobs Bill Now!”

The October 2 AFL-CIO blog reports that Karen Bright, a member of CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000, announced at the rally: “It’s important that we make jobs the priority in this country and not all of the other issues that are dividing us. I think that’s the one issue that’s important to all of us.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka himself emphasized the priority of jobs when he addressed the crowd: “Sisters and brothers, we come together today because America needs jobs. Good jobs, jobs that support families — all families. Jobs that give our young people paths of opportunity, not obstacles. Jobs that allow people to retire with dignity.”

Harry Belafonte demanded an end to the wars in response to the Obama administration’s reckless expansion in Afghanistan and the ongoing presence of 50,000 troops still in Iraq. Referring to both wars as “immoral, unconscionable and unwinnable,” Belafonte went on to argue:

“The president’s decision to escalate the war in that region alone costs the nation $33 billion. That sum of money could not only create 600,000 jobs here in America, but would even leave us a few billion to start rebuilding our schools, our roads, our hospitals — and for affordable housing. It could also help rebuild the lives of thousands of our returning wounded veterans.” This was received with cheers and loud applause.

In light of the divergence between the demands voiced at the rally and the policies embraced by the Democratic Party, Bob King, President of the United Auto Workers, correctly observed: “We believe that we have to rebuild a social movement in America.” In other words, he acknowledged that the only way the politicians will respond to the demands of working people is through the creation of an independent social movement where working people rely on themselves rather than waiting endlessly for politicians to stop helping corporations long enough to help the rest of us.

We believe it is important to build on the momentum ignited by the October 2nd demonstration. Organized labor will not be able to win the demands of its members by electing Democrats to office. And the overwhelming apathy among working people in response to the upcoming elections confirms that they have learned an indelible lesson during the past two years: the change that Obama had promised is nowhere in sight.

In order to take a first step towards building an independent movement of working people that would fight for our needs, we in the WERC are in the process of organizing a spring WERC conference. In addition to union activists, we will invite top union officials to come to this meeting so that we can begin discussing the necessary steps to take to create this movement. This conference is aimed at uniting the labor movement around the needs being voiced by the rank and file.

In a recent AFL-CIO webcast (September 16, 2010), President Richard Trumka, after voicing concern that “third parties generally take votes away from our progressive candidates,” nevertheless offered this significant addition: “That’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk about it [the possibility of a Labor Party]. That should not mean we shouldn’t debate it. That’s not to let everybody know, Democrat and Republican alike, that we’re not in anybody’s pocket. We know what’s best for workers, and if neither party will do that, then we’ll find candidates or a party that will do what’s best for workers.”

The WERC conference will focus on how best to win the demands that truly respond to the needs of working people. As we have indicated in the past, we believe these demands include:

Create 20 million jobs! Make Wall Street pay!

Tax the rich to fully fund education and social services!

Hands off Social Security!

Stop home foreclosures and evictions!

Withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan NOW!

Immediate legalization for all undocumented workers!

Create a single-payer health care system for all!

Pass the Employee Free Choice Act!

We just received an endorsement of these demands, plus more demands, from Joint Council No. 16 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in New York.

At the WERC conference, in the context of discussing how we can win these demands, we think it will be appropriate to begin a discussion around what kind of political party can best serve our interests. As this conference materializes, we will be sending you updates. Please get back to us if you are interested in participating in this spring 2011 WERC conference.

We conclude with our formulation that is now being attributed to President Richard Trumka (and we don’t mind it at all): “Working people can make a difference if we rely on ourselves and act collectively.”

Bill Leumer and Alan Benjamin
Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign