This is the transcript of a talk given on Bill Leumer on February 18, 2009 at a public forum.
The WERC is a campaign to organize working people to fight specifically for gains that would benefit them, for example, massive job creation programs, single-payer health care that would eliminate the for profit insurance companies from the picture, a moratorium on home foreclosures, and tax the rich, NOT working people, etc. It is based on a ten-point program that can be summarized with the slogan: “Bail out working people — not Wall Street.”
It is being organized correctly on a united front basis. That is, we seek to bring people together as workers, regardless of their political affiliation, into an organization that is run democratically so that we can effectively fight for our interests. As isolated individuals we are weak, but together we can wield tremendous power, so we do not want to restrict this movement to only workers who have adopted a specific political outlook.
We think this campaign at this time is crucial because the employers and those in power will attempt to resolve this economic crisis on the backs of working people. That is why we have set out to win over the majority of working people to this campaign, including Blacks, Latinos, immigrant rights groups, and more to the WERC’s ten-point program. The more workers who join the campaign, the more powerful we become.
Working people now face the worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Workers are losing their jobs to the tune of roughly 19,000 per day, and there is no end in sight. The average work week has been reduced to 33 hours, down from a work week that was well over 40 hours. More than 2.3 million home owners suffered foreclosures last year, which was an increase of 81 percent over 2007. This number could rise to over 10 million in the coming years, as housing prices continue to careen downward.
The country’s cities, counties, and states are facing fiscal crises that is greatly exacerbated by the economic crisis, thus resulting in massive budget cuts in government spending that adversely affects social services needed by working people, including education, health care, and virtually every other social service imaginable.
Even before this recession/depression set in, working people faced the largest wealth disparity in American history between ourselves and the fabulously rich who are a small minority. And this disparity could get worse. If this were not bad enough, the banks are slated to receive $2.5 trillion of taxpayers’ money. In other words, the people who caused this crisis because of their unbridled pursuit of profits are reaping the biggest benefits from the Obama administration bailout.
Working people are beginning to put an end to playing the role of passive, helpless victims, waiting patiently for the Democratic Party or their employers to throw them some crumbs, as the successful struggle of the United Electric workers in Chicago testifies. More recently, the United Teachers of Los Angeles held a protest rally on January 26 against the budget cuts that drew 15,000 people. And 3000 steel workers in Granite City, Illinios, protested layoffs.
Rallies and marches are occurring in cities like Reno, Nevada, to speak out against unemployment. Tomorrow (Monday, February, 16, 2009) in Olympia, Washington, unions will be protesting budget cuts. And in California community college teachers are organizing a protest demonstration in Sacramento in March.
A couple of weeks ago in Portland, Oregon, the organization Jobs with Justice held a town hall meeting in a church that was packed with over 800 people who roared their approval every time one of the speakers denounced the bailout for the banks. Even the mention of the banks being taken over by the government was met with loud and long applause by the audience.
These events, and many others like them around the country, have encouraged us to put everything we can into organizing working people into a movement whose goal is to take effective massive action in defense of our standard of living, our jobs, and our homes.
We think that thefavorable reception to the WERC shows that we have the possibility of establishing organizing committees in many parts of the country that can begin to reach out to many other organizations and individual activists to help promote the WERC program and help build campaigns.
We are fully aware of our modest beginnings, but the impressive endorser list, which now includes the United Teachers of Los Angeles, a union of 48,000 teachers, coupled with the recent political stirrings of workers across the country, raises our confidence in a positive outcome.
Moreover, it is important to understand that this campaign has not been mounted to benefit one organization or another’s particular agenda. Those of us who are organizing it do not see ourselves as having interests separate or apart from working people as a whole. That means that we do not seek to control this movement as if it were a private franchise, but we are dedicated to creating a movement that is democratically controlled and run by the workers who join it. Only in this way can the WERC truly represent the interests of workers as they stand up to the assaults of the employers as a class.
Finally, we are very pleased to report to you that the San Francisco organizing committee of the WERC is planning a teach-in/speak-out on the economic crisis that will be co-sponsored with the San Francisco Central Labor Council on Saturday, April 18. Invited speakers include Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Mark Dudzic from the Labor Party, Al Rojas, Nancy Wolforth, and a representative from the United Teachers of Los Angeles, and others.
We want you to join us. In solidarity we can win.