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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 74/No. 39      October 18, 2010


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(lead article)
Economic crisis draws
workers to D.C. rally
Speakers urge ‘patience’ with Democrats
Laid-off Chicago Transit Authority workers were among many union contingents represented at October 2 rally for “job, justice, and education” in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON—Nearly 200,000 people—overwhelmingly workers and many of them African American—answered a call to rally here October 2 “for jobs, justice and education for all.” Workers clad in union or NAACP T-shirts streamed into the National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial throughout the day in an action sponsored by the AFL-CIO, major unions, NAACP, and several hundred other organizations.

Twenty-four coal miners came from the Cumberland and Emerald mines in western Pennsylvania. “The biggest reason we are here is to stand with our brothers for our rights,” said Jeff Marsh, from United Mine Workers of America Local 2300. “We are preparing for the fight of our lives when our contract expires Dec. 31, 2011. It is very important that all unions be united to make sure our kids can grow up to be union workers.”

Six hundred United Auto Workers unionists came from Michigan alone. There were also members of the United Steelworkers, International Association of Machinists, United Food and Commercial Workers, Sheet Metal Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Utility Workers, and the International Longshore unions.

Tens of thousands of public employees and health-care workers also turned out, many of whom have been hit with cuts by state and municipal governments around the country. These included teachers’ unions; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Service Employees International Union; American Federation of Government Employees; 1199 hospital workers; and numerous transit unions.

A busload of workers from Chicago came in T-shirts reading, “Laid-off workers—CTA.” Last February the Chicago Transit Authority laid off nearly 1,100 workers, most of them bus drivers, and reduced bus service by 18 percent and train service by 9 percent.

“Jobs,” said Aisha Kelley, a 22-year-old nurse’s assistant in Philadelphia, as the reason she came with her union, Local 1199C. Raising two children, Kelley has worked part-time for the last two years. She has never been able to get a full-time job.

Many chapters of the NAACP in major northeastern cities sent large contingents, but the group also brought thousands from cities and towns that were far away.

Black college students turned out as well, including from the NAACP youth council at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Brittany Stapleton from Winthrop University in Rockhill, South Carolina, came in a van with eight other students. “African Americans are 13 percent of the population, but 32 percent of the unemployed,” she said.

Stapleton supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 elections, but “the next time around I’d have to think more carefully about that. He could be more aggressive. I feel like there could be a lot more getting done.”

The call put out by the NAACP for the rally appealed to “the people who got thrown out—thrown out of our jobs, schools, houses, farms and small businesses.” The civil rights group made a point of urging participation from all groups facing discrimination, from “the new immigrants, raising our children in the torchlight of the Statue of Liberty, while confronting the shadows that are bigotry and mass deportations,” to those denied equality because of race, sex, or sexual orientation.

The National Council of La Raza was among the immigrant rights groups endorsing the action. The group brought 50 people from Charlotte, North Carolina, many of them construction workers. Another National Council contingent of 58 came from Ashtabula, Ohio, made up mainly of farmworkers. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee brought workers. Immigrant workers also proudly marched in their union contingents.

At the rally, speakers focused on getting out the vote for Democratic politicians in the November elections. MSNBC host Ed Schultz, one of the featured speakers, said Republicans in the Senate “want to see Obama fail. We cannot let that happen,” while he acknowledged that those who backed Obama in 2008 “have not gotten everything we wanted in the first two years.”

Schultz was among many speakers who struck an American nationalist theme. He said unemployment was high because Republicans were sending “American” jobs overseas. That protectionist stance found an echo from some union members.

Speakers also urged rally participants not to lose confidence in the two-party system, echoing recent remarks by Obama that “people need to shake off this lethargy; people need to buck up,” and by Vice President Joseph Biden that we must “remind our base constituency to stop whining.”

This is the second time in less than two months that such large numbers have been drawn to mobilizations because of the capitalist economic and social crisis. A rally here in late August called by right-wing talk-show host Glenn Beck attracted hundreds of thousands—both middle-class layers and workers—who face loss of jobs, foreclosures, and other economic uncertainties.
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