April 4 ‘We Are One’ Events:
Uniting Labor and Community
For an Upsurge in Class War
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
Working-class solidarity actions involving thousands of workers were among the lead news items in the headlines in nearly 1200 cities and town around the country over the April 4 weekend. The Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Eastern Ohio ‘rust belt’ region was no exception.
The occasion commemorated the anniversary of the April 4, 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his effort to help striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee win union recognition. The entire U.S. labor movement seized the time to organize public protest against the outrageous rightwing attacks on worker rights in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. The AFL-CIO knows full well that more attacks are coming, and its ‘We Are One’ campaign for the day was a grassroots dress rehearsal and consciousness-raising effort to prepare both its troops and its community-based allies for more battles to come.
“We are one! We are one!’ and ‘What’s Disgusting? Union busting!’ were among the chants echoing off the concrete and glass walls of downtown Pittsburgh. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 marchers waved V-signs at passersby in cars and buses–but more often than in a long time, one saw a sea of the more militant clenched fist salutes as well. As usual, different contingents of workers wore their color coded T-Shirts for the day-camouflage for the UMWA, dark blue for the Steelworkers, red for Unite Here! hotel workers, and purple for SEIU service workers.
USW President Leo Gerard fired people up at the first stop, the Equitable Gas headquarters. “These rich bastards aren’t paying any taxes and sending the bills to us and giving themselves record-breaking bonuses. If tax cuts created jobs, Bush would have left office with full employment. The speculators gamble with our money and want us to cover their losses. Well, when they come around again, they can kiss my ass.”
The crowd loved it. “What do you think, why are you here?” I asked Pamela Maclin, a woman worker standing near Leo, “We fought and died for our union rights, our civil rights. We’re taking a stand; they’re not going to take them away.”
“How about you?” I asked a man standing next to her, Carl Lewis from the USW. “I’m here for Working America, and we’re simply not going to be trampled on anymore.”
Our next target downtown was the newly elected Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett, a right winger allied with the Tea Party. The marchers filled the lobby of his office building and the block outside chanting ‘They say Cutback, We Say Fight Back!’
A public aid worker walking by across the street pulled me aside as I was leafleting passersby. She went on at length about the disasters awaiting the low-income people she works with. “These people here are absolutely right. You wouldn’t believe the workload they’re dumping on us and what they’re doing to these people. This is going to blow up in their faces; I wish they could see what I see every day.”
Another theme was ‘Tax the Gas,’ aimed at the free ride the GOP state legislature is giving to the exploiters of the giant gas deposit in the Marcellus shale. Not only are they endangering water supplies by their methods of drilling and recovering the natural gas, Pennsylvania under the GOP is the only state not imposing an extraction tax on the industry. Mel Packer of the Green Party and several of his comrades carried a huge and colorful banner linking environmental and labor issues: ‘Fracking, Drilling Spilling, Killing: Unnatural, Unethical Unwanted, Unsafe!’
But chanting and marching through the streets on April 4th was only a part of a varied and dynamic weekend.
On April 1 the United Steel Workers invited activists to its headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh for a traditional ‘Fish Fry’ with all the trimmings and a sign-making party involving a good number of youngsters. Then USW staffer Connie Mabin brought on Rev. Kevin Lee of the Beaver County Minority Coalition to bless the food and say a few words. Over 100 of us got to see the documentary, ‘At the River I Stand’, a powerful and gripping account of the Memphis sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. King.-a concrete example of the intersection of class and racial justice. Watching the documentary made it clear that the ‘We Are One’ movement is carrying that legacy forward.
The next day a ‘Jobs and Unity Fair’ was organized at the Teamster Temple in the Lawrenceville area in Pittsburgh, bring together unions and about two dozen non-profits to help several hundred of the unemployed who showed up.
In nearby Wheeling West Virginia, the Communications Workers of America designed April 4 as ‘wear red to work’ day, where workers showed up at their worksites in their colors armed with stacks of flyers. Across other suburbs, some union members, in addition to T-shirts, brought voter registration forms to work to round up the strays who hadn’t registered yet. A teach-in on labor solidarity is also taking place April 5 in nearby Youngstown State University in Ohio.
The evening of April 4 was stormy and raining in Beaver County. Still, over 150 union workers and community residents turned out for a candlelight vigil and speeches at the Beaver County Courthouse, about 20 miles down the Ohio from Pittsburgh in an area that has long been the victim of plant closings. At every event on common message came through: this was only the beginning. Everyone knew that unions had been weakened over the years, and they faced a tough fight. But there was a fierce determination to get on with digging in for the long haul, because there was really no other choice.