Beaver County Union and Community Activists
Hold April 4th Solidarity Rally at Courthouse
By Carl Davidson and Tina Shannon
Beaver County Blue
Even though thunderstorms and downpours had swept through Beaver County all afternoon, close to 200 concerned citizens showed up for a candlelight vigil in front of the Beaver County Courthouse on Monday evening.
"Are you fired up?" shouted Roni Hamiel of SEIU Local 668 headquarters in Harrisburg, "Are you sick of this mess? The rich are getting richer and we’re struggling every day, barely getting by. We want fairness, we want our bargaining rights, and we want a decent future."
Photo: Commissioner Joe Spanik at Vigil
Local members of SEIU 668 spearheaded the vigil, with others joining in to organize a broadly supported event. Throughout PA, events scheduled around the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination were organized by CLEAR (Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues). CLEAR is a coalition of public and private sector unions involved in protecting labor rights and public services from impending budget cuts.
"We are standing beside you in solidarity," said Willie Sallis, president of the Beaver County NAACP, from the podium. "Not behind you, but beside you. We are partners in this struggle."
Linwood Alford, Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council Director of Civil Rights and Economic Justice, moderated the event. Dennis Bloom, president of the Beaver Lawrence Central Labor Council, lead off the evening with a call for unity.
The presence of so many union members in the audience reflected the organizing work of local union leaders in Beaver County. In addition to SEIU members, three different IBEW locals were represented. Steelworkers and building trades members were there too. A group of teachers from Beaver Falls showed up wearing red for their union, the PSEA, and in solidarity with the community against cuts to education. Participation in this event reflected the important growing alliance between public and private sector unions. Federal, state and county workers were there. Several union members and staff spoke from the podium.
Democratic Beaver County Commissioners Tony Amadio and Joe Spanik also spoke. "I’m a public worker," declared Amadio, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. ‘Not only in public office, but as a schoolteacher most of my life. I have just gotten back from Harrisburg, and believe me; we have NO friends there at the moment. We are going to have to fight hard for everything and everyone.’ Commissioner Joe Spanik criticized the many politicians who are attacking the working class and the poor.
Bob Schmetzer, IBEW retiree and vice-president of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America, wrapped the evening up. He denounced Wall Street for hoarding the funds needed to solve problems and put people to work. He urging people sign up on PDA worksheets and attend a showing of the movie ‘Inside Job’ in May.
Several regulars from the weekly Beaver County Peace Links vigil at the courthouse were also there. One held a ‘Jobs Not War’ placard with Dr. King’s photo on it.
The crowd, candles and umbrellas in hand, made one loop in the rain around the courthouse steps, and with high spirits, called it a day. A 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 is really no other choice.
It was announced that the fight would continue on May 3rd as buses leave from Beaver County to join the statewide protest in Harrisburg. We will be demanding an approach to the budget that doesn’t hurt working people and devastate our communities. To sign up for the bus ride and join us in the struggle to defend our communities, click on link below.