Union Members Mobilize for ‘We Are One’

Mayl 2011

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Seafarers from around the country recently participated in an AFL-CIO campaign aimed at drawing attention to the assault on middle class workers and their rights. The “We Are One” campaign brought hundreds of thousands of working people and their supporters together at rallies, teach-ins, speeches and other events throughout the United States and abroad.


The “We Are One” events were based around the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King, who was gunned down April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., was supporting sanitation workers in that city who were striking for better pay and working conditions.


Evoking the memory of Dr. King and his efforts on behalf of workers’ rights, Seafarers mobilized and called for a halt on the attacks on workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Indiana and elsewhere. Many of the demonstrations took place April 4, but there were related rallies in late March and later in April.


On March 26, Seafarers in Los Angeles joined fellow trade unionists and other backers to demand good jobs and to stand with workers in Wisconsin who are suffering from vicious anti-working-family attacks. More than 20,000 people attended the rally, which was called one of the largest in recent memory in the Los Angeles area.


“This is an emergency we have in Wisconsin and across the U.S.,” said Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, who travelled to Los Angeles to gather support from workers in California. “This is about an attack on the middle class. We need to reclaim our moral outrage ... because we are in the battle of a lifetime.”


SIU members from the Norfolk, Va., area joined rallies conducted by fellow union workers as well. On March 26, workers met in front of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 613 in Norfolk to voice their opposition to the dangerous attacks on public-sector workers and to stand up for the American middle class.


Maritime workers were represented at an April 1 rally in Waynesburg, Pa., that had more than 5,000 in attendance. The rally, organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and supported by the SIU and other labor and community groups, commemorated the life and work of Dr. King and also the lives of mine workers lost on the job.


The moment of silence observed for fallen mine workers hit close to home at this rally. April 5 marked the first anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. The disaster took the lives of 29 nonunion workers in what has since been deemed an accident that could have been prevented with proper enforcement of safety regulations by the company, Massey Energy.


The speakers reminded the attendees that what’s happening to public-sector workers in Wisconsin has lasting and dangerous implications for workers everywhere and in all sectors.


“I got news for you,” said Cecil Roberts, president of the UMWA. “Today it’s the public employees, tomorrow it’s the steelworkers. Tomorrow it’s the autoworkers. Tomorrow it’s the coal miners. Now is the time to stand up and fight back.”


On April 8, some three-dozen Seafarers marched on the grounds of the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, Wash., along with an estimated 12,000 fellow union members and other supporters. It was believed to have been the largest rally in that state in at least a decade.


“Seafarers understand the slogan, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ They understand that the plight of the public-sector employees is not separate from their own,” said SIU Tacoma Port Agent Joe Vincenzo. “They further understand that the political agenda set to bust unions is not simply ideological but all too real. It’s about bread and butter.”


Before the We Are One campaign had been announced, Seafarers in Wisconsin and Texas also took part in demonstrations for public-sector workers.


Collectively, the events have created an atmosphere of excitement and hope for the future, despite the gravity of the situation in Wisconsin and elsewhere, according to the AFL-CIO.


Richard Trumka, president of the labor federation, believes that leaders in Washington will begin to take notice of the power of the working class united in solidarity and will take a pro-working family stance on issues now and in the years to come.


“This is a spontaneous, bottom-up, grassroots movement, and it is truly a wonder,” Trumka said. “Anybody who has been to any of these states can tell you that the energy of the protesters is infectious and their solidarity and commitment are inspiring. This has all the makings of a powerful, lasting political movement.”

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Pictured from top to bottom are Seafarers participating in demonstrations in Norfolk, Va., Olympia, Wash. and Los Angeles.

Norfolk Rally