CHICAGO - Enjoying great music, food and politics, a full house celebrated the 22nd Annual People's World Banquet Dec. 6 at the Parthenon Restaurant. Several thousand dollars was raised for the PW Fund Drive from supporters who dug deep despite the hard economic times.
The attendees, a rainbow crowd of labor, community and religious activists, entered the festive room to the sounds of the jazz trio, Lovers in Arms, and a running slide show of photos from struggles over the past year.
PW staff writer Pepe Lozano welcomed everyone. Oohs and aahs greeted waiters bearing the house specialty, Saganaki, or flaming cheese.
The program was emceed by Katie Jordan, president of Chicago Coalition for Labor Union Women. She said it was vital for all progressive organizations to share in solidarity and CLUW was excited to be supporting the PW. She said the PW was a unique news source whose voice was needed now more than ever.
Author and labor leader Amy Dean keynoted the event. In introducing her, CPUSA labor secretary Scott Marshall called her work visionary and innovative. Dean recounted how she learned some enduring lessons as a young organizer for the ILGWU working with Rudy Lozano and through the election of Harold Washington as Mayor of Chicago, including the kind of commitment it took to fight for worker's rights, the need to build grassroots movements and win political power to effect real change.
She noted while electoral coalitions are one thing, governing coalitions are often another. It's vital that labor and its allies have a say in what policies unfold once their candidates are elected. Dean said much more must be done to build up the movement to ensure the Obama agenda and progressive change is advanced in Congress.
Before the dinner Dean signed copies of her new book, "A New, New Deal: How regional activism can reshape the American Labor Movement" which she co-authored with David Reynolds.
The program was punctuated by a joyful performance of Mescolanza, a new performance group of movement veterans Terry Davis, James Thindwa, Sijisfredo Aviles and Bob Huston who hope to carry multi-cultural social justice song to the picket line, rallies and events. Tim Yeager with his accordion joined them at the end for Solidarity Forever and the International.
For their outstanding contributions to worker's and social justice, the People's World also bestowed the Chris Hani-Rudy Lozano award on Dean, the South Austin Coalition, Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (AFT), Campaign for Better Health Care (CBHC) and Carmen Cohn, a long time reader and supporter of the People's World and rank-and-file organizer at Resurrection Hospitals.
Jonathan Vanderbrug, Health Care Justice Director for CBHC, the largest coalition of health care activists and consumers in Illinois, drew attention to the historic political juncture the nation finds itself in. He urged everyone to continue pressing his or her elected officials to pass health care reform with the public option. He said a victory was vital for future reforms including in immigration, climate change, financial reform on Wall Street and passage of EFCA.
Accepting the award on behalf of South Austin Coalition (SACCC) was community organizer Elce Redmond who is also a steering committee member of Chicago Jobs with Justice. The SACCC has a distinguished history organizing grassroots actions on the West Side of Chicago against foreclosures, for living wages and worker's rights. Redmond urged everyone to stick together and to raise the fight for a massive public works jobs program especially for the distressed African American and Latino communities.
Several leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union joined Chicago ACTS - AFT organizers Hugo Hernandez and Thindwa. Hernandez recounted the pioneering union organizing drive of teachers at three Chicago charter schools last spring. In negotiating the new contracts, ACTS is helping close a big wage and benefit gap between teachers at public and privatized schools, and regulating workload for the first time.
The workers at Resurrection Hospitals have been fighting to join AFSCME for seven years. Many have been fired and threatened. But this hasn't stopped Carmen Cohn, a physical therapist, from participating in the organizing campaign. Cohn described how the workers are being mistreated and just the act of organizing the union has forced some concessions from hospital management.
It was over all too soon. Attendees left the event with stomachs and hearts full.
Photo: Chicago CLUW president Katie Jordan with Amy Dean.