JwJ launches 'season of struggle'

MIAMI, Fla. – Launching a “season of struggle,” participants at the annual Jobs with Justice (JwJ) meeting here signed on to a jam-packed agenda of protest, mobilization and education for this fall. They emphasized four key issues leading up to the 2004 elections: health care, global justice, the right of workers to organize, and the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride (IWFR).

International guests joined over 1,000 unionists, both leaders and rank and file, and a wide spectrum of labor’s allies at the June 19-23 meeting. Founded in 1987 as an alliance of labor and community organizations, Jobs with Justice now has 41 local coalitions in 26 states.

More than 200 youth and students attended a two-day pre-conference that highlighted growing ties of student groups with struggles of campus workers.

The Freedom Ride captured the imagination of many. Buses will depart from 10 cities across the U.S. in late September on the way to a lobby day in Washington, D.C., and a massive rally in New York City on Oct. 4. The aim is to mobilize mass support for three key tenets of a new immigration policy, said Freedom Ride chairwoman Maria Elena Durazo.

The IWFR seeks legalization and a “road to citizenship” for all immigrant workers in this country, the right to reunite families, and protection of on-the-job rights of all workers without regard to legal status. Durazo, who is also international vice president of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, stressed the importance of the local actions in the 80 communities the Ride will pass through – actions which will reflect the local populations, organizations and specific on-going struggles. “The goal of the Freedom Rides is to expand our coalition work in every single city, to connect and bring in new allies,” she told the World. “We’re looking beyond Oct. 4 to 2004, to make changes in Congress and the White House.”

“We’ll meet you in the streets of Miami!” was AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stuart Acuff’s challenge to the world trade ministers, who are meeting here Nov. 17-21 to hash out details of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). FTAA will multiply tenfold the harm already done by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to working people, the environment and democracy, he charged.

During a week of demonstrations, workshops and teach-ins reminiscent of the historic Seattle anti-WTO actions of 1999, thousands of “I Vote No on the FTAA” ballots collected from ordinary Americans will be delivered to the ministers.

Citing the AFL-CIO’s “significant history” fighting NAFTA, Mike Cavanaugh, assistant director of the AFL-CIO’s Department of Field Mobilization, told the World, “The goal is to make this a political issue that has resonance in Congressional districts” in order to defeat FTAA in 2005.

“We are internationalists in our hearts and souls,” AFL-CIO executive vice president Linda Chavez-Thompson declared.

Returning from Miami, protesters will keep on their marching shoes to mark International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 with local actions to dramatize U.S. workers’ lack of rights to unionize. Forty million U.S. workers want collective bargaining, but can’t get it because of employer interference. The Department of Labor has become a brazen advocate for employers, and “the National Labor Relations Board has become [the employers’] tool,” charged Morton Bahr, president of the Communication Workers of America.

Strategy and tactics in the struggle for universal health care got special consideration from health care activists this weekend. William McNary, president of USAction displayed his own home-made prototype of a bumper sticker of the future, “The labor movement, the folks who brought you health care for all,” to dramatize the point that “health care cannot be won without labor being at the center of the struggle.” McNary added pointedly, “There can’t be an internal battle on policy.” He urged the gathering to “speak in plain English, with easily understandable demands like ‘Medicare for all.’”

The word “diversity” seems inadequate to characterize the spectrum of race, age, ethnic background and geographic origin of the gathering. The youthful crowd conferenced with gusto – every plenary session and most of the workshops included songs, chants, and roaring audience participation. Dances, cultural events and social gatherings added to the festive mood. Hassan Yussuff, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, looked out over the audience and said, “This is what the future should look like!”

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org