PITTSBURGH – Revivals uplift the heart and soberly prepare the head for Monday morning. Hundreds of coal miners, steelworkers, public employees, auto workers, teachers, neighborhood leaders and families filled the United Steelworkers of America union square June 6 for a strong dose of Rev. Jesse Jackson hope, an electric charge of union leader honesty, and a grassroots steely determination to rebuild this crumbling, bankrupt region, once the industrial heartland. The task, all agreed, is voter registration, education, unity and organization to wake up Nov. 3 to a Bush-free country.
Pittsburgh was the proper launching pad for the Rev. Jackson’s four-day caravan through Appalachia. In 2003, over 4,600 Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) families lost their homes and the city is broke. Besides Pennsylvania, the caravan also traveled through Ohio and West Virginia.
National labor leaders, who were on the bus with Jackson, know the jobs and health care crisis up close and personal. Calling for unity between industrial and public sector workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Gerald McEntee thundered against the Bush administration’s hypocrisy of rebuilding Iraq while the bridges, roads and schools in greater Pittsburgh collapse and the people struggle with sickening poverty. “It’s about boots on the ground,” said McEntee, fists jabbing the air. “We work together, we’ll send Bush back to Crawford.”
Bricklayers Union President John Flynn, Food and Commercial Workers Vice President Willie Baker and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists President and AFSCME Vice President Bill Lucy clarified the main campaign issues: health care, jobs and electing a government that supports our people, not corporations.
Mine workers, whose dangerous and sophisticated labor underground keeps the lights on in 60 percent of American households, do not elect union presidents who lie. When rank-and-file miners cheered, nodded and applauded in agreement with their union president, Cecil Roberts, a Vietnam veteran, for exposing Bush and his administration as “chicken hawks,” it must be true. All workers endorsed Roberts’ honest plea to start marching and keep marching until Election Day, Nov. 2, for health care, jobs and rebuilding America.
Jackson touched the minds and souls of workers when he rose to call for peace in Iraq and at home. Using the “weapons of mass deception,” said a somber Jackson, Bush took the U.S. into a “misguided war of choice.” Over 800 Americans have died, he reminded the audience, and countless Iraqis. “We have a moral obligation. Iraqis are God’s children too. We have a moral obligation to stop the killing. Homeland security begins at home.” Homeland security means subsidizing steel, investing in U.S.-based clean energy and aerospace, he said. “When you invest in America, you get security and workers.”
Workers and their families left the rally smiling, laughing and optimistic. Jean Tripp, an electronics worker for 23 years at General Motors Delphi division, was also getting on a bus. She retired and is on her way to Kenyon College for a union-sponsored training session to register and mobilize voters. “It’s tough out there and we know it,” she told the World. “But we have to come together and hear it as a group, as one. I decided to begin my retirement by going to a training to give everyone a voice in November, not just the corporations.”
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