Nationwide: This week over 9,000 workers ‘join the union’

The week of June 3 was a good week for the labor movement. Three thousand public workers, the Washington Public Employees Association, voted to affiliate with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 365; 2,400 drug store workers in New York City signed up for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 338; and 1,000 Florida university workers, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 79, successfully fought back against Governor Jeb Bush’s union-busting attack on state workers. Since the beginning of 2003, 74,637 workers have decided to “join the union.”

Issues driving the successful organizing drives vary as the range of workers. The WPEA workers now make up WPEA/UFCW Local 365. “I am especially excited about the chance to work with the UFCW Working Women’s Department which provides opportunities for women to learn leadership skills that strengthen their local unions and their communities,” said new member Gerie Ventura. New York drug store workers were looking for health care and the RWDSU delivered. The election marks the affiliation of the Allied Trades Council with Local 338.

Florida state workers have the toughest fight. Governor Jeb Bush launched the proto-type for the current privatization of 800,000 federal workers at the state level in 2001. The president’s brother was successful in busting some state unions and weakening civil service protections. But blue and white-collar workers at the University of North Florida and Florida A&M University fought back and voted their union back in and plan negotiations. AFSCME is challenging Bush in court.

DALLAS, Texas: ExxonMobil shareholders ‘hear’ from the public

Police were everywhere as shareholders in the gigantic ExxonMobil oil corporation graced the threshold of the luxurious Meyerson Symphony Hall for their annual meeting. They were there to “protect” stockholders from scores of oil workers demanding a contract; environmentalists demanding protection from toxins, spills and pollution; and religious groups concerned about human rights abuses.

Members of Petroleum, Atomic and Chemical Employees Local 4-2001 are still waiting for a contract while Chief Executive Officer of Exxon, Lee Raymond, just got a 76 percent salary increase.

Environmental and religious groups have been buying small amounts of stock for several years and using the annual meeting as a platform to highlight the mega-corporation’s crimes. Although it failed, their 12-point resolution received more support than ever before. The meeting was an hour late starting because of the demonstration and lobbying by “justice” stockholders in the hallways.

Exxon had to hire their own protest group – Citizens for a Sound Economy. They were outfitted with their own sound system and performed outside Symphony Hall supporting the corporation.

PHILADELPHIA, Penn.: Education not incarceration

With the Edison corporate take over of Philadelphia and Chester public schools, over 150 educators, students, parents and civil rights activists united by the Philadelphia Black Radical Congress and the Criminal Justice Program of the Friends Service Committe met and mapped out an action program on May 19. The conference voted to support Governor Ed Rendell’s state budget for public education which restores state funding to school districts, and launched a postcard campaign.

The eye of the education hurricane is the growth of prisons while public schools are starved for money. “Increasingly, Philadelphia schools are looking more like prisons and students are being treated more like convicts,” said Robert Cunningham of the Philadelphia Student Union. “At Columbine, after the shootings, the students got counseling, not metal detectors.”

“Philadelphia schools are set up to supply the prisons,” another student added.

The conference was shocked to learn that prisons are one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. and inmates produce products like furniture and take hotel reservations for 41-cents-an-hour.

TUCSON, Arizona: Protesters arrested over DU warnings

Brad Czerny, 53, and Gretchen Nielson, 70, were handcuffed and arrested May 29 when they entered the Army and Navy recruiting offices to deliver information warning recruits of the hazards of depleted uranium (DU) used in U.S. weapons. They were part of a demonstration organized by the Pledge of Resistance and other groups in seven countries to raise the red flag over the U.S. use of depleted uranium. Protesters united behind the banner, “Depleted uranium, atomic testing, Agent Orange: Pentagon lies, recruits die.”

Scientists have been worried about the U.S. use of DU for years, but no funding has been available to do reliable testing.

The U.S. fired DU weapons on densely populated areas of Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

In 1991, the U.S. used DU weapons on civilians in southern Iraq. Since then reports of childhood leukemia and birth defects have increased six to 10 times.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Joe Bernick, Rosita Johnson and Jim Lane contributed to this week’s clips.