Speaker at PW luncheon: “We won’t turn our backs on workers”

LOS ANGELES — What do hip hop and labor have in common? If you ask the Los Angeles-based hip hop artists the Inner City Dwellers, hip hop and labor have a similar message. Labor is the voice for the working class and community hip hop is the voice for the disenfranchised and working poor. According to Fuerza Mexica (Cesar Castrejon), one of the Inner City Dwellers said “We are artists who won’t turn our backs on workers and we see labor as an organization that won’t turn its back on the workers.”

The People’s World luncheon honoring workers in the struggle was held March 20 at the Clean Carwash Workers Center, home of the Carwasheros organizing campaign in South Central Los Angeles. The Inner City Dwellers opened the People’s World luncheon in Los Angeles with a spirited bi-lingual rap about the plight of hard working families. Their message and performance is a “Love song to the working people,” according to Andres Rivera, one of three members performing at the event. Rivera, Jorge Cutera along with Cesar Castrejon make up this community-based hip hop group. This hip hop performance set the tone for the entire afternoon.

Eric Gordon, union member with the National Writers Union (NWU), staff writer and editor with the People’s World welcomed the audience, speakers and introduced Rossana Cambron, People’s World staff writer/videographer and Southern California District leader.

Cambron greeted participants at the People’s World fundraising event and introduced the program, starting with a cultural presentation. “This is not entertainment because art, music and poetry need to be an important part in raising awareness in our communities,” said Cambron.

“We couldn’t have gotten here without you,” said Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “Labor and community supporters worked hard to raise the wage in Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena and hopefully West Los Angeles.” Hicks went on to say that 2015 was the year for Raise the Wage. The new campaign for 2016 is Build Better L.A., a campaign to create more affordable housing. Union members are currently collecting signatures to get Build Better L.A.’s affordable housing and quality jobs on the November 2016 ballot in Los Angeles. (story continues after video)

Hicks presented his perspective on the upcoming national elections before welcoming keynote speaker MaryBe McMillan, Secretary Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Hicks told the audience that unfortunately the current presidential election is divisive and the discourse has fallen to a low level. His message was that it will take getting out more votes if we want to win.

MaryBe McMillan expressed the need to organize one-by-one especially in a right to work state such as North Carolina. In a thoughtful assessment of organizing in the south, McMillan said: “If you want a glimpse into the future of the United States, look to the South.” She went on: “I preach the gospel: We must organize. We must organize in the South. Why the South? Because the South is a reflection of our nation’s future. The South is not a backward state as some think. There is a clear reason why the South is for the most part a right to work state. Right to work must not mean right of surrender. That is why a Southern campaign needs to be put in place by labor.”

The afternoon’s highlight was the honoring of workers who are engaged in struggle. El Super workers, who are organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Local 770), called for a boycott of El Super markets in 2015. El Super market employees are paid low wages and are predominantly Latino workers. People’s World recognized two workers who risked their livelihood to bring justice and respect for all El Super workers; Fermin Rodriguez and Guadalupe Amador were honored.

Walmart workers also stood up against a major corporation that makes billions in profit. Workers have been retaliated against, threatened and spied upon. This has made their struggle for increase wages, affordable health care and other workplace issues difficult. Walmart workers have won some victories but the struggle continues. People’s World honorees included: Denise Barlage, Evelin Cruz and Venanzi Luna.

The Clean Carwash Campaign is a coalition supported by the United Steel Workers (USW), the AFL-CIO and more than 100 community, faith and labor organizations in Los Angeles. Many carwash workers are immigrants. People’s World honored Fausto Hernandez and those workers who have dedicated their time to organizing.

The People’s World event ended with another wonderful cultural presentation by Ismael Parra, a musician and union/community activist. The Inner City Dwellers will be releasing an all-Spanish hip hop CD in the fall.

COMING SOON: The People’s World (www.peoplesworld.org) will host the 24th Annual Hershel Walker ‘Peace & Justice’ Awards Breakfast on Saturday, May 14th, at the Painters’ District Council 58 union hall in St. Louis, MO. The program will start at 9:30 a.m. 

For additional details, email your question to editors@peoplesworld.org.

Photo: MaryBe McMillan gave a thoughtful assessment of organizing in the south. PW



David Trujillo
David Trujillo

David Trujillo is a member of the National Writers Union, a playwright, writer, and community activist. David Trujillo es miembro de la Unión Nacional de Escritores, dramaturgo, escritor y activista comunitario.