Sunday, September 27, 2009

Struggle for jobs comes to G-20

Struggle for jobs comes to G-20

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More than 1,000 protesters marched through the streets here on Sept. 20 demanding a real jobs program, like the public works program the Roosevelt administration enacted during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It was the first demonstration related to the G-20 summit, a gathering of Treasury officials and central bankers from 20 countries that is to take place in the city later in the week. The goal of the G-20 is to protect bank profits. The goal of the March for Jobs is to revive Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for the right of all to a job. The march was organized by the Bail Out the People Movement and the Rev. Thomas E. Smith, pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church, and endorsed by the United Steelworkers union and the United Electrical Workers.

The march garnered coverage and interest from major big-business media, both nationally and locally, including the Associated Press, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the French Press Agency and others. Organizers of the march attributed the media interest to the fact that the march addressed the crisis of joblessness and its devastating impact on the Black community.

People came from cities throughout the country to join a significant number of Pittsburgh area residents for the march. The cities represented included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Miami, New York, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Providence, the North Carolina Triangle area and Boston. Many have been laid off or lost their homes to foreclosures. Despite the crisis, people were spirited, drawing strength from being together and from building a movement.

“In honor of Martin Luther King we are continuing what he started in uniting people together in a poor people’s campaign,” the Rev. Tom Smith, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church and one of the organizers of the march, told the rally. “The G-20 is structuring deals to protect the corporations and not the workers. It’s time for the workers to come together and make a difference.”

People gathered in the morning at Monumental Baptist Church located in the historic African-American Hill district of Pittsburgh. A tent city dedicated to the unemployed had been set up next to the church the day before. Many of the protesters will stay at the tent city throughout the week with more people expected to join as the G-20 summit opens.

An opening rally was held before the march stepped off at about 2:30. People marched carrying hundreds of placards with the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and chanting, “We got the right! We got the right to a job!” The march ended at Freedom Corner, where in 1963 people got on buses to go to the historic civil rights march in Washington, D.C.

Larry Holmes, an organizer of the Bail Out the People Movement, said the government claims a jobless recovery is on the horizon. He emphasized that this is unacceptable. “A jobless recovery is like a dead patient after a successful operation,” he said.

Monica Moorehead of the organization Millions for Mumia recognized the more than two million people in prison who couldn’t be at the demonstration. She introduced a taped message from political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

At the closing rally, Fred Redmond, United Steelworkers vice president, noted the need for universal health care and affordable education as well as jobs for all. “Enough of our kids are going to school where the rats outnumber the computers,” he said. “We have to assure that every child receives an education to equip them for the 21st century.”

Other speakers at the two rallies included Oscar Hernandez, a participant in the 11-month Stella D’Oro bakery strike in New York City; Clarence Thomas, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 and Million Worker March Movement; Brenda Stokely and Jennifer Jones, NYC Coalition in Solidarity with Katrina/Rita Survivors; Rob Robinson, Picture the Homeless; Rosemary Williams, Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign; Mick Kelly, Coalition for a Peoples Bailout; Nellie Bailey, Harlem Tenants Council; John Parker, Bail Out the People Movement organizer in Los Angeles; Sandra Hines, Michigan Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs; Rokhee Devastali, Feminist Students United, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart; Larry Hales, FIST (Fight Imperialism Stand Together); Larry Adams, People’s Organization for Progress; Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Victor Toro, an immigrant facing deportation and member of the May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrant Rights; Berna Ellorin, BAYAN-USA; Father Luis Barrios, Pastors for Peace; Kali Akuno, U.S. Human Rights Network; and Pennsylvania state Sen. Jim Ferlo.

Why people came to Pittsburgh

The march was a powerful draw for people, many of whom traveled long distances to be part of the event. Strikers from TRW Automotive, a seatbelt-making plant in Mexico, had been in Detroit speaking out about their struggle when they heard about the protest in Pittsburgh and joined the bus from Detroit. One member of the TRW group, Israel Mouroig of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, said it was necessary to forge alliances at the international level. “Corporations that generate billions of dollars a year produced the crisis in our country,” he said. “There is a lack of jobs because they see the working class as robots, as numbers. We have to appropriate the means of production and be the actors of our own history.”

Several people drove from Los Angeles, including Guy Anthony, who lost his job as an organizer with the Service Employees union in June. Now living in his car, he has traveled around the country writing a blog about his experiences (thedistantdrummer.com). “You can’t talk about joblessness without talking about homelessness,” Anthony said. He met people in Seattle who had set up “a fabulous tent city” on church property. He also stayed with people who set up a homeless community at a roadside stop off of Route 280 south of San Francisco. “You couldn’t want better neighbors,” he said. “Nobody went hungry. It was a beautiful socialist community.” The county recently shut the group down.

A large contingent from the Boston School Bus Drivers union, USW Local 8751, including Gary Murchison, former three-term president of the local, and Frantz Mendes, current president, showed up three days before the march to help organize and build the tent city.

Detroit activists, who organized a hugely successful tent city in June, brought a busload of people to Pittsburgh. “We had to be here,” said Sandra Hines of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition. “We have to mobilize, organize before they take every right we have away from us.” Latonya Lloyd, who was part of the Detroit delegation, recently battled the shut-off of utilities at the Highland Towers apartment building.

Mary Kay Harris came with about 40 other people on a bus from Rhode Island. A member of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), Harris said that as soon as they heard about the March for Jobs they decided they had to be there. Rhode Island, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, has a tent city of the homeless. “We feel that solidarity is the most important thing,” she said.

Activists in Cleveland also brought a busload of people, including a large contingent from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. And a group of 18 youth came from North Carolina, including Tracy Gill, a member of FIST who said this was the first big protest she had ever been to.

Members of the Minnesota People’s Bailout Coalition also came to the march. Angel Buechner said the organization had fought for legislation last year that would have provided immediate jobs or income and a moratorium on foreclosures and on the state’s five-year limit on receiving welfare. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty defeated the measure. Despite the setback, Buechner is ready to continue the battle.

At the ending rally at Freedom Corner, Holmes announced—to the approval of the crowd—that the next step is to build a national march for jobs in Washington next April to continue Dr. King’s dream.

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