|May 7 Forum: "Labor Will Win!"
Austin Thompson, Labor Organizer
In Chicago on May 7 at the United Electrical Workers Hall, Students and Teachers Fight Back and the ANSWER Coalition in Chicago held a successful forum entitled “Labor Can Win: It’s Time to Fight Back!”
People came to the forum by train, bus and car from Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as southern Illinois to help strengthen the fight back movement against the attacks on workers, students and immigrants in the Midwest and across the country. Speakers included labor organizers, students, union members, immigrant rights and anti-war activists.
Members from the following unions joined the discussion: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, National Education Association, United Food and Commercial Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. In all, over 60 people attended.
To kick off the event, Bagwis, a Filipino pro-people folk-rock collective played a few songs of struggle and liberation. They received a standing ovation as they finished.
The program started off on a militant note with a statement from John Beacham, Illinois Education Association member and coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition in Chicago. He said, “The reason for this meeting today is not to just discuss the struggle, though that’s important, but to organize ourselves to play an important role in helping our fellow workers, especially organized labor, to realize and use our great collective power in society to defeat the billionaires’ and their war on us. If we fight the Wall Street bosses, it will not be easy, but there is no doubt that together we will win.”
Sabrina Carollo of Students and Teachers Fight Back, Corey Ansel of the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Columbus, Ohio and Janina Palacios of the Committee on Pilipino Issues gave solidarity statements with the struggle of public sector workers.
Shatriya Smith of AFSCME Local 2481 gave a powerful report of the many victories her local has won for workers at her job and for the autistic children under the workers’ care.
The reports and statements were followed by a labor panel with Austin Thompson, a labor health care organizer in Wisconsin, Jeff Bigelow, a Midwest labor organizer and Heather Benno, an immigrant rights attorney.
Jeff Bigelow pointed out that the attack against public employees is very broad and occurring in almost every state. “In just the last ten days, the Governor of Oklahoma signed a bill to end collective bargaining for city workers in the 12 largest cities in that state. The Tennessee Senate just voted to end collective bargaining rights for teachers. The Democratic Party controlled House in Massachusetts voted to limit/ end the right of public employees to bargain over health insurance. The Mayor of Los Angeles just ordered 42 unpaid furlough days for 6300 city workers comprising 43% of its full time employees- 911 emergency operators, mechanics, park rangers, lifeguards, animal control officers and wastewater treatment plant workers.”
The final speaker of the day was Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition. He said, “The uprising in Wisconsin, something that has not happened in many decades, was a clear sign that we have entered into a new period, a new period of struggle. … The revolution that was happening in Egypt at the same time is also a sign that we are in a new period.”
“Even more than that, the fact that workers in Wisconsin could very easily see themselves in the struggle of the Egyptian people, and held up many, many signs in Madison that referenced the Egyptian struggle, and that the people on the streets of Egypt saw themselves in the takeover of the Wisconsin capitol building … This is a clear indication that this is a new time we’re beginning to live through.”
The mood of the conference was summed up during Austin Thompson’s presentation. He asked the attendees, “Are you ready to struggle? Are you ready to win?” The response was a unified, “Yes!” He went on to say, “We should not underestimate the importance of our attendance at events like this one, especially when the bosses are trying to do everything they can to kill the workers movement.”
We don’t have to live under the boots of Wall Street and Washington. We Can Win: It’s Time to Fight Back! To get involved with Students and Teachers Fight Back and ANSWER Chicago call 773-463-0311.