Labor Against War organizes protests in SF and NYC
Solidarity with detainees!
March 29, 2002 | Page 11
HUNDREDS OF trade unionists and activists in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City rallied March 23 to defend immigrant rights and fight back against the Bush administration’s recent tide of attacks on working people at home and abroad. KEVIN CHOJCZAK writes from San Francisco, and WADE SAVITT reports from New York.
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MORE THAN 200 activists and Bay Area union members marched through downtown San Francisco to the port of Oakland, Calif., chanting “Ashcroft and the CIA, taking workers’ rights away!” and “Money for jobs, health care, and schools, not for war!”
Organized by the coalition Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, the demonstration was called in defense of airport screeners, port workers, and service industry workers–whose jobs and rights have been under attack since September 11.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10, facing tighter regulations and a barrage of background checks by their Oakland employers, protested against restrictive labor policies cloaked in the language of “security.”
“We went through a long struggle to get a union hall in 1934 so we could determine the terms under which we worked. Today we are faced with double jeopardy as they are imposing these background checks on us…Well, I say, the hell with background checks!” Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Clarence Thomas told the crowd.
Other endorsing labor groups included the San Francisco Labor Council Executive Committee, SEIU Locals 718 and 1877, HERE Local 2850 and Plumbers Local 393. Antiwar, progressive and socialist groups also supported the effort.
Japanese union leader Kenichiro Hiraga led a delegation of six Japanese trade unionists on the protest–and shared experiences with the crowd about organizing against the Japanese government’s participation in Bush’s “war on terrorism.” “Since 9/11 in Tokyo, we have organized demonstrations against the war of 1,000 to 2,000 people…Being here gives us a chance to build solidarity with you in the U.S.,” he told the crowd.
Erlinda Valencia, a member of SEIU Local 790 and a baggage screener at the San Francisco International Airport, spoke out against the new law that requires all airport baggage screeners to be U.S. citizens by November 19. If the law goes into effect, hundreds of Filipino baggage screeners who work at the San Francisco airport will be fired from their jobs.
Valencia is part of the Immigrant Airport Workers Solidarity Committee, which is organizing support for the screeners in the Bay Area.
When asked how working people can fight back against these vicious attacks, Vincent Morris, of ILWU Local 10, told Socialist Worker, “It’s going to take numbers. They are not going to listen to one, or a few…This war and what happened on 9/11 is perfect for Bush since he stole the election. It just came at a perfect time when they could have started to investigate this.”
ABOUT 350 protesters marched in New York City against the continued detention of approximately 50 immigrants who are currently being detained–indefinitely–at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Outside the detention center, activists chanted “Ashcroft, set them free. This is not democracy!” hoping to be heard by prisoners inside.
Organized by New York City Labor Against War (NYCLAW) coalition, demonstrators from more than 20 different unions sent a message to the city that the fight for labor rights and immigrant rights are one.
Unions represented on the demonstration included AFSCME DC 37, Locals 1407 and 2627, AFSCME DC 1707, SEIU/New York State Council, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, N.Y. Taxi Workers Alliance, Legal Aid Society Chapter, 1199/SEIU, Mail Handlers Union Local 300, CWA Local 1180 and many more.
“Every day on the workshop floor we defend due process for our workers; it’s only right that we come and defend due process here,” Larry Adams of the Mailhandler’s union told the crowd.
Michael Letwin, co-chair of NYCLAW and president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325, called the demonstration “a small but significant step up, an important symbolic gesture,” and deplored fears that unions will be branded “unpatriotic” if they dare to disagree with the government.
“Where is the might of the unions?” demanded Brenda Stokely, president of AFSCME District Council 1707. “We are the best-organized institution in the country, and we need to get behind this cause and drive it forward.”
NYCLAW has helped to organize weekly protests outside the detention center as part of the Justice for Detainees coalition. The coalition also demands disclosure of the detainees’ names and charges against them, access to the detention center for Amnesty International, and an end to the racial profiling of Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants.
They are promising to renew their efforts in the face of a recent, renewed wave of arrests and raids and to continue until all detainees are freed.
Protests are held every Saturday at noon outside the Brooklyn Detention Center, 29th Street and Third Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Call 718-826-4833 for information.