Why We Need a Million Worker March and Why Now
by Christopher Silvera, chairman, Teamsters Black Caucus, and secretary-treasurer, Teamsters Local 808, Long Island City, New York
[This statement by a leading African American trade unionist reflects militant fightback attitudes in the Black community and among Black unionists, who are playing a key role in efforts to organize a Million Worker March. The influence of the Teamsters Black Caucus in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) is reflected in reported information that Thomas Keegel, IBT general secretary- treasurer, made a donation at the national conference of the Teamsters Black Caucus in Orlando, Florida, on August 18, sufficient to pay for 75 buses for the October 17 march. This march has the potential to be a major combined action of the labor movement and the antiwar movement.
[In my opinion, what is of major significance in this effort is the role of Black trade unionists. Besides the Teamsters Black Caucus, the march is supported by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the 35,000-member, largely African American subway workers local in New York City, the Charleston, S.C., and West Coast longshore workers unions, and several major district councils of AFSCME (in Baltimore/D.C., and NewYork City). In addition, a number of local unions, including Local 3800, the militant clerical workers union at the University of Minnesota, and the Houston, Texas, local of AFSCME, reportedly the second largest local in that union, are supporting the march.
[Chris Silvera’s statement, written June 16, 2004, has been edited for Labor Standard. It has been excerpted, nearly in full, from the web site http://www.millionworkermarch.org.
The labor movement has been under continuous siege for over forty years. The Democratic Party passed deregulation both in the trucking and airline industries, passing countless trade agreements including NAFTA and PNTR. There is a difference between getting a bullet in your toe and getting one in your head. The passage of these agreements were bullets in the head for the working people and their labor organizations. With a Democratic president and both houses of Congress under Democratic control we still could not pass a Striker Replacement Law. We must not make ourselves stooges of the Democratic Party. We are the collective resources of the working class in their struggle to reverse their decline from the high water mark in 1955. The Republican Party used one bullet to execute their victim when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, giving the signal to release the final permanent assault on working families in America and the expansion of the global exploitation of working people.
Have we become more concerned with getting handouts for our electoral support, or do we trust in the collective will and might of the working class? The members we represent want this march. The very survival of our movement calls to a Million Worker March. We must exert our energies and insert into the consciousness of this Great Nation the issues facing working families across the land.
This march will change the dialogue of the candidates running for office in November. Such a display of power will allow the Labor movement to place its issues back on the table. Neither candidate is articulating positions that are of real benefit for working families. This is a crucial moment for us to hold their feet to the fire.
Our members elected us to lead. They did not elect us to ponder the fate of two Skull and Bones members. They will freely discuss with you the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Pentagon but will not speak to the direction or actions of their secret fraternity. Virtually all religious groups can agree to the concept of one God. All labor groups believe and understand the concept of the power of mass mobilization of the workers to action. We are all aware of the effects of what the Million Worker March would do for our struggle. Why then do we refuse to act?
The advances of trade unionism have only come through mass mobilization of the working class to action. The developments in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century justify the call to mobilize. For all the reasons that working people know and feel every day this call to mobilize is necessary. Global cabals through the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund have wreaked havoc on the advances of labor in the first half of the century.
It was defiance that allowed Local 808 members to be the first to enjoy a five-day, forty-hour workweek in the railroad industry. It was defiance that allowed us to achieve the greatest advances for railroad workers in the history of organized labor. Through defiance, workers have achieved a high standard of living for working men, women, and their families. Are we prepared to lead the twenty-first century [version of the] Minneapolis Strike of 1934? [Remember] the Haymarket [martyrs], the Molly Maguires, the Knights of Labor, the Chicago Stockyard Strike, and the list of battles that produced the outcome that we so freely squander away every day.
Workers join labor unions to wage their battle against the bosses. Are we the leaders of a workers’ movement or the CEOs of service organizations? Are we labor bureaucrats or are we militant labor leaders with a cause?
The unorganized will be impressed with our strength and solidarity and will flock to our doors seeking to be a part of this powerful force called the labor movement. We will begin to rebuild critical mass. We must become thirty-five percent of the private sector workforce again.
The Million Worker March is a crucial vehicle for voter mobilization. The timing of it, coming two weeks before the election makes the march the cheapest, most effective get-out-the-vote initiative ever undertaken by the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO. We freely spend millions gambling on the two political parties to deliver for the workers. This approach has borne very little fruit. It is now time to invest that same money on moving our members to mass action. Why do we quickly hesitate to spend our money on our own members? Let us invest in our March to Victory.
With the passage of fascist laws like the unpatriotic “patriot act,” we might not be allowed to march next year—a matter of national security. I am sure you all understand.
For fifty years we have continually lost ground in every aspect, from loss of membership and the right to strike to the diminution of health and pension benefits and two-tier systems that now currently exist in many workplaces today. After fifty years of losses piling up, if not now, when?
The call to mobilize was started off by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 10 (AFL-CIO) at a mass rally attended by many labor leaders in San Francisco. Local 10 is the home of Harry Bridges the great trade unionist. Local 10 initiated U.S. labor resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa when they refused to unload a ship from South Africa.
Danny Glover was the keynote speaker along with Brenda Stokely, president of District Council 1707 AFSCME, and myself. I was afforded the honor and privilege to address the Western Region Conference attended by the leadership of all ILWU Locals from Seattle to San Diego. They, too, endorsed the March.
Responding to the call was a no-brainer. Local 808 quickly responded by endorsing the call and working to make the March a success.
Locals created the International and the affiliated subordinate bodies to empower the locals, not run them. The International does the business of the collective interest of the Locals. We tell them; that is the power of the delegates at convention. The Convention of Delegates is the final authority in this union. We set goals, policy, and governing rules, then elect people to carry them out. We do not need their approval to take action as autonomous Local unions. We would urge the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to endorse and bring the power and prestige of the Hoffa legacy to bear.
I am calling on all the autonomous Teamster Local Unions across this great nation to mobilize their members to march on Washington, D.C., on October 17, 2004. I further call on all the Local Union leaders to write letters to all affiliated bodies, to endorse, fund, and mobilize in support of this most worthy effort to empower the working class of this country. Its timing is a powerful forum to get the vote out in earnest in November. We fully recognize the importance of the electoral process. However, it is we who must be able to deliver our members to the polling booth, and the Million Worker March is the greatest forum to make the final push for a Labor Movement victory in November.
I ask for the support of every Local Union to come out and support the Million Worker March and the intensification of the workers will to Fight Back.
F. Christopher Silvera
Teamsters, Long Island City, New York