"Million Worker March" a Spirited Success

"An Injury to One is an Injury to All."

— Slogan of the Wobblies

Washington, D.C. – Despite the myopic opposition of AFL-CIO’s boss, John Sweeney, and reactionary elements within that national organization, the Million Worker March (MWM) on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2004, was a success. Using the fabled Lincoln Memorial as a backdrop, the spirited, historic rally struck a responsive cord with its audience with a clarion call for Labor "to mobilize workers" and push its own "independent agenda" in order to "restore America."

The festive demonstrators, under sunny skies and with the temperature in the mid-60s, cheered, chanted and sang their hearts out. They waved signs and banners, too, with messages, like: "Repeal Taft-Hartley," "No Draft, No Way," "9-11 Was an Inside Job," "Stop Bush’s Iraqi Horror Show" and "Union Jobs & Health Care, Not War."

Ken Riley of Local 1422 of the International Longshoreman Association (ILA) and one of the speakers, told me why he had come up from Charleston, SC, for the event. "We want to send a message to this Bush White House that ‘it is time to go.’ No more war. We also want better health care. We want an increase in the minimum wage. We want to continue affirmative action until such time as it is no longer needed…We want to put this country back on track and the way to do that is to get Bush and his cronies out of the White House."

The communications’ chief for the rally was Ralph Schoenman. He said, "The war in Iraq is a war against workers and we will bring it to an end." Mary Baumer traveled on the bus for over nine hours from Portland, Maine, to make her presence known at the event. She carried a sign with her, which read: "Stop Sinclair Broadcasting." She is part of an activist group back home in Maine, which is working hard to stop the Sinclair Network, a right wing TV and cable organ, from running an anti-John Kerry film under the guise of reporting news. She said they have had" some success" with companies pulling their ads from the station.

One of the moving forces behind the Oct. 17th effort was Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of San Francisco, CA. It traces its progressive lineage back to the legendary Wobblies, ((http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World), the Industrial Worker of the World (http://www.iww.org/), and to the historic "Waterfront Strike of 1934." It’s also connected to a remarkable man, now deceased, whose very name today still strikes fear into the psyches of the grasping Plutocrats – Harry Bridges! He was the unrepentant leader of the ILWU during its formative years (http://www.ilwu19.com/history/contents.htm). The MWM was endorsed by hundreds of unions and peace and justice groups around the country, Europe, and Central and South America, too.

Local 10, however, isn’t living on its past reputation as being on the cutting edge of the labor struggle. On April 7, 2003, some of its members, led by its Business Agent, Jack Heyman, were involved in an anti-war profiteering demonstration at the Port of Oakland, CA. Many of the protesters, which also included students and activists, were unfairly beaten and arrested by the local police, while exercising their First Amendment rights. Their case became known as the "Oakland 25." All charges, however, against the defendants were eventually dropped (http://cvilleindymedia.org/newswire.php?story_id=447).

In a “Mission Statement” released prior to the rally, the MWM organizing committee gave the following as a few of its pressing reasons for taking their case to the nation’s capital: "Under the cover of systematic lies and deception, wars of devastation have been launched at the expense of working people everywhere. In our name, a handful of the rich and powerful corporations have usurped our government. A corporate and banking oligarchy changes hats and occupies public office to wage class war on working people. They have captured the State in their own interests. The vast majority of working Americans are under siege. Social services and essential funding for schools, libraries, affordable housing and health care are slashed and eliminated. Decent paying jobs are disappearing through outsourcing and privatization whose real purpose is to break unions and roll back the gains of one hundred years of struggle…This undisguised class war is waged without restraint against working families and our children, enforced by anti-labor legislation and decrees, and by courts serving our exploiters…" (Millionworkermarch.org)

Chris Silvera of Teamsters Local 808, in New York City, said, "I can see no reason why we can spend this money to bomb Iraq, build nuclear weapons, submarines and aircraft carriers, and not be able to afford medical coverage for working people from the cradle to the grave." Priscilla Aparicio is a member of ILWU Local 13, in Long Beach, CA. She said she came to Washington primarily to "protest the outsourcing of jobs." She added, "It is a privilege for me to be here today to help the American working people. We are losing our jobs so rapidly that our young people are not going to have any."

Some of the listed speakers for the MWM action, which started at 10: 30 AM, along with union officials from across the spectrum of the Labor Movement, were: Brian Becker of ANSWER; Myra Verheden-Hilliard, National Lawyers Guild; John T. McArthur, Publisher of Harpers; Actor Danny Glover; activist Dick Gregory; Mike Hoffman, Iraq Veterans against the War; Maya O’Connor, Co-Chair of the Green Party, USA; Civil Rights’ lawyer, Ramsay Clark and Jeremy Corbin, British M.P.

The MWM ‘s organizers are demanding, among other things: a Universal-single-payer-health-care system; a living wage for workers; guaranteed pensions; cancellation of the dubious Free Trade agreements; repeal of the USA Patriot Act and other repressive federal laws; slashing the gargantuan military budget; an open and democratic Media, where the voice of Labor can be heard; and bringing the troops home now from Iraq." They also underscored how "71 % of U.S. corporations pay no taxes" (Millionworkermarch.org).

Organizers of the rally also took AFL-CIO’s Boss Sweeney, and his cronies in the labor bureaucracy, to task for boycotting the event. They labeled their obstructionism to the rally as "silence and default" and blasted them for their indifference to the predatory attacks on working class people by the "corporate and banking oligarchy." (http://www.millionworkermarch.org/article.php?id=55).

Jack Heyman, before the start of the rally, told me that there was "absolutely" going to be a follow up to today’s affair. He said, "One demonstration like this is not enough. We are striking a responsive cord among workers all across this country. They feel like they are not being represented and that there needs to be a political expression. And, in my opinion that is going to have to take the form of a independent political party – a workers’ party – that is going to address the issues of Taft-Hartley, the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, of Health Care for everybody in this country…These are issues that are relevant to workers today and they are not being addressed by either party."

The MWM’s organizers and endorsing unions, representing 3.5 million union workers, feel that the two dominant political parties, controlled by the cunning Wire Pullers, have failed miserably to stand up for working class people. On this memorable day, they are sending a message that they are going to set their own independent agenda – an agenda that fits the special needs of workers.

Finally, although the crowd was far less than hoped for–the Capitol Police didn’t release any estimates–the MWM was a spirited success. It gave a much needed boost – a charge – to the Labor Movement. It presented a progressive blueprint – ideas for change – for the immediate future. It was also a credit to the rank and file members of the endorsing unions, who sourced this rally. At the end of the day, too, it was a wake up call to the head-in-the sand union bureaucrats, who preferred to watch yet another pro football game, rather than share an afternoon of activism with concerned workers.