Workers unite with anti-war movement

Thousands of protesters gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to demand changes in rights for workers and for better job opportunities.

People from all regions protested with signs and T-shirts to support union jobs and health care, expressing their anger for President George W. Bush and his administration with signs reading, “Bush Lied, Humans Died” and “The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11.”

Larry Holmes, chairman of the International Action Center and one of the 43 people scheduled to speak, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to address the crowd.

“How many here are workers?” asked Holmes. The crowd lifted their signs, cheered and blew horns in response. “Who belongs to a union?” he then asked, but heard fewer replies. “That’s a shame. We all should be in a union.

“One of the most exciting things about the Million Worker March, the most thrilling, unprecedented and dangerous things about the march is that it’s bringing the worker’s movement together with the anti-war movement.”

Heidi Durham, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, told the crowd about the importance of the march.

“Today is indeed a historic day in the history of the United States,” said Durham of Seattle, Wash. “It’s not often that working people have descended upon the nation’s capital to fight for their own craft in their own name. But today we are, and you are quite a beautiful sight to see from this podium.

“We have come to Washington, D.C., with our boxing gloves on because it’s past time that we let our voices be heard outside and independent not only of the Republican Party but the Democratic Party as well.”

Throughout the event, coalitions groups flooded the sidewalks with banners and newspapers representing themselves and their causes.

Aris Colonna, 39, an airline worker from New York City and a supporter from the “Veterans for Peace,” voiced his opinion about problems in today’s job industry.

“I haven’t lost my job at this point, but there have been paycuts to where jobs have been sent overseas more,” Colonna said. “It just seems that things are siding with corporations and making it more profitable for them to a point where there is an imbalance of providing for who (does) the work.”

Colonna also expressed his views on the problems with health care for him and for his family.

“Health care for me and my family has skyrocketed,” Colonna said. “The quality of health care has dropped to the point where you can’t even find doctors who are willing to spend the time with you.”

Clarence Thomas, co-founder and co-coordinator of the march as well as a rank-and-file member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union in San Francisco described the difficulty in planning such an event.

“Brothers and sisters, one of the thing’s that is so unique about this event today is that this is a rank and file grassroots democracy,” he said. “Not only is this a movement, what you need to understand is that even though there are members of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations) out here today, the AFL-CIO has not contributed one dime to this event because all the money has gone to the Democrats.”

Rhonna Bonsu, 64, a member of the District Council 37 organization in the District of Columbia, stressed her concern about labor and overtime opportunity for workers in the United States.

“It’s so many things happening to workers that are unfair,” she said. “Most of this doesn’t affect me because I’m a retiree, but these problems will affect my family. Workers should be entitled to overtime pay, and it isn’t fair that it has been taken away from employees.”

The Teamsters National Black Caucus coalition in Chicago appeared at the march with more than 100 supporters.

The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, 42, shared some of his thoughts for the group.

“We have come to tell the people who are currently in office that we still have schools, and we have elderly that need their help,” Lee said. “We want reassurance from the new candidates before we put them in office that they are going to do more than the regime that is in there now.”

Steven Richards, 47, a former software engineer and software development manager in Silicon Valley, Calif., said he lost his job during the crash of high-tech jobs.

“It used to be where if the company did better, the employees did better,” Richards said. “Now, when the company does better, it’s the shareholders who do better, and they keep trying to outsource more jobs and keep their cost lower so the people at the top can get more money.”

Keith “Shank” Shanklin, the secretary-treasurer of the march, told the crowd about the difficulty in organizing everything before asking them to monetarily help support the event.

“With a grassroots movement, it’s very hard to put things together when you have powers that fight you left and right, especially big organizers of the labor movement. But when you have the people who are standing behind you shoulder to shoulder and step by step, I don’t mind making the sacrifice to do this,” he said. “You can’t stop the will of the people.”

Job opportunities and health care were only two issues on some people’s minds. Several organizations showed support for the U.S. troops in Iraq, demanding that the war should stop and the troops should return home.

Bryant Jones, 38, a member of the International Answer organization in the nation’s capital, said he doesn’t believe in war.

“I believe we should be more concerned about taking care of home first before we help anyone else,” he said. “The last four years with the Bush administration have been hell, and the Iraq situation to me was just a business deal.”

The Answer Coalition, a Muslim organization based in Washington, D.C., also displayed views about their religion and the role it plays in the United States. A 24-year-old coalition member emphasized his concern about the government’s handling of problems overseas and its bias against Islamic Muslims.

“I’d like to see the government completely gone,” said the member who called himself Muhaafiz. “I think there is very little difference between the two parties. To me they are all criminals, and the government has a history pattern of injustice.”

During the march, musicians, poets, and such guest speakers as Danny Glover and Martin Luther King III stood at the top of the memorial to plead for solidarity and higher wages, while accusing President Bush of spending all of the government’s money on the war in Iraq.

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