Crowd Chants ‘We Want to Work!’ As Federal Shutdown Continues

WASHINGTON—The chant rang out over and over again, despite pouring rain, interrupting speakers who enthusiastically urged them on.

“We want to work!”  “We want to work!”  came the constant call.

That came from hundreds of locked-out federal workers, members of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFSCME, the Service Employees, the Treasury Employees and other unions, who marched on Capitol Hill on Oct. 10.

Their simple demand: That the House GOP, and specifically Speaker John Boehner, allow an up-or-down vote on a money bill to reopen the partially shuttered U.S. government – a government where 800,000 of its workers are locked out – and let them get back to serving the people.

The march was one of a series of protests, both in D.C. and around the country, by the locked-out feds, victims of the ruling Republicans’ absolute insistence that no money bill funding the country could pass unless it also defunded the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s health care law.  Another D.C. march was on Oct. 11.

Sympathetic Democratic lawmakers, speaking to the crowd on Oct. 10, vowed that tradeoff would never occur – and also demanded Boehner allow a vote on the temporary money bill, called a continuing resolution (CR).  They said the 200 House Democrats have enough GOP support to pass the CR, if Boehner would permit a vote.

Boehner, kowtowing to his Tea Party wing of the GOP, refuses to do so, unless the CR also trashes the health care law.

Meanwhile, the workers not only demanded their jobs back, but reminded solons  they have families to feed, rent to pay and bills they owe.  Without any pay, they can’t.

The House took a break earlier this week from the wrangling to unanimously approve a bill giving the workers back pay for the time they will miss due to the shutdown – but they can’t get paid until they go back.

“What’s going on?  Does our government look dependable?  Put us back to work,” said Defense Department civilian worker Andrew Sales, one of several idled workers who addressed the rain-soaked crowd.

The workers, lawmakers and union leaders all talked about the practical impact of the shutdown, which AFGE President J. David Cox repeatedly calls “a lockout.”

“Half of our members are working without a paycheck, and the other half aren’t working at all,” Cox, whose union has 600,000 members, said.

“They’ve locked our veterans out of filing claims.  Airplanes aren’t being inspected” for safety.  “They’ve locked miners out because there are no mine inspectors.  And children are being locked out of Head Start,” he added.

“I teach about government – and that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can do well,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, of New York City.  “But we don’t teach them (students) that a few” congressional “crybabies are stopping the government from working.  As a social studies teacher, what do I say?”

“I didn’t come here as a political refugee 30 years ago to go back to the dark days,” added AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, who fled his native Ethiopia at age 14, walking across the Sudanese desert for months to board a ship.

“I make $500 a week and I’ve already had a pay cut due to furloughs” imposed by the GOP-ordered “sequester” – cuts – in last year’s money, said Census Bureau worker Natasha Rozier.   “Congress is not only holding us hostage, they’re holding our tax dollars hostage.  Tell Congress to do their job so I can do mine.”

Sympathetic Democratic lawmakers, led by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., and Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed to fight for a “clean CR” without any strings attached.  A clean CR would kill the GOP’s demand to trash the Affordable Care Act.

Sanders, Ellison, and another supporter, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said the federal workers’ fight against the GOP’s Tea Party extremists, who are responsible for the shutdown/lockout, is part of a larger struggle.

“Today, these extremists are talking about ending the Affordable Care Act,” Sanders said.  “They want to end Social Security.  They want to end Medicare as we know it.  They want to end Medicaid.  They want to end the minimum wage so that Americans will have to work for three bucks or four bucks an hour.  They want to move this country to an oligarchic society where a handful of billionaires control everything.”

“As soon as we get this government back, we’ve got to turn back the 30-year attack on our wages and the right to organize,” Ellison said. And Jackson said the Tea Party is the direct descendants of the old Confederacy.  “We beat them on the battlefield in the 1860s.  We beat them at the ballot box in 2012.  And we’ll beat them again,” he declared.

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer