Workers’ rights theme of New Poor People’s Campaign rallies, events

WASHINGTON—Worker rights, specifically the right to organize and the right to a living wage, took center stage at the New Poor People’s Campaign’s rallies in Washington, D.C., and state capitols nationwide on June 11 – and continued throughout the week.


“It is sin and sin and sin when the greedy take and take and take from the needy,” the campaign co-chair, the Rev. William Barber, said in midst of a rainstorm at the Nation’s Capital. And then, taking a shot at the right wing, he declared: “You keep lifting up the Bible, well, we’re going to make sure you know what’s in it!”


Barber, eight other ministers and more than 100 other activists then enacted peaceful civil disobedience in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 11, and were arrested for it.


They sat down to protest a High Court ruling the day before which potentially strips workers and minorities of voting rights if they didn’t cast ballots in prior elections – and a looming ruling from the justices that would make every state and local government worker in the U.S. a “free rider” who could use union services without paying one red cent for them.

But D.C. wasn’t the only site of the New Poor People’s Campaign. Other campaigners showed up in dozens of state capitals, as they have in prior weeks. For example, in Springfield, Ill., a group of NPPC members gathered to criticize anti-worker right-wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. One poster: A cutout of Rauner’s face with the word “VETO” stamped in red on his forehead. Rauner, a multimillionaire, faces billionaire Democrat J.D. Pritzker this fall.


Worker rights are a key plank for the NPPC, which launched on Mother’s Day. Each ensuing week has featured a different theme, including campaigning for universal health care, against racism and xenophobia, and for an end to U.S. wars and a militaristic economy.


All those and more will be tied together in a mass rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 23, and in the weeks beyond, since all are linked to poverty, including its presence and its eradication. The NPPC will continue for months and years to put elimination of poverty atop the U.S. agenda, say Barber and its co-chair, Rev. Liz Theoharis.



“We demand immediate implementation of federal and state living wage laws. We demand the right of all workers to form and join unions. We demand equal pay for equal work. We demand fully-funded anti-poverty programs,” followed by other demands, Theoharis said.


At least five prominent national and international unions support the New Poor People’s Campaign: The Steelworkers, the Teachers (AFT), the Communications Workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Service Employees.


In keeping with the campaign’s bottoms-up organization and emphasis, a parade of

workers, union and non-union, joined Barber and Theoharis at the D.C. lectern.


“Can you believe that with the money they got from the tax cuts, AT&T is demanding we pay more for our health care?” asked Sarah Harris of Communications Workers Local 6450 in Kansas City, an AT&T call center worker there. “The corporations are working with the politicians, at the expense of the economy and everyone else.”


“AT&T got a $20 billion tax cut” from the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax cut for corporations and the rich, Harris continued. Its CEO, Randall Stephenson, promised to create 7,000 jobs in response. “Yet he chose to lay off our workers and close call centers across the country.”


And Patrice Johnson, a cleaner at Washington’s National Airport, hired by Metropolitan Building Services, said her Service Employees Local 32BJ “fought for a contract with better wages, health services and other benefits.”


“But I’m here for people standing next to me” who don’t have unions, Johnson added. They too need higher wages, the right to “not getting fired for unjust causes and in favor of people who just work and don’t complain.” They need unions, she said.


Josh Armstead, vice president of Unite Here Local 23’s D.C. Food Service unit, told the crowd they must also campaign against so-called “right to work” laws – which workers and unions call “right to work for less” laws.


The laws, enacted now in 27 states, bar unions from collecting dues, or even “fair share” fees covering just bargaining and grievances, from workers they represent, union or non-union. That lets non-unionists in union-represented shops be “free riders.”


Right to work, Armstead explained, has “a racist history,” starting in the South in the 1940s as a way to split working-class white from working-class African-American workers. Earlier, Barber cautioned the crowd, and mainstream media, against categorizing the working class as solely, the white working class.


“But the Supreme Court is about to give a victory to RTW,” Armstead said. The court’s Janus case, involving a dissenting AFSCME member from Illinois, “was pushed by today’s billionaires.” The answer, Armstead said, is “We will continue to organize, we will continue to gain strength, and we will continue to win, because we are organized labor.”


Source: PAI