Newark Rally Builds Community-Labor Solidarity
Newark, NJ – A joint labor-community rally held here April 26 marked a significant step in unity. The Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, the People's Organization for Progress and many of the city's veteran activists spoke and turned out among the crowd of more than 200. Newark is one of the richest cities in the United States in traditions of people's struggle, and it showed.
On the labor side, a large contingent from the America Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) turned out. The Reverend Al Sharpton, who is working on a Newark chapter of his National Action Network, also spoke, as did Ras Baraka and Mildred Crump, two members of the Newark Municipal Council.
Common themes were opposition to human services cutbacks, threats to bargaining rights of labor and threats to pension funds. Bank bailouts and tax cuts to the rich while the masses suffer were condemned. Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were the foremost targets of the people's defiance.
The call for unity between labor and the community was heard constantly. “We're like crabs in a barrel,” said Rev. Sharpton. “We need to get out of the barrel and go after the people who put us there in the first place.” Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey Director of AFSCME, blasted the idea that “there is nothing we can do.” The crowd took up the chant, “We are one.”
POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm denounced the attack by the right wing. “They are trying to take us back before 1960 on voting rights,” he said. “They are trying to take us back before 1930 and the right to form unions, back before 1920 and women's right to vote, back before 1900 and the eight-hour day.” He called for advancing a broad people's agenda that would include housing, jobs, health care and other concerns. He warned the crowd that even the achievement of a human needs program would not end the struggle, pointing out the need for fundamental social transformation.
“We need to have demonstrations every day for 385 days,” he said, commemorating the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56. “We have to be out here every day until our voices are heard, we have to be able to shut it down,” Hamm added. The people roared their approval.
The reason some unions are turning to community support is because of the systematic attack on public workers’ bargaining rights. Gov. Christie is one of the worst offenders. The state botched its handling of its public employee pension fund from the middle of the 1990s until now. As a result the fund is around $60 billion dollars short of its obligations. If the unions can be destroyed Christie can rob the workers of their pensions with relative ease. Also the unions are tightly aligned with the Democrats. The old reliance on the Democrats will not do, however. Organized labor needs to fight and it needs other mass forces.
Organized labor has to do a lot better overall. The difference must come from the rank-and-file, in terms of militant class struggle unionism. It is a hard fight, as shown by the experiences of Teamsters Local 743 in Illinois. In January of this year its principled elected leadership was removed by Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. on a rotten little administrative pretext. Broad rank-and-file militancy is the only antidote to misleaders like Jimmy Hoffa, Jr.
Events in Newark show the way forward. Unity of organized labor and community forces, unity of the working class and the oppressed peoples will grow in a mighty wave in response to the capitalist crisis.