Arizona workers gear up for 2004 elections

PHOENIX – Thousands of trade union activists poured into the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Phoenix on May 6 to hear Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry speak and to launch the Arizona Labor 2004 Kickoff campaign to kick George W. Bush out of the White House and send him packing back to Texas.

Invited guest Joe Shirley Jr., president of the Navajo (Dine) Nation, addressed the overflow crowd. “We are registering and re-registering voters. Come election time, we intend to be there with you to get out the vote.” He said he will soon meet with more than 550 leaders from tribes across the country. “Some of us are large and some may be small. We know we can make a difference.”

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, also addressed the enthusiastic crowd. “Arizona started to change 30 years ago when the founder of my union Cesar Chavez went on a fast at the Santa Rita Church, less than two miles from this hotel.” Representatives from the local UFW field office La Union del Pueblo Entero cheered with dozens of other committed unions as he continued, “Everyone says that Arizona is a Republican state, that Bush has millions. It is often heard ‘Nothing can be done here.’ But we say, ‘Si se puede.’”

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, introduced John Kerry. Kerry began his remarks by saying, “I am running for president because I want to create a different conversation in our country.” Referring to the lack of health care for 43 million Americans, he said, “It is time we all recognize that health care is a right for everyone and not just a right for rich people.” Regarding the recent worldwide scandal about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, he said, “Who is interested in an administration that doesn’t know what its own people are doing?”

Michael E. McGrath, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO and master of ceremonies, electrified the audience when he said, “We in Arizona will not concede our 10 electoral votes to anyone. We will leave no voter behind.” Newscasters are speculating that Arizona might be as important in the 2004 election as Florida was in the 2000 election.

While labor is gearing up to oust Bush, peace rallies in Phoenix, once small, are now in the thousands. Street heat and civil disobedience demonstrations have also taken place to protest the arrival in Phoenix of the Democratic Leadership Council, the corporate conservative wing of the Democratic Party, appealing to them not to diminish Kerry’s agenda.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.