BLAINE, Wash. – Union members from Canada and the United States rallied at Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canada border, April 2, cheering calls to defend collective bargaining rights and booing every mention of union-busters like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Canada’s Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The crowd held small placards emblazoned with U.S. and the Canadian flags and the words, “Working Families Standing Together. We are ONE!”
Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, told the crowd,
“Corporate America has declared war on the labor movement all across the United States.”
Wall Street banks and firms sit on $7 trillion in deposits, refusing to invest in job creation while whining that the nation is “broke” and must accept cutbacks, layoffs and austerity, he charged.
General Electric reported $5.1 billion in profits and did not pay a dime in federal taxes, he said, even as Washington State and every other state in the nation slashes vital services and lays off public workers.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died in Memphis, Tenn., April 4, 1968, leading the sanitation workers’ strike to win collective bargaining rights, Johnson said. He quoted King’s last speech, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
Jabbing his fist in the air, Johnson added, “He was talking about union rights. We must torque on that arc! We’ve got to bend it down!”
He led the crowd in a chant: “We are union! We are one!”
Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labor, said Canadian workers are facing a similar nightmare of unionbusting attacks by the B.C. provincial government and Harper. Canada is in the midst of a national election set for May 2 with Harper, now heading a minority government seeking to win majority control of parliament.
“Stephen Harper with a majority is our Scott Walker,” Sinclair said, as the crowd erupted in boos. “We can’t let it happen!”
The Tories say there is no money, he continued, even as they rubber stamp billions in tax breaks for banks and corporations.
“We can’t fund our schools and hospitals. That’s upside down. You’ve got to increase taxes on corporations. No one gave us anything we didn’t fight for. Not one thing! Are you ready to fight?”
The crowd roared, “Yes!”
Susan Lambert, president of the British Columbia Federation of Teachers, said organized labor is “building a movement that is global in scope.”
Nations like Honduras and Colombia have a “veneer of democracy” yet beat, torture, and murder trade unionists including school teachers, she said.
“We stand here in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin,” she said. “Governor
Walker is targeting teachers. Why? Because they know an educated population will not tolerate these huge disparities in income.”
She concluded, “Democracy! If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Dale Anderson, a member of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 519 in Wisconsin, said, “Scott Walker awoke a sleeping giant. Hundreds of thousands of union members and their supporters have joined the fight. We will not be denied victory.”
He announced that the grassroots movement just filed 21,700 signatures to force a recall election of his state senator, Republican Dan Kapanke, a supporter of Walker’s union-busting law now blocked by a judge’s restraining order. “He’s the first to go!” Anderson shouted.
Reyna Lopez, a young Latina woman from Portland, Ore., told the crowd she is the first in her family to graduate from college. Yet even as her generation goes deeply in debt to finance college, many still cannot find a job.
“Meanwhile corporations are making record profits. Corporations should pay their fair share” to provide vital services and benefits like affordable higher education, she said.
Students and youth “stand with labor” she said.
Barbara Byrd, sec.-treas. of the Oregon AFL-CIO, came with 40 other union members on a bus from Portland. “This is a pivotal time when we have the opportunity to seize the initiative,” she told the World.
“Scott Walker could be a great gift in terms of our political effort if we can harness the anger of our members” in the 2012 elections.
A brief hailstorm gave way to bright sunshine on a chill spring day. The cherry trees were blooming near the Peace Arch where the great African American singer and freedom fighter Paul Robeson sang to 35,000 U.S. and Canadian trade unionists in 1952 and again in 1953. He had been invited to sing here by the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers who were meeting in convention in Vancouver, B.C.
Robeson had been stripped of his passport and could not attend so they recessed the convention and came down to hear Robeson sing and speak here. This reporter, then 12 years old, was in the crowd cheering.
Stephen Von Sychowski, a member of the Young Communist League of Canada, said he learned in his childhood of the Robeson concerts here.
“It showed that for the working class there are no borders,” he told the World. “They attack workers on both sides of the border so we must stand together.”
Will Parry, 92, stood in the crowd, Saturday, holding the banner of the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans. He too remembered the Robeson concert
here 58 years ago. “I was assigned to security and rode up in the car with Robeson from Seattle, ” Parry said. “It is not a concert I am likely to forget.”
Photo: Union members and allies from the United States and Canada gather at the border for a rally in support of union and human rights. (Tim Wheeler/PW)