CHICAGO – President George Bush came to town Sept. 30 for a $2,000-a-plate lunch at the swanky Sheraton Hotel with Republican fat cats and corporate CEOs to raise millions for his re-election campaign. What he probably didn’t see from his limousine was the greeting he got from hundreds of demonstrators calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and for his defeat in the 2004 elections.

Nearby, labor leaders gathered in front of a giant inflatable skunk to denounce his policies. “Working people are being skunked. The Bush policies stink,” said Lynn Talbott, international vice president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, UNITE. “Today is the first day of the kickoff campaign to defeat George Bush.”

Talbott was speaking on behalf of Chicago Labor for Peace, Prosperity and Justice (CLPPJ), a coalition of unions formed earlier this year to publicize the economic costs of the war in Iraq to working people. The coalition is waging a campaign among its membership to reverse Bush’s domestic and foreign policies. The coalition emerged from labor’s involvement in the antiwar movement and its role in initiating a giant antiwar rally on March 16.

“I can’t think of any reason for Bush’s massive tax cut to the rich. And I’m glad to say that almost all the Democratic presidential candidates are in favor of revoking it,” said Talbott.

Elena Marcheschi, coordinator of CLPPJ, outlined the unprecedented problems facing the American people and the across-the-board attack on workers’ rights by the Bush administration. She noted that over 3.3 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office, the single biggest job loss since the Great Depression. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are threatened with privatization. The number without health insurance has grown to over 43 million and new figures show 35 million have now slipped below the poverty level.

Elwood Flowers, vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and a leader of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, said the unemployment crisis has especially hit the Midwest industrial states. He blasted the Bush administration for policies that are destroying communities and leaving millions in dire straits.

“Bush is cutting $28 billion from veteran benefits over the next 10 years while waging war. Our infrastructure needs shoring up. Now Bush comes looking for $87 billion.” Flowers said the funds shouldn’t be granted unless there is a similar amount given for job creation here.

Joanna Misnick, speaking on behalf of SEIU (service employees) Local 73 said that labor would lead a movement to flush Bush from the White House. “He’s giving us wars we don’t want, tax cuts for the rich, not for the people, and a $4 trillion deficit by 2013. Between tax cuts and the war, there is nothing for the people,” she said.

“George Bush is a skunk and he’s skunked a lot of people,” said Gerald Zero, president of Teamsters Local 705. “George Bush is here raising a few million to buy an election. Maybe he’s afraid we won’t let him steal it again.”

The author can be reached at jbachtell@cpusa.org

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