Louisiana workers speak out on human rights

A fiery speech by Louisiana AFL-CIO President Sibal Holt capped a night of oration Dec. 10 by union leaders, preachers and politicians urging local workers to stay strong in the fight for human rights

Holt lashed out against practices that hurt workers, including a plan to rebuild south Louisiana by catering to business interests.

“The slogan of the governor is: ‘What’s good for business is good for the state,’” Holt said. “How many people in this room know that if business is doing well, it doesn’t mean we’re doing well? What’s good for the people is good for business.”

More than 100 attended the International Human Rights and Workers’ Rights Day Rally at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum building in Shreveport. Many were wearing the blue T-shirts of the American Federation of Teachers or the neon green shirts of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

It was the first time the Central Trades and Labor Council of Shreveport and Vicinity, an AFL-CIO group, organized a rally to mark the day.

“I think there’s a power in unity. Many times people divorce one struggle from another,” Shreveport Councilman Calvin Lester said.

New Orleans’ march for action

Displaced New Orleanians gathered Dec. 10 to deliver a message to local and federal officials: “We demand the right to return!” About 5,000 people marched from Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park to City Hall, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Rising rent, lack of jobs, environmental hazards and the need for more input from residents on how New Orleans should be rebuilt were among the issues in rally speeches.

The event was organized by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, which developed a list of demands they intend to give to Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s administration, including making housing available for anyone who wants to return, stopping all evictions and price gouging, and discontinuing Mardi Gras until the residents return.

Teachers fired

In one fell swoop, the Orleans Parish School Board fired some 7,500 public school employees. The last day of “employment” will be Jan. 31, 2006, according to a Nov. 30 announcement, which cited the state takeover of New Orleans schools as a reason for the massive firing. The state plans to privatize and turn public schools into “charter” schools.

The main opposition to the state plan so far has been the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which said the takeover would “effectively nullify an existing collective bargaining agreement for teachers at the affected schools.”

Brenda Mitchell, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, said in a Dec. 1 statement, “This is a sad day at the end of a tragic three months for the teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and other employees of New Orleans Public Schools and for the city of New Orleans, which could lose more than 20,000 citizens at the same time when the mayor is asking citizens to return.” The union pledged to remain involved in the re-establishment of area schools.

Gulf Coast Update is compiled by Terrie Albano (talbano@pww.org).