LOS ANGELES — More than 5,000 union activists and supporters rallied at the harbor here, April 17, roaring their approval of an assertive, one-for-all and all-for-one strategy to change the national and local direction this year.
Under the slogan of “the fight for good jobs,” workers from every walk of life, every racial, ethnic, age and gender group and every area neighborhood joined in a 28-mile, three-day march through the heart of Los Angeles — “From Hollywood to the Docks” — that culminated in the rally at the port.
“This is a once in a life time opportunity” for working people to give national leadership “if we all get out and vote,” Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. told the rally. “We will send George Bush home” and also reject “Mr. McCain … McBush, who we don’t want either,” he added.
Unite Here national leader John Wilhelm told the crowd that the united march showed “they will never more divide us by color, language or country we are from. We can win a better tomorrow by recapturing Congress and the White House.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, “This is a march for the unions, families and communities of our nation.”
The 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor organized the march to kick off its bold plan to unite contract, organizing and electoral struggles by labor and its allies into one powerful campaign for good jobs. This year in Los Angeles County, 350,000 union workers in 30 unions are in contract negotiations, another 30,000 and more are fighting for union recognition, and all have a stake in what is considered the most important election cycle since the Depression of the 1930s.
Two major Hollywood unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, are now in negotiations for what could be the highest-profile labor struggles in the nation.
In the ports, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is also in negotiations, along with a major organizing drive of port truckers by the Teamsters. The Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor has over $700 billion in goods flowing through it each year. If port workers are strong, united and organized they can be a key leverage point for labor — local, national and international — in confronting global corporations. The ports represented by the ILWU on the West Coast handle 40 percent of the nation’s imports.
Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the L.A. labor federation, opening the march at the La Brea Tar Pits near downtown Los Angeles, said the action was in the tradition of Cesar Chavez and Gandhi, who spurred thousands to galvanize many times more, ultimately mobilizing millions.
The Los Angeles labor federation has been a national leader in the past decade in building unity and developing coalitions to win elections, organizing drives, strikes and contract struggles. Landmark victories have been won for janitors, hospitality workers, home health care workers and recently, security guards. In addition, fighters for working families have won election to local, state and congressional seats. The march drew on these experiences to raise labor’s activity to a higher level.
Some 173 “core marchers” participated in the entire march. They came from more than 30 unions and at least a dozen community organizations, and included leaders, staff, stewards and rank and file stalwarts.
Along the 28-mile route they held rallies at commercial centers, construction sites, immigrant communities targeted for gentrification, inner city schools, met with African American-led organizations for economic and social justice and joined a picket line outside a Wal-Mart store. Meal and lunch breaks were hosted by union and community groups. On the evening of April 16, after a barbecue meal served by union firefighters, marchers did phone banking for a labor candidate for L.A. county supervisor, state Sen Mark Ridley-Thomas, who marched many of the miles himself.
At every stop the core marchers were joined by hundreds of others, to learn of the plight and struggles of workers in key industries and neighborhoods, and to enjoy some of the area’s cultural richness as well.
The march starting point, the La Brea Tar Pits, was, a century ago, one of the major oil finds in the oil “rush” which fueled the Los Angeles area’s growth into a major national and global economic center. The area’s corporate oligarchy, partially portrayed in the movie “There Will be Blood,” used the oil profits to develop Los Angeles as a union-free environment. The major tactic of domination was dividing white, Black, Brown and Asian Pacific workers.
Unity was the key theme of this march. Labor-community efforts to win back jobs for African Americans in construction, reopening a comprehensive King Hospital in the African American/Latino community of South Los Angeles and support for organizing of jornaleros (day laborers) and “carwasheros” were highlighted.
“This march is a demonstration of the best that we are, part of our history and our future,” Ridley-Thomas told a morning rally at Harbor General Hospital on April 17.