WASHINGTON — Thousands of progressive leaders and activists who have descended on this town this week for the America’s Future Now conference are having to adjust to something new. A delegate who has been coming to the meeting of leading labor, political and social justice activists for years put it this way: “For the first time the nation’s capital doesn’t feel like occupied territory. The White House, the Congress, the federal government — it’s all different now with the Bush occupation forces gone.”

The gathering here this week even had to change the name of the annual meeting which, during the years of the Bush “occupation,” was called the “Take Back America” conference.

“Now that we went and took it back,” explained the Rev. Pierre L. Williams, “we are here in friendly territory and I feel like I have the wind at my back.”

For the Rev. Williams, 62, an African American minister who serves as a part-time chaplain in Baltimore’s Harbor Hospital, the physical presence of the Obama administration in Washington is only one of the things that has changed since the progressive victory in the 2008 elections.

In Baltimore last month Williams got the second part-time job he needed to help him make ends meet. He was hired as a wage and hours inspector for the Maryland Department of Labor. “I owe that opportunity to the president’s stimulus package,” he said, “because the program under which we were hired was created with funds that came out of the Recovery Act.”

Williams said that what happened in his home state shows how important it is to elect progressives to office on all levels.

He explained that on Oct. 7, 2008, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed an executive order requiring all firms that have contracts with the state of Maryland to pay “living wages.” For Baltimore that wage is set at $11.81 an hour. In his new job, Williams visits construction contract sites, child care service centers, adult care centers and other locations to ensure that contractors are obeying the law.

“Obama was only in office a short while and his new labor secretary, Hilda Solis, had barely taken over, and we already saw the benefits,” Williams said. He said the program of hiring new inspectors in his state was geared to senior citizens, like himself. “The hiring of seniors enables them to stay in the workforce, use or upgrade skills they now have, and use those skills for the benefit of younger people out there in the workforce who need protection.”

Williams says he will continue coming to these conferences and that he will continue to be active in progressive politics. One of his personal goals, he said, is to expand the wage and hour inspections he does at contractor worksites to all worksites. “I want to see that all workers get paid what they deserve for the time they put in,” he said.

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jwojcik @ pww.org

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is editor in chief at Peoplesworld.org. He started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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