WASHINGTON – “The same interests that are suppressing our right to vote,” Brittany Butler said at a Women’s Day rally here yesterday afternoon, “are suppressing our right to get paid a living wage.”
Butler earns minimum wage as an employee for a federal contractor. She is an organizer for Good Jobs Nation, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
Women workers must have the right to join unions, she said. Without that right, women workers cannot win full equality.
The rally here was one of many being held in countries around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day and to spotlight the fact that although the majority of the world’s workers are female, they earn less than men while doing the same work, are daily subjected to sexual harassment on the job and do not receive the paid leave they need to fulfill their responsibility as the main caretakers of their families.
Women yesterday also participated in one day strikes called “A Day Without Women.”
In the U.S., domestic workers, retail clerks, restaurant servers, hospital workers, teachers and nurses joined with noted artists, leaders of some of the nation’s largest unions and with congresswomen to protest the Trump administration’s attacks on healthcare and its pledge to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.
The rallies, marches and demonstrations across the country were particularly aimed at protesting Trump’s repeal of many of President Obama’s executive orders that provided workers with on-the-job rights and protections.
In New York, 13 women’s rights organizers were arrested as they formed a “human wall” around the Trump International Hotel.
And the Washington Post reported that “From Santa Cruz, Calif., to Chicago to Philadelphia, women held rallies aimed at drawing attention to women’s roles in the labor force and to criticize government actions” … [that are] “anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-women.”
Yesterday morning here in Washington, about 1,000 people – mostly women – held a rally outside the White House to demand a stop to legislation that would prevent women from controlling their own bodies and that would defund Planned Parenthood.
“Trump is afraid of us,” said Terry O’Neil, president of the National Organization for Women. “You know who else should be afraid of us? Any member of Congress who does not respect our rights.”
In the afternoon, several unions and union affiliates held a rally of about a thousand people in a public plaza.
It started outside the U.S. Department of Labor.
“This is our building,” Jessica Martin of the DC Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) said to the crowd.
“It should protect us, not oppress us.”
She explained that some six million women in the U.S. earn the national “tipped minimum wage of just $2.13 an hour” and must depend on gratuities to make a living wage. Several restaurant workers explained that to earn tips, women servers are forced to tolerate sexual harassment from customers. If they do not, they are likely to get fired.
Heather Macintosh, a server from Maine, proudly announced that due to union organizing, her state eliminated the “tipped minimum” this past November. Now every worker in Maine is covered by the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and servers do not have to compromise their dignity to make a living.
Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United (NNU) said that her union will resist “elected officials from either party that put private gain over the public welfare.”
The only real way to lift the burden that the nation’s healthcare system places on working people, she said, “is a healthcare system where every American is covered as a right, not a privilege.”
She went on to explain that Republican legislators that pass so-called “right-to-work” laws are taking the first step toward stripping workers of their rights, good pay and benefits.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), added that “the middle class in Wisconsin is shrinking” because “Scott Walker, their right wing governor, pushed through a “right-to-work” law.
She elicited loud cheers from rally participants when she said “a lot that comes out of the White House is fake, but our fight back is real!”
Also speaking were Democratic representatives Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio).
“The fight for labor rights is an honorable and valiant fight,” Kaptur said. “The union contract is our step up.
“But as we stand here today, union rights that we have won are being eroded.”
Along with the AFT, NNU and ROC, the women workers’ rally was sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees, Jobs With Justice, the American Postal Workers Union, the Communications Workers of America, and several other unions.
So many of their teachers had announced that they were planning to attend the rally, several schools in D.C. were closed for the day, as were the school districts in nearby Alexandria, Virginia and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Schools in Carboro, North Carolina, were also closed.
Rally participant Luis Gutierrez, who immigrated to the U.S. some 40 years ago, said he came to support the rights of immigrants.
He said that Donald Trump is using “divide and conquer” against the American people by “scapegoating immigrants.”
“Throughout history,” he said, “scapegoating has never worked to solve problems. Solving problems takes all Americans working together.”
He concluded, “I’ve been an American citizen for 40 years. [With Trump as president], “this is the first time I’m not sure I can say I’m proud to be an American.”