JWJ banquet honors fighters for justice

SEATTLE – After years of hard work to organize Washington’s apple industry, a major breakthrough was announced at the Second Annual Awards Banquet of Washington State Jobs with Justice (WSJWJ).

Accepting an award, Lupe Gamboa, president of the United Farm Workers of Washington, announced that union label, “fair trade” apples will be in local markets shortly. The announcement was greeted enthusiastically.

Over 350 diners saluted the farm workers and three other individuals and organizations.

Among those receiving awards was Mary Bass, the sole African-American member of the Seattle School Board. Bass was also the lone vote against dropping the union bus company for a non-union one to bus children, purportedly to save money for the school district.

Presenting the award, bus driver Charles Alexander said, “She gave me dignity. She gave me respect.”

The Teamster school bus drivers award pushed the labor movement ahead – hundreds of drivers signed a poster awarded to Bass.

The next award was presented to members of the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition/UAW who carried on an historic 15-day strike last year to win exclusive bargaining rights and a contract at the University of Washington. Among victories in the contract was fully enforceable neutral third-party arbitration, which was the result of years of work to protect the rights of all Teaching Assistants, Readers, Graders and Tutors. Eight unions were involved in the long struggle.

Next, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett presented an award to the King County Labor Council’s Union Cities program. The award was for partnering with JwJ to lead the nation among labor councils in fighting for workers’ rights through street and political action, popular education, and coalition building.

Jacob Carton, one of the staff organizers for WSJwJ, hailed the event’s size. He said, “the great intensity of spirit and unity was outstanding.”

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who had recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq, made an appearance at the banquet to the delight of the attendees.

Diners included union members and staff from Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and elsewhere, as well a broad spectrum of community groups active for immigrant rights, police accountability and students to end sweatshops. Longshore, Teamster, and aerospace engineers were notable among the many special tables.

The large presence and exuberance of the Longshore workers reflected appreciation of JwJ’s vigilant support to the ILWU in current contract negotiations.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org