N. Calif. PWW call: Unity against Bush clones

BERKELEY, Calif. – In a spirited tribute, the Northern California People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo banquet Oct. 13 honored “the heroes and heroines of the struggle against corporate greed,” and called for a big turnout against Republican “Bush-clones” in the Nov. 5 election. The banquet raised $8,000 for the PWW fund drive.

In her opening, Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek spoke of the growing movements in solidarity with West Coast port workers and against war. “So there is hope,” she said, “and a new movement that we must help nurture and grow.”

That movement includes the bloc in Congress that voted against the Bush war resolution, and those who supported Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) peace resolution.

The banquet honored the Coalition for Workers Rights (CWR), Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Locals 2 and 2850, Sacramento Living Wage Campaign and Father Bill O’Donnell, known as “labor’s priest.” Each received certificates from Rep. Lee, in whose district the event took place, and from Wilma Chan, majority leader in the California Assembly, as well as from PWW/Nuestro Mundo. Eliot Kenin and the “Spirit of ’29” traditional jazz band and singer/songwriter Anthony J. Smith added to the upbeat spirit.

One of the sharpest struggles is that of the dockworkers, locked out by the employers’ Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) but now back to work under the virulently anti-union Taft-Hartley Act. The Coalition for Workers Rights (CWR) unites unions and organizations involved in contract and community struggles. Together with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the AFL-CIO and other groups, the CWR co-sponsored a number of protests drawing wide public support for union rights.

Clarence Thomas, secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 10 and chair of the CWR, told the crowd the struggle is not over. “This is a matter that must be addressed by the entire labor movement,” he said.

Many coalition members highlighted the struggles that brought them together. Lee Sandahl, ILWU Local 34, representing clerks, whose jobs the PMA is threatening, said the coalition is about “people who understand that this is not just a longshore fight, not just a newspaper workers’ fight, it’s a fight for our rights, for all of us.”

Teamsters Local 70 Business Agent-Organizer Odus Hall concurred: “Anywhere that workers struggle, the Teamsters will be there.”

Judy Goff, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, said unity on issues of living wages, justice for workers and protection of the environment “makes a tremendous difference.” She urged maximum turnout of union families and allies on Election Day.

Dwight McElroy, head of SEIU Local 790’s public works chapter; Karen Pickett, Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment; Jennifer Krill, Rainforest Action Network; and Willie Keyes, West Oakland Neighbors, also spoke for the CWR.

Alfonso Loera, head of Local 790’s Port of Oakland Chapter, said, “Unity in action is our code word. We don’t have the PMA’s $200 million or the $85 billion of the hotshots behind Bush. We have something more precious – the 265 million men, women and children who comprise the working people of America, and nobody can buy that!”

Calling this moment “a turning point in history,” Juan Lopez, long-time community activist and chair of the Northern California Communist Party, cited the Bush administration’s “declaration of war” on the ILWU and the entire labor movement, and the administration’s adoption of a dangerous new doctrine of “pre-emptive, first strike, unilateral military action, including with nuclear weapons.” He added, “This redoubles the importance of a massive voter turnout on Nov. 5 against the extreme right.”

As they received certificates of appreciation, HERE Locals 2 and 2850 members described the great organizing victory at San Francisco’s downtown Marriott, after two decades of effort, and of ongoing struggles. Local 2’s Ramon Guevara declared, “We will not be content with what we’ve gained” until the others win. He cited the struggle at the Marriott at Fisherman’s Wharf. Daryl White, who works there, also spoke of the Marriott Struggle. (Since the banquet, the workers there won a contract in parity with long-unionized San Francisco hotels.)

Local 2850 member Fidel Arroio, a cook at the Claremont Hotel, told of management “scare tactics” to weaken the union. “But,” he said, “we will fight harder to have justice at the Claremont and all other hotels.” Arroio urged everyone to join the Claremont boycott movement.

Father Bill O’Donnell, honored in absentia, is currently serving a six-month sentence for non-violent civil disobedience in last November’s protest against the School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Ga. Accepting his certificates were Judy and Charles Liteky, leaders of SOA Watch West. They urged support for the upcoming Ft. Benning protest, Nov. 15-17.

In accepting for the Sacramento Living Wage Campaign, steering committee member Ruth Holbrook emphasized the importance of a living wage. “The coalition has over 80 different groups,” she said, “and we see our work continuing after winning a living wage.”

The PWW/Nuestro Mundo editorial board honored correspondent Herb Kaye with a special certificate for his lifelong dedication to labor’s cause.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org