WASHINGTON - Spring officially arrived on March 21, but even before that, unionists and their allies were on the road in two big bus tours, with their ultimate destination Washington, D.C., for mass marches there.
The campaigns, for legalizing undocumented people - thus bringing them under labor law protection, among other things - and for raising the minimum wage, show labor's determination to get out in the streets, make unionists' voices heard and raise consciousness of key national issues.
The Fast4Families tour started first, in California. It developed out of the fast that leaders of the immigrant rights movement, including former SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, led on Capitol Hill for months. The buses have moved through California, Texas, Minnesota and elsewhere, heading eastwards and targeting districts of House Republicans.
Its object is both to get the GOP-run House to approve comprehensive immigration reform and to stop the 1,100 daily deportations of people who would eventually be eligible for "green cards" and citizenship, should reform pass. The deportations split families nationwide.
"Every stop is a moment to organize and empower the voices of constituents," Medina said as one bus rolled towards Texas. A second bus took a northern route.
"While the House delays, families endure the devastating impacts of inaction. We won't let them forget or ignore the voices and prayers of families within their own district who are calling on them to take leadership and move immigration reform forward. It's time for a permanent solution to this moral crisis," Medina added.
With SEIU's encouragement, and participation by other groups, some 4,000 women began their own 24-hour fasts as the fast4families tour bus rolled through congressional districts in heavily Republican Texas. That tour will culminate in a national day of action in D.C. on April 5, and a 48-hour fast by women on April 7-9.
The second tour, "Give America A Raise," started March 24 in Bangor, Maine, and will end on April 3. Stops include Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago.
Backers include the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees, AFSCME and the Auto Workers. During its 18 stops, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Obama administration Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will join, organizers say. That tour demands lawmakers raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016. It's now $7.25. Again, GOP lawmakers, and their refusal to approve the hike, will be the targets.
"Several stops will take place outside the offices of Republicans more interested in helping big corporations avoid paying taxes than helping hard working Americans climb out of poverty and one rung closer to the middle class," said Americans United For Change, the umbrella group organizing the tour. "At each stop, Republicans will be confronted with stories from low-wage workers pressing the need to raise the minimum wage."
Photo: The raise the wage bus gets ready for its nationwide tour on the way to Washington, D.C., part of one of two big nationwide bus campaigns unionists are heavily involved in, leading to marches in D.C. in early April. The other campaign is for immigration reform. Photo courtesy Americans United for Change via PAI Photo Service.