NEW HAVEN, Conn. - When Brian Wingate came to the powerful We Are One solidarity rally on March 30, he was marching for more than his own needs. "I have a union job and benefits, a home and a daughter in college" says the 20-year service and maintenance worker at Yale University. "But I am worried about my neighbor who just lost his job. If it can happen to him it can happen to me. We are not going to allow ourselves to be put against each other any more."
Over 25 percent of New Haven's workforce is currently unemployed. The numbers are much higher for African American and Latino youth. The fact that corporate CEO's are raking in million dollar bonuses while eliminating jobs is not lost on working people in this city.
In response to the situation, Wingate, along with dozens of other members of the unions at Yale and community groups, spent a month knocking on doors to talk with people about the issues on their mind and invite them to participate in the March 30 rally on the New Haven Green.
"People welcome you into their homes. They are looking for change," says Wingate. "These conversations, this mobilization, will enable us to build a community agenda."
The spirit of solidarity and raised sights for working-class people filled the air as people from all neighborhoods in New Haven and all unions throughout the state committed to stand together and refuse to be forced to pay the burden of the economic crisis they did not create.
The rally was one of hundreds organized across the country during the week of April 4, marking the date that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while supporting the right of striking sanitation workers in Memphis to a union and decent wages and working conditions. With public workers once again under attack, a new generation of young people is now becoming radicalized and activated for equality and social justice.
An outpouring of public and private sector workers, community residents, retirees, students, clergy and unemployed turned out. After a pre-march rally, contingents formed. Members of different union locals at Yale poured out of their meetings to join the crowd. The march went up Prospect to Wall St , back down Temple St and across the Green to City Hall, chanting "Whose streets? Our streets," as traffic waited.
"An injury to one is an injury to all," was the message of Connecticut AFL-CIO president John Olsen, decrying cuts to public workers and services. "We don't have a deficit of money, we have a deficit of fairness," he said.
"The problem is unequal distribution of wealth," says Bob Proto, president of the New Haven Labor Council. "Just a few people in this state and country gobbled up all the wealth. People are starting to stand up because they slowly but surely put us all in this position." He concluded, "This coalition is organizing New Haven to understand that we are all in this fight together."
More than a rally, the event was a signal that a strong and united movement of working people is being built from the ground up in New Haven.
"New Haven is a place where something very profound can happen," said Unite-Here President John Wilhelm, as he greeted the new spirit of unity in Egypt, in Wisconsin and in New Haven.
Just two weeks earlier, Rev Al Sharpton and AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Lee Saunders led a rally and march to City Hall of 500 municipal workers and their allies demanding that the Mayor not place the burden of the crisis on working people through privatization and cuts in pensions and health care.
On April 4, the Communication Workers of America organized another rally on the Green to "Stand Up for Workers' Rights."
Photo: Art Perlo