Angelenos call: Good jobs, dignity, elect Obama

LOS ANGELES — “From Labor Day to Election Day we are in the final stretch of our Fight for Good Jobs campaign and we must sprint to the finish on Nov. 4” with a voter turnout to elect Barack Obama as president, said Los Angeles labor leader Maria Elena Durazo here at the Sept. 1 Labor Day breakfast at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Los Angeles.

Hundreds of labor leaders and rank and file activists cheered Durazo, the executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, made up of 350 labor locals and 845,000 workers, as they signed cards to be Obama worksite coordinators, support the Employee Free Choice Act, work in phone banks and support organizing and contract efforts.

Durazo, as well as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, spoke of the unity to change the nation’s direction that matured at the Democratic Party convention in Denver. Durazo said Obama “is in the tradition of Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. We cannot sit back and watch it happen. We have to make it happen.”

Villaraigosa said the Aug. 28 rally of “80,000-plus in Denver’s stadium was something special. You could feel [Obama’s] strength, to be commander in chief, who will not be demagogued or marginalized” by the right wing.

For the past decade the L.A. federation has been a national leader in organizing, contract and electoral struggles by developing strong unity based on rank and file activism and leadership. This spring, with the slogan “Fight for Good Jobs,” thousands marched for a unified approach to contract struggles of 350,000 workers, organizing drives of 30,000 workers, and mobilizing for the California primaries. Now these activists are mobilizing to get out the vote of hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles unionists as well as in battleground states, especially the 85,000 union voters in neighboring Nevada.

Some 40 worksite Obama coordinators each spoke briefly of their union issues and electoral efforts. They spoke of their enthusiasm for Obama as well as civil rights and political leader state Sen. Mark Ridley, who is running to become a member of the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

After the breakfast hundreds attended the cathedral’s Labor Day mass presided over by Cardinal Roger Mahony, who delivered a sermon on the “Five Spiritual Foundations for Labor Day.” First is respect for the “dignity of each worker,” he said, denouncing “the many forces who see labor not as a human activity but as a commodity” moving to where it is cheapest.

Next, he said, “We must insist that all places of employment must be healthy and safe.” The cardinal then called for much better wages and benefits. He noted that though state and national minimum wages have increased, “they were already 30-40 years behind so that today they do not provide a living wage for families.”

Rights for immigrant workers are also key, said Mahony. “Racist voices beat down the chance for comprehensive immigration reform” last year. He called for 2009 to be the year of its passage. “These working people who build up our country, our economy, cannot be taken for granted,” he said. “Reform will not be automatic and we must speak up for those elected to stand up to negative and racist voices and put reform on the agenda of the first 100 days” of a new administration.

Finally, and most importantly, said Mahony, is workers’ responsibility for “civic involvement,” to continue the role of voter participation in registration, education and getting out the vote.

“This is where the power is located. We can only make progress when we are united on the same issues,” the cardinal said. He concluded that, with unity, this spiritual foundation can “have force and power to bring the changes needed to bear. Si se puede!”