OAKLAND – More than 350 trade unionists and community activists marched through the streets of downtown Oakland to the Federal Building March 23 in protest of government attacks on airport baggage screeners, longshore and hotel workers, and others who have been made victims of government security programs. After reaching the Federal Building, the marchers proceeded to Jack London Square on the waterfront. The march was organized by the Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, a group of trade unionists from 35 organizations formed last October to respond to the bombing of Afghanistan and the effects of the war on the rights of workers in the U.S.

At the Federal Building, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 President Richard Mead told the crowd that the Sept. 11 events pose many new security questions, but these cannot be solved by threatening civil liberties. He pointed out that instead of the needed stricter cargo inspections, waterfront employers have already begun background checks on longshore workers, even as the Port Security bill now before Congress is being considered. “All the employers want to do is put tighter regulations on the work force,” he said.

Local 10 Secretary Treasurer Clarence Thomas, speaking later at Jack London Square, criticized the attempts by rightwingers in government and among the employers to target the workers as an effort to weaken the trade union movement, reminiscent of the ultra right attacks against labor, immigrants and Communists under the Walter-McCarran Act, during the infamous McCarthy repression of the 1950s. He cited the ILWU’s long tradition of forcefully defending its own members as well as aiding working people at home and abroad struggling for justice, as during solidarity actions against the war in Vietnam and Apartheid in South Africa.

Erlinda Valencia, a baggage screener at Oakland Airport for the past 14 years and member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790, said that, because she is not a citizen, she will lose her job to an inexperienced person whose only qualification is being a U.S. citizen. “When I started out on the job 14 years ago,” said Valencia, “I was getting around $4 an hour. Now that the job is paying a union wage, they want to get rid of us. It’s just not fair.”

Liz Henkle of the East Bay Worker Relief Project, told of the loss of one third of jobs in the area hospitality industry among hotel and restaurant workers, as employers use immigration and security as excuses to cut back on jobs, wages and benefits.

Others spoke about U.S. troops in the Philippines, Asia and the Middle East. The problems of immigrant workers, and of welfare/workfare workers were reported and a group of Japanese union members who were in town also expressed solidarity with the marchers.

In the course of the march, protesters chanted and carried banners of participating unions, such as Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 2850, SEIU Locals 715, 1877 and 250, Plumbers Local 393, and ILWU Local 10, which also had its Drill Team heading up the march. Zev Kvitky, vice president of SEIU Local 715, and Andrea Dehlendorf, organizing director of SEIU Local 1877, co-chaired the rallies.

At press time, a call by a coalition of immigrant rights groups, trade unions, and faith based and other social justice groups for an emergency protest on March 28 at 11 a.m. at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), at the Encounters Restaurant building, against the INS raids of immigrants at LAX and in other locations around southern California.

The press release said, “Eyewitnesses report that there is clearly racial profiling involved, and that people are being chased, endangered and injured.”

Organizations involved include: CHIRLA, Metropolitan Alliance, KIWA, the Garment Workers Center, the Interfaith Coalition, Hotel Employees and Resaurant Employees, SEIU Local 1877 (Justice for Janitors), CARECEN, Hermandad and MALDEF.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org