ST. LOUIS — Over 1,000 trade unionists, students, religious and community leaders from around the nation attended the Jobs with Justice (JwJ) annual meeting here Sept. 22-25.

Workshops covered the labor-community organization’s many concerns: Living Wage Now, Killer Coke, Building Coalitions, Taking Over Your Student Government, Protecting Public Workers, Justice for Immigrant Workers, Health Care Crisis 101, Grassroots Fundraising, Organizing OUT (LGBT).

JwJ-ers joined local union members and activists rallying at Bellefontaine Habilitation Center, which Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is trying to close. The health care facility employs around 900 union members who care for nearly 400 disabled, mentally ill and other dependent clients.

“I am fighting for my son’s life,” said Betty Cole, a member of the Bellefontaine parents association. Cole said her son would not survive a “traumatic” move to a private facility.

Quincy Boyd, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) shop-steward at Bellefontaine, told the World, “These aren’t just clients. They are friends and families. And our friendships are bigger than the tallest trees. We can not let Blunt close this facility.”

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee told the crowd, “We can win when workers, unions and communities are united.” In addition to criticizing the governor, McEntee linked state budget cuts and the crisis in New Orleans to the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. “Blunt and Bush have nothing but contempt for workers,” McEntee said. “They only want to help the wealthy. While wasting billions on the war in Iraq, New Orleans went from a natural to a man-made disaster.”

The Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) kicked off the JwJ meeting with a lively daylong series of workshops, discussions and skill-building sessions that attracted students from across the country. SLAP is a joint effort of JwJ and the United States Student Association, the nation’s largest student organization.

In a JwJ panel discussion on “Workers and the Global Economy,” Tim Waters of the Steelworkers union said, “There is a multinational corporate effort to bring workers to their knees. We live in a system of exploitation with a long-term plan to decimate the labor movement.”

Waters said, “1.3 billion people in the world live on less than $1 a day, while 6 percent of the population controls over 60 percent of the wealth. Of the 100 largest economies, 53 are corporations.”

Sergio Chavez, Central America representative to the National Labor Committee, commented, “Young women and boys are forced to stand up for 12 hours, locked in factories with no rights. NAFTA and CAFTA were designed to destroy unions. Workers are paid nothing, while corporate profits grow.”

Former Michigan Congressman David Bonior, now chairman of American Rights at Work, welcomed the crowd to a national Workers’ Rights Board hearing on Wal-Mart held during the JwJ conference. “This hearing is about giving workers a free and fair chance to join a union,” Bonior said.

Testimony focused on Wal-Mart’s violations of workers’ rights, its policy of sexual and racial discrimination, the community impact of Wal-Mart Supercenters and the company’s role in forcing wages down and causing manufacturing job losses with its cutthroat trade practices.

Rosetta Brown, an overnight stocker from Chicago, had to fight six years to get workman’s compensation from Wal-Mart after being “locked-in overnight” with a herniated disc in her neck. “Wal-Mart has subjected me to mental anguish, pain and suffering.”

“Wal-Mart is highly unethical,” she said. “It deceptively projects a family-friendly image. Instead of an ‘open door policy,’ if you talk union, Wal-Mart has an ‘out the door’ policy.”

Brenda Houle from Pennsylvania testified about her class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination. She was a “model employee” hoping to get into the assistant manager training program. The store manager “propositioned” her at a meeting, then denied her the training because of her lack of “willingness.”

Houle said, “Wal-Mart needs to be made accountable.”

On the meeting’s final day many participants joined a peace rally organized by the local Instead of War coalition as part of the weekend’s national antiwar protests coordinated by United for Peace and Justice.

“You can not spend $1 billion a week on an unjust and illegal war and still be able to meet human needs here at home,” Chicago JwJ Director James Thindwa told the crowd.