SAN ANTONIO: 20,000 honor César Chávez

Electrical workers, post office employees, firefighters and bus drivers locked arms with the League of United Latin American Citizens, immigrant rights activists and civil rights activists in a sea of over 20,000 people who marched to the Alamo March 31 in honor of César Chávez’s birthday.

Chávez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, died in 1993. He would have been 80 on March 31.

Chanting “Sí se puede” (Yes, we can!), “Viva Chávez,” “Support the troops, bring them home now” and “Raza sí, Migra no,” a group of garment workers, 1,100 strong, joined the march. The Latino workers, members of Fuerza Unida, lost their jobs in 1991 when Levi Strauss shut down their plant and moved production to Costa Rica.

In Tucson, Ariz., Dolores Huerta, also a UFW co-founder, spoke to hundreds who rallied in a tribute to Chávez, the state’s most beloved native son. She called for an April 29 children’s march for immigrant rights and urged the many young activists to step into Chávez’s shoes to struggle for justice and to put an end to repression on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Let’s keep the message simple,” Huerta said. “We want legalization of all immigrants.”

SEATTLE: City ordered to compensate WTO protesters

In the 1999 “Battle of Seattle,” a watershed demonstration against the World Trade Organization’s policies of unbridled attacks on worker and environmental rights, up to 50,000 people, including many trade unionists, marched in the streets. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful character of the demonstration, police declared the entire downtown area a “no protest zone.” On Dec. 1, 1999, they rounded up 175 people who were singing in a downtown park.

The police held many of the protesters in jail, without probable cause, for four days. Mayor Paul Schell called out the SWAT team to “protect businesses.” Some said it looked like the Constitution had been suspended.

Last week, on March 30, a Seattle civil court ordered the city to pay $1 million in damages to the protesters, seal their arrest records and improve police training to prevent future unconstitutional mass arrests. The settlement awaits approval by a federal judge.

“It’s a shame when justice is delayed any length of time, especially seven years,” said Kenneth Hankin, a Boeing fuel systems engineer who was one of those arrested. “The verdict and this settlement not only vindicate the rights of people who peacefully and lawfully protested in 1999, but will help insure that future dissent is treated as intended in a free society.”

PITTSBURGH: Sleepless night protests transit cuts

Huddled in sleeping bags on a downtown street, scores of bus and trolley riders, members of the union-community coalition Save Our Transit (SOT), staged an all-night vigil March 29 on the eve of the Port Authority’s vote to slash services, lay off workers and raise fares.

“One more sleepless night won’t hurt us if it keeps the pressure on the board to vote no on these service cuts,” said rider Majorie DeAngelis.

For more than four years, SOT has struggled to convince the State Assembly to create a designated fund for Pennsylvania’s public transit system. Corporate lobbying and legislative paralysis, however, have blocked such a move.

In Pittsburgh, the Port Authority faces an $80 million shortfall. Despite public protests, on March 30 its board passed a 15 percent service cut in which 29 weekday bus routes will vanish. Service will be reduced on 104 others. The plan eliminates 300 jobs and scales back management benefits. Trolley service for 240,000 daily riders will be curtailed.

The transit system in Luzerne County (Wilkes Barre) is expected to completely shut down.

If the State Assembly does not act, the cuts will take effect June 17 and are expected to plug $45 million of the $80 million hole.

The board also announced that it would attempt to reopen its contract with the 2,600-member Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85.

“Nobody wants to hear it, but when we negotiated the last contract, it was concessionary, and saved them a ton of money,” said ATU President Pat McMahon. “We did our part already.” The union contract does not expire until 2008.

Senior citizens and disabled people were hit with a fare increase. The Port Authority board raised their ACCESS fare 21 percent, from $1.83 to $2.25.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @ Frank Valdez and Joe Bernick contributed to this week’s clips.