NEW YORK — This city’s labor movement flexed its muscle outside the Republican National Convention Sept. 1 as some 50,000 protesters came out to oppose the Bush agenda — including the war in Iraq and the “war on working families here at home” — in a rally that stretched from 23rd Street all the way to Madison Square Garden.

Speakers from virtually all of the major unions in New York City addressed a crowd carrying signs and banners denouncing the Bush administration.

“George W. Bush has come to New York to claim the mantle of 9/11,” said Roger Toussaint, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents 38,000 New York transit workers. But it was union men and women on the line, he said, adding, “union men and women cooperate together in solidarity — and that’s the very opposite of the Bush agenda.”

Toussaint added that money that could have helped working Americans was instead used to fight a war for oil. “I’m speaking here as a parent of a son in the military, and I’m furious he may have to shed blood for oil.” He then led the crowd in a chant of “Bush must go!”

Brian McLaughlin, head of the NYC Central Labor Council, said, “This is about the war right here at home,” adding that labor was fighting for “the right to organize, the right to fair pay, the right to decent health care and benefits, the right to secure jobs, the right to grow older. … We’re here to take back America.”

Four workers from across the United States took the stage to address the crowd. There was the worker from Iowa who worked as a machinist for 12 years until his job was shipped overseas. He now works in a grocery store for half his former wage and no benefits. A woman from Little Rock, Ark., who went to college via the Marines to get a bachelor’s degree in accounting, was laid off when the non-profit organization she worked for was defunded, and she still can’t find work.

Arlene, a garment worker who worked at the same plant for 36 years until her job was shipped overseas, told the crowd that since her unemployment benefits ended this past January, she was forced to ask herself questions like, “Do we eat, or do we keep warm?” Finally, there was Myra Braunstein from Washington state. She lost her information technology job, which was outsourced to India. She and her co-workers were forced to train their replacements if they wanted to receive their severance pay. She told the crowd about a degrading staff meeting where her manager said, “I’d like to introduce my old staff to my new staff.”

Every so often during these stories and throughout the rally, the crowd erupted into chants of “Push Bush out! Push Bush out!”

John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, said, “When he campaigned last time, President Bush promised to create 5 million new jobs. So far, he’s 6 million short.”

Jennifer Clark, a health care worker who helped to lead the 1199 SEIU home care attendant strike that gave thousands of workers a raise from $7 to $10 per hour, said, “Under the Bush administration, the health care system is barely clinging to life. And if we continue with President Bush, the health care system is going to need a respirator.”

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.orgclick here for Spanish text