NEW YORK — On the morning of Aug. 2, representatives of New York City labor turned out for a press conference in front of Madison Square Garden, site of the Republican National Convention later this month.

Beneath red, white and blue posters declaring, “Stop Bush” and “We’re Taking Back America,” Brian McLaughlin, president of the NYC Central Labor Council, announced that on Sept. 1, instead of the traditional Labor Day parade, the city’s unions will hold a massive demonstration in the street, right outside the convention hall. McLaughlin made clear that the intent of the demonstration is not to protest the Republican Party’s choice of New York as the site of their convention, but rather to protest the anti-labor, anti-people policies of the Bush administration.

Calling Bush “the working person’s worst nightmare,” McLaughlin recited a litany of recent Bush attacks on working people, including threats to dismantle Social Security, assaults on public education and health care, and the loss of overtime protection for some 8 million workers.

McLaughlin said, “The Bush administration goes out of its way to do bad things to working people. … It is crystal clear that four more years of Bush will be the death knell for American workers … the Democrats stand with us and as far away from Bush as possible. … We are taking back America.”

Saying that working families were facing “the worst rollback of employee rights and protections” since the anti-labor Taft-Hartley law, McLaughlin called for all labor council affiliates to mobilize their members for the anti-Bush demonstration. “On September 1st we are asking all our brothers and sisters in the labor movement to join us. We will come together to raise our voices together to denounce Bush’s anti-labor policies.”

As other union leaders spoke, the theme of “taking back America” was repeated again and again.

Ed Watt, secretary-treasurer of Transit Workers Union Local 100, stressed the importance of labor-community unity and pointed out that Bush’s failure to adequately fund mass transit hurts the public as well as transit workers. He said, “Not only do transit workers need to turn out in a massive show of strength on September 1st, subway and bus riders have to turn out as well. Bush is bad for transit workers, and bad for the transit riding public.”

AFSCME District Council 1707 Executive Director Raglan George spoke of the importance of a full mobilization to elect John Kerry.

As the press conference ended the crowd of unionists broke into a spontaneous and spirited chant of “Bush must go!”

Even after the press packed up, people lingered, talking among themselves. Some said that they were surprised at how angry rank-and-filers were over the arrogance and dishonesty of the Bush regime. They reported a general sentiment, even among members who had traditionally voted Republican, that the party has been hijacked by narrow extreme right-wing elements that must be defeated.

Most of the unionists went away convinced that mobilization, education and voter registration must be the watchwords of labor from now until the election.

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