Rainbow/PUSH advances fight for working families

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Hundreds of union supporters, members and leaders gathered here at the O’Hare Hyatt Hotel, June 12, under the banner “Labor Day — The Right To Organize,” during the 35th Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Citizenship Education Fund Annual Conference.

Issuing a call for “A New Day and a New Way” to advance the fight for working families, the annual labor breakfast highlighted key labor campaigns bringing together working families, communities of color and progressives around the nation.

The need for safety and enforcement of mining regulations was an important theme, as Rainbow/PUSH honored the United Mine Workers of America and two surviving family members of the Jan. 2 Sago Mine tragedy.

Keynote speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, said the injustice of nonunion workplaces eventually becomes a matter of life and death, as in the case of the miners who tragically died in Sago.

“Your loss,” he said, referring to the surviving family members, “should remind us which side we are on.”

“I’m here today because there is a labor movement that opened up the doors,” said Villaraigosa, who was elected in 2004 by a labor-Black-Latino-white coalition. “In 2004 we pooled our strengths, instead of dividing our power. We understood that together we could make a difference.”

Other honorees included Rep. Kendrick Meek and state Sen. Tony Hill, both of Florida, for leading the livable wage campaign in their state, and Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint who led a dramatic strike of 34,000 New York City transit workers last December. The United Food and Commercial Workers and Service Employees International Union were also recognized for their fight against the “Wal-Martization” of the economy.

Asked if he would lead the strike all over again if he had too, Toussaint told the World, “Absolutely!” Gatherings like this are important, he said, “pushing the discussion of the labor movement” and building understanding of events like the transit strike.

Quincee Williams, 15, a student at Al Raby High School on Chicago’s West Side, was a panelist in a session called the “Chicago Freedom Movement: 1966 to 2006 — The Struggle Continues.”

She said the history of the movement was “empowering because people fought for what they deserved and today it is the same struggle, to fight for fairness.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of Rainbow/PUSH, told the session, “The Chicago freedom movement is still working, the movement never stopped.”

“You need to have the desire to lead,” he said. “This is not a job, it’s a mission, a life’s calling. When we march together, we keep the movement alive.”

Earlier Jackson emphasized, “Every issue that faces Blacks faces Latinos. We must work together. We are free, but not equal, so we must fight today to close those gaps. We intend to organize together and make change in the pursuit of justice, voting rights and the fight against racism.”

The June 10-15 conference covered a range of topics, including immigration, voting rights, labor struggles, business, education, health care, Hurricane Katrina and the crisis facing the African American community.

Leaders of the NAACP, the National Urban League, LULAC, the National Organization for Women and a host of elected officials and groups were featured throughout the conference.

Villaraigosa told the gathering how his grandfather migrated to the U.S. from Mexico, saying, “Immigration is a debate we must participate in. At the end of the day when you work hard, you should have a pathway to citizenship.”

He expressed concern about rising school dropout rates and the increasing numbers of African American and Latino youth in jail.

“It’s unacceptable and we have to stand up,” he said. “We have to ensure that our children could become a Jesse Jackson, a Harold Washington or a Martin Luther King. We have a moral responsibility to pave the way for the rest.”