Unions back Poor People’s Campaign, renew demand for Biden meeting
Rev. William Barber addresses a June 6th press conference. El reverendo William Barber se dirige a una conferencia de prensa el 6 de junio. | Steve Pavey / Kairos Center for Religions, Rights & Social Justice via Poor People's Campaign.

WASHINGTON—Leaders of the Service Employees, AFSCME, and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA are throwing their weight behind the Poor People’s Campaign’s demand—again—that Democratic President Joe Biden sit down with members of the nation’s poor to hear what it’s really like, and their demands and suggestions for change.

With fewer than two weeks to go before the campaign’s massive march on Washington on June 18, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, and new AFA-CWA Vice President Keturah Johnson joined the campaign’s co-chairs, the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, at a June 6 D.C. press conference to release a letter demanding such a meeting.

“We are going to put in front of the American people the faces of people they do not think about,” Barber said, referring to at least 140 million poor and low-wealth people in the U.S., including just over half of all children.

The campaign wants to put those faces in front of Biden, too. So do Henry, Saunders, and Johnson, speaking for their unions. Two religious leaders, Rabbi Judah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Methodist Rev. Melanie Mullen, joined in.

“On behalf of the two million members of SEIU, the millions more fighting for $15 and a union, and the millions fighting for every vote” and the right to vote, “we are proud to call on President Biden to meet with the poor and low-wealth people” and supporters, said Henry.

“Our communities are under attack from white supremacist violence,” combined with unaffordable health care, high exposure to the coronavirus pandemic’s ravages, “underfunded schools, and prices that keep rising,” she elaborated. Biden needs to hear that.

“We no longer will accept a system built on workers’ backs while billionaires profit from the pandemic,” Henry warned.

“Working people are still getting a raw deal, poor people are still getting a raw deal. They are overstretched and exploited and denigrated” and Biden needs to hear that face-to-face, Saunders, whose union has 1.4 million members, added.

Workers are hurting, too, AFA-CWA’s Johnson said. After four years of fruitless negotiations where “the employer refused to listen,” Johnson and her flight attendant colleagues at Piedmont Airlines were forced to strike. That led to a quick settlement.

“They want us to think poor and low-wealth people are powerless,” she said, referring to politicians as well as the corporate class. “But we are not.”

The campaign is demanding Biden meet with poor and low-wealth people. They’ve been the hardest hit by systemic poverty and racism, use of federal funds for war rather than domestic needs, problems obtaining health care and better education, and the need for both a decent minimum wage—at least $15 an hour—and the right to unionize.

“The disproportionate impact of these interlocking problems plagues poor and low-wage communities,” Theoharis added.

There’s been no response from Biden, personally.

Biden actually addressed the Poor People’s Campaign at a meeting in the Carolinas during the 2020 election campaign and promised then to tackle the plight of poor and low-wealth people. His Build Back Better legislation, including repair and expansion of the tattered U.S. social safety net, would have been a start.

One of the few social safety net sections of BBB to survive the congressional meat-grinder, though, was a temporary expansion of the child care tax credit, and that expired at the end of last year. The rest of the BBB, including more money for schools, health care, and other social programs, has fallen victim to a Senate Republican filibuster threat.

If poor and low-wealth people “spoke to the nation,” especially during that year’s presidential debates and stretching into this year, “we could have had a different kind of debate” about how to end systemic poverty, Barber explained.  “It wouldn’t have been Democrat versus Republican. It would have been right versus wrong.”

But Biden is only one among many silent politicians, campaign leaders said. Others include all 50 Senate Republicans, most of their GOP colleagues in the House and in states, plus renegade Democratic Sens. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W. Va.).

“People have to decide if they want those politicians to represent them,” said Barber.

So the campaign is not only again demanding a meeting with Biden and still mobilizing the masses for their June 18 march on Washington, but it’s also planning for marshaling poor and low-wealth people to have an electoral impact at the polls this fall.

That includes activating the Poor People’s Campaign’s 42 statewide organizations, and going door-to-door to discuss issues on people’s minds and ensure they’re properly registered, eligible, and will vote. “We turned 1,200 people loose in 2020 and contacted millions,” he said.

Those canvassers also counteracted disinformation that led poor people in supposedly deep-red counties to vote against their own economic interests. Five Kentucky counties flipped, and voters helped elect pro-worker Gov. Andy Beshear (D), for example. A 25% increase in turnout by poor and low-wealth people in key “purple” states will swing elections, Barber stated.

“We’re not listening to the pundits” who predict poor and low-wealth people won’t turn out  Barber said.

Join the CPUSA’s “500-Strong” Delegation in D.C. on June 18th. Sign up here.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.