Steve Stallone is president of International Labor Communications Association and secretary/editor of the California Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521. Evelina Alarcon is chair of the Cesar Chavez National Holiday campaign. They are reporting from the 10-year commemoration of the free the Charleston Five campaign.
Even in this tough economy with its high unemployment, “Now is not the time to retreat,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker told a town hall meeting in Charleston, S.C., yesterday. She urged unionists and activists “not to back down” on workers’ major goals: a good jobs program, the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform.
The town hall meeting was part of a larger 10-year anniversary commemoration of the victory to free the Charleston Five, members of the Longshoremen (ILA), who were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot after state police attacked their picket line. A global movement to free them eventually led to the charges being dropped.
Holt Baker said:
We have to be as bold as the Charleston Five to turn the economy around. We have to go to the streets. We have to be ready to go to jail.
Noting that 38 percent of jobless workers have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, Holt Baker said the recently passed Senate jobs bill is “not big or bold enough.” She called for a federal program that would put Americans back to work rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and alternative energy resources that create good, green union jobs.
As more workers lose their jobs, Holt Baker said, local governments are shredding the social safety net, slashing services and programs and laying off the public workers who provide them. And she added that a sustainable economy requires reform that makes health care accessible to all Americans-like Stacey Clark
A single mother, Clark, who has a college degree, told town hall participants that she had a good career in human resources recruiting until she was laid off two years ago. But for the past two years, she has been unemployed or underemployed. She said she has applied for between 10 and 20 jobs a day, has worked as a captain’s mate and as a kayak instructor and worked waiting tables. She just landed a part time job at Plumbers Local 421 in South Carolina, a job with benefits.
I cried when I was told I had qualified for health insurance.
Clark said she lost her home and she and her 16-year old son had to move in with another family. Statistics alone can’t explain the personal affects of unemployment. She added:
My whole world had fallen apart. No one talks about what it does to a family and to one’s emotional stability. I had feeling that I had failed.
Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422, said he has heard stories across the country of unemployment, poor working conditions, low pay and lack of health care.
“South Carolina is becoming a third world region. Boeing is the latest example,” he said, referring to the company’s move to shift production from union-strong Seattle to Charleston after getting massive local tax breaks and assurances of no union representation at the new plant.
The workers there won’t make as much as those in Seattle. And the local politicians are giving away the store-these tax breaks are hurting our schools and our communities.