By Nadin Abbott
The Central Labor Council called for a candle light vigil in front of Senator Diane Feinstein’s (D) office at 750 B Street Monday evening. This action was part of a national call to arms; there were about one hundred of them today nationwide called by the AFL-CIO.
Why is this labor action significant? With the attacks on labor across the nation, including the about to pass Right to Work (for less) legislation in Michigan, and the attacks by Governor Walker in Wisconsin last year, it seems labor is waking up. Labor is fighting back in a way like it has not done for two generations.
Despite sparse coverage by the local media, this vigil is one of many labor actions this year. Most notably were the walk outs and protests at at Walmart on Black Friday. The Nation live blog of the Walmart actions gives a good sense of just how widespread they were. Local coverage in East County Magazine highlighted union activity in an area where labor has seemed invisible in the past.
The same week workers at Grossmont Hospital held an informational rally to to draw public attention to their efforts to gain better working conditions and compensation. It is not like they are asking for much. These workers are not making enough to pay the rent. They’d like to be able to pay rent, and maybe food.
It feels as if labor is truly waking up from it’s generational slumber. Today, before the rally on B Street started, I struck up a conversation with Lucas O’Connor. He works for the Labor Council, and we were just talking about historic trends. He agrees there is increased labor activism. Even here in sleepy San Diego we are starting to see something happening that has not been seen in generations.
We spoke of what is going on in places like Michigan. “People are aware of what is going on.” He also said that it is time to stop “the tax breaks for the top 2%” We even joked that the ‘fiscal cliff’ is more like a curb, but is being used to keep people afraid.
Lorena Gonzales, leader of San Diego and Imperial Central Labor Council told the crowd, “we want to send a clear message to representatives, that people came out in November.” She urged politicians to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
A group of retirees also visited Congresswomen Susan Davis’s office on Monday, seeking to keep pressure on our elected officials on these issues.
I asked Gonzales about termed out Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-50). Gonzales emphasized that the goal was to keep “our people” in line. But it seemed to me logic would dictate that, if Bilbray is on the way out, he might be willing to vote against his party. It’s not like he has to fear the Tea Party any longer. So perhaps, there is hope that Bilbray will do the right thing and actually vote the way the people want.
The crowd chanted:
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, the tax cuts gotta go.”
Hey, hey, ho, ho, the tea party’s gotta go!”
Greg Robinson addressed the crowd, after Gonzales introduced him as newly elected to the County Board of Education, he reminded people that there is money to pay for these programs, “It is just in the wrong hands.”
He reminded the attendees that the Walmart heirs own as much wealth as forty percent of the rest of the population. He also said that there is a way to save Social Security, one method actually endorsed by the President. This implies removing the cap, which currently remains at $110,000 of income. Robinson is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, and among middle class workers, teachers have been under direct assault.
“What’s disgusting? Union Busting!”
Vivian Rudolph came to represent Federal workers, members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). She came not to just protect the programs, but also their jobs.
Among those present were a few Occupy San Diego members, who have come to many of these events over the course of the year. There is a strong alliance between Occupy San Diego, that has gone into the neighborhoods, and adopted the Madrid Model, and local organized labor. So seeing them should not be surprising to anybody.
Do not be too surprised if you start to see more rallies. It does seem that after many years of attacks, and organized labor taking it in the chin, and with an increasing wealth inequality, labor is rediscovering it’s activist roots. Oh, and San Diego, given this was the home of the Wobblies and the Free Speech movement a century ago, it is fitting that the fight is coming home once again.
Photos by Nadin Abbott