Vowing to make this the first day in a long war against corporations and the 1 percent, hundreds of unionists gathered in downtown D.C. on Feb. 24 to campaign for workers’ rights and specifically against a looming threat to them – the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus case.
The justices will hear the case, pushed by the rabid anti-union National Right to Work Committee, its legal defense arm and its corporate backers, on Feb. 26. The case will decide whether every state and local government worker in the U.S. could become a potential “free rider,” using union services, but not having to pay a cent for them.
A High Court anti-union ruling – widely expected -- could cost unions thousands of members and millions of dollars – and the looming threat brought workers into the streets around the country two days before, including the hundreds of unionists at Freedom Plaza downtown.
“We are workers, we have a voice and we will use it!” declared Jackie Jeter, president of the Metropolitan Washington Central Labor Council and of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metro’s workers. “We use our power to defend our freedom and demand an end to the rigged economy the rich have put on workers’ backs,” she added, gazing out over a sea of signs, many of which read “Unrig the rigged economy.”
“This is about the power to fight those down the Avenue,” Jeter said, gesturing towards the Capitol and Supreme Court at one far end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House just a block behind her at the other. They “want to rob working men and women of the power. We have to fight back.”
Other speakers emphasized that regardless of what the justices decide, the crusade will go on, as a combination of politics and organizing. “We’ll tell the truth about this case,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler declared. “Their agenda is simple: More power for the big corporations and fewer rights for the rest of us.”
Other speakers included Government Employees President J. David Cox, Communications Workers President Chris Shelton, Liz Davis of the Washington Teachers Union, Democratic Govs. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Kate Brown of Oregon and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. The D.C. Labor Chorus, led by News Guild Vice President Elise Bryant, introduced the program with “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around,” substituting “Congress” in the second verse and “Donald Trump” in the third for “nobody.”
Unions at the Freedom Plaza rally included AFSCME, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Teachers, CWA, Painters Local 5, Teamsters Local 639, the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers, the Operating Engineers, the Electrical Workers, UFCW Local 400, the D.C. Nurses Association, the Auto Workers, the Mine Workers and the National Education Association.
- Mark Gruenberg, PAI; photos by Chris Garlock/Union City. More photos on the @dclabor Twitter feed