Saturday, September 17, 2011

Downtown Labor Day Rally Draws Over 200

Some Call for Jobs, Others for a Post-Jobs Economy


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Floyd Morrow and Bob Filner (center)


“It’s jobs, jobs, jobs,” said U.S. Congressmember and mayoral candidate Bob Filner at the start of San Diego’s Labor Day rally September 5, which drew over 100 people to Horton Plaza Park downtown at noon following a march from the downtown Ralph’s supermarket. “We’re the richest country in the world, and we’ve got 48.6 million people out of work [or underemployed]. We’ve got a Congress run by the Tea Party that has not produced jobs. President Obama has not produced enough jobs.”

Most of the speakers — many of whom were either current or former elected officials or candidates for elective office — echoed the “jobs, jobs, jobs” theme. “Are there jobs to be done in this city, this county, this state? Yes,” said Filner’s colleague, Congressmember Susan Davis. “Are there people who want to do them? Yes. There are so many ways we can put together a package that works for all of us. … We had a job fair the other day, and it was sad to see so many people who wanted to work.”

Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, who in 2012 is planning to run against Republican Congressmember Brian Bilbray in hopes that the California Redistricting Commission has made the seat more competitive for a Democrat, said, “I want to join Susan in Congress to help working people. … I want to make sure we have the kinds of jobs that will get this country going again. We will succeed because when united, we will never be defeated.”

“I think we’re going to have pro-worker elected officials supporting each other and fighting for the same things,” said Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council and herself a former candidate for the San Diego City Council. “We have 25 million Americans who are trying to find work, and corporations who are hoarding cash. Between them, just four companies — General Electric, Pfizer, CVS Pharmacies and Apple — are holding on to $1.2 trillion in cash. That is not property value or income, but cash that could be used to create jobs.”

California State Senator Juan Vargas, who took a leadership role pushing for SB 469 a union-backed state law requiring “economic impact reports” before any big-box “supercenters” (essentially Wal-Marts and other giant stores that sell groceries) are built, announced that Sempra Energy, parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), “is going to Mexico because they want to pay people very little and they don’t want to abide by environmental laws.” He urged people at the rally to write Governor Jerry Brown and ask him to sign SB 469, which at press time is still pending on his desk.

Other speakers at the rally took a more radical line. Former San Diego City Councilmember Floyd Morrow, defeated in 1977 by an early manifestation of what later became the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, recalled that his first political involvement was in John F. Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in 1960. He questioned why the U.S. Labor Day is in early September while the rest of the world celebrates it on May 1 — ironically, the May Day holiday was first proclaimed by a U.S. labor leader, Terrence V. Powderly of the Knights of Labor, in 1886, but it didn’t become the “official” Labor Day because in most of Europe and the rest of the world May Day celebrations are openly socialist — and he also attacked the legal status of corporations as “persons,” the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the idea that corporations and the people who run them are the sources of a country’s wealth.

“People who work produce the wealth, not corporations,” Morrow said. “We need to take away their monopoly of oil, resources, air. We’ve got to end the insanity of ‘corporate personhood’ and make them pony up.” He called for an end to the U.S. wars and use of the money to create jobs at home, and said that contrary to Right-wing propaganda and media reports of a “crisis” in Social Security, “there is $2.6 trillion in the Social Security trust fund. It’s funded through 2030 at minimum. Let’s not let them get away with the lies.”

Frank Gormlie, editor/publisher of the online newspaper O.B. Rag, MC’d the rally and called for the government to hire people and put them to work directly rather than waiting for the private sector to spend some of their hoards of cash on employees. He cited the Works Project Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) of the 1960’s, as examples.

“We need public jobs and a government that actively creates them,” Gormlie said. “The mainstream media want you to believe that workers are the problem. We have to outlaw these capitalist assaults on the basic right to unionize. Those who do not support workers’ rights and collective bargaining for public employees are un-American. We’re much closer to the Founding Fathers than the Tea Party people.”

Greg Robinson, vice-president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), joked about how many of the other speakers were either members of Congress or candidates for Congressional seats. “There are a lot of people here who want to go to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Why? To hang out with Republicans? The party of Lincoln has become the Party of Bozo. Texas Governor Rick Perry” — the current front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination — “doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming, but he does believe President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim socialist.”

According to Robinson, Bank of America received over $3 trillion in government loans from the bank bailout, “yet they tell homeowners there’s no money to bail them out.” (Less than a week after the rally, Bank of America announced they were eliminating 40,000 jobs, most of them in California, to cover their losses from acquiring troubled subprime lender Countrywide Financial in 2008.)

“We have billionaire hedge-fund operators telling the rest of us we can’t tax them because they ‘create jobs,’” Robinson said. “Where are the jobs? They’re sitting on the biggest pile of corporate profits in history. The money is there; it’s just in the wrong pockets.” Like Gormlie, Robinson called for a revival of the Depression-era WPA, saying that the U.S. infrastructure largely built by the WPA in the 1930’s is “crumbling” and a new WPA is needed to rebuild it.

While the other speakers on the program called for jobs, Jeeni Criscenzo, president of Activist San Diego (and, ironically, also a former Congressional candidate), questioned the whole concept of the “job” and the ideology behind it. “Jobs are lopsided trade agreements,” she said. “We’ve been conditioned to believe we need a job. We used to believe we could jump into a job from high school. We were encouraged to get a good education, and our reward would be a job where we could use our brains to make other people more money.”

Criscenzo said that the whole concept of a job — of having to beg an employer for the chance to make him/her money — constitutes servitude and needs to be ended. “What if we change the rules and, instead of a ‘job,’ everyone had a right to a livable life and we could do what we love? What if we didn’t call it a ‘job,’ and we did it for each other and not to make foreign investors profits? A ‘job’ is something we beg for from others; a living is something we make for ourselves.”

Many of the participants in the Labor Day rally wore T-shirts expressing solidarity with the United Food and Commercial Workers local 135, currently embroiled in negotiations with the three largest supermarket chains, Kroger (Ralph’s), Safeway (Vons) and Supervalu (Albertson’s). The workers’ contract expired in March and for the last six months employees have been working under the old contract, while the chains have demanded givebacks that would jeopardize the workers’ access to health insurance.

The workers have responded by voting twice to authorize a strike, and at press time the only thing that is holding back the strike is the presence of federal mediators in the negotiations. The union can call a strike any time by giving 72 hours’ notice to the chains. The last supermarket strike in the area, in 2003-2004, ended in a defeat for the union — and also hurt the chains; Albertson’s in particular has never regained the market share it lost during the strike.