Hundreds of people gathered outside City Hall on Monday, the 43rd anniversary the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to support workers’ rights as part of the nationwide “We Are One” rally.
“We are one,” said Dave Lange, a member of Lathers Local Union 68L and Local Union #713 representing carpenters. “If we don’t all unite against this force then we’re going to lose.”
The rally was intended as a show of support for union workers, labor unions, teamsters, and fighters for workers’ rights, and was organized in Oakland by the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
“Solidarity Oakland,” shouted Stephanie Bloomingdale, the secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. “We are in the fight for our lives; we are in the fight to reclaim the middle class in America. Our fight is your fight and your fight is our fight.”
Bloomingdale traveled from Wisconsin where she was part of major protests against a law proposed by Governor Scott Walker to limit the ability of many public workers to collectively bargain. The bill passed in early March but progress has been slow as the bill has been held up in the courts.
“The right to a union is a moral right; it’s a human right and it is an ethical right and no governor—not Scott Walker, not Mitch Daniels, not John Kasich, not the governor of Florida, not the governor of Michigan, no governor, no politician has the right to take away our unions,” Bloomingdale said.
Supporters raised signs reading “We Are One” and “Solidarity” as Bloomingdale waved her arm from the podium. She stressed the importance of seeking union jobs and standing up to political powers.
Demonstrators, labor union activists, and supporters young and old joined the rally in Frank Ogawa Plaza to listen to speakers including Mayor Jean Quan and Josie Camacho, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council.
“We learned from Martin Luther King’s death that a bullet doesn’t stop the movement,” Mayor Quan said. “We also know that in a city like ours, a job can stop a bullet.”
The rally lasted more than an hour and touched on the changes seen in public and private sector jobs in California, but also throughout the country.
“What’s happening across America scares the hell out of me,” said Carol Sturholm, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers #5. “If the politicians succeed, the middle class loses. The big banks cause the problems, not the unions, not the little guys.”
Sturholm, who works in the seafood department at the Safeway on Grand Avenue in Oakland, shared how her personal battle with breast cancer and how her healthcare coverage through her union job made early detection, treatment, and eventual recovery possible.
“Other people are not so lucky because they don’t have these kind of jobs,” she said. “Instead of trying to ensure people have quality jobs with benefits, politicians are after the middle class.”
Workers and their supporters railed in several other places in the Bay Area including Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Napa Counties. Nationwide, organizers rallied in Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina.
“People are hurting, people are losing their jobs, there’s no future unless we stand up and fight. And that’s what we know and that’s what we do best,” Camacho said.
Union workers like Jeff DelBoro, a firefighter with the city of Alameda, says people are hungry for a leader.
“These rallies will start to create the movement and as soon as leaders start to arise from this current recession, you’ll see the middle class start to set up union membership rise up to the top,” he said.
Following the rally, large groups of union workers, teamsters, and supporters dispersed as they began carrying their signs, rolling up their banners and leaving the rally to head back to work.
“I’m extremely optimistic,” said Camacho, a member of the Alameda Labor Council. “Whenever there’s a fight it means you’re willing to get down and fight for what you believe in.”