WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: S. Philly Laborites Prepare For Big Weekend

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BY MARIA MERLINO/ With a stage filled with some of the most-powerful labor leaders and elected officials, the ground floor of IBEW Local 98’s 17th &Spring Garden Streets office was chock-a-block with a capacity union crowd. The best of the best, everyone who represented the working class people of Philadelphia was there.

ROCK & ROLL Hall of Famer Charlie Gracie, lifelong South Philadelphia resident, is welcomed to “Workers Stand For America” press conference by sponsor Local 98 Business Mgr. John J. Dougherty, Jr. Gracie is among artists to perform at Aug. 11 gathering on The Parkway.

“The Labor Movement has been in a complacency coma,” said labor leader John Dougherty of IBEW Local 98. “And I want to thank the people of the DNC for waking us up. The days of taking the labor movement for granted are over. Thirty thousand workers will be on the Parkway Saturday to talk about our values and our issues. From a purely personal perspective, in my world, it’s all about the union, the workers. The labor community is a pretty diverse community. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms and I can tell you, Sunday night at the hospital you’ll find well-read newspapers and the patient care workers. Doctors, unless they’re in ER, are not around at midnight. The nurse’s aide who empties bedpans, fluffs the pillows and does every patient care but give medication, believes in the union. Week after week, month after month of sitting in a hospital room, I became friends with an aide, a tiny woman who lived at 5th & Cross Streets. She believed in her union, 1199C. She knew the value her family got from her membership. And I need her to work, because if they do away with her job, there will be nobody there for our families. Anyone who doesn’t sign onto the 2nd Bill of Rights will never get a dollar or ounce of support from this local, from this body, ever again. Sign the bill and stand with us or never again be a friend to Local 98.”

Liz McElroy, secretary-treasurer of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, was very happy Philadelphia was selected as the host city. “Our country’s democracy and labor movement started here,” she said at the microphone. “To come together, to sign this workers bill of rights and the five guiding principles, solidifies that the labor movement has stood together in this city for many years. This isn’t just about organized labor but all workers. It’s very clearly a workers bill of rights. It’s for the middle class. We want the labor movement from 40 years ago, when everybody had a right to a pension and health care and a quality education and all those things. It’s not a bad thing to want those things and we fighting again for them.”

President of District 1199C Henry Nichols told the crowd he was there because his members are there when you are in need. “We are the health-care workers. We are the angels of mercy, “he held.  “But I’m really here because I don’t want what was started here to die. It was here the labor movements were born. We have made a commitment not to let it die here. It is here that we learned what it means to be middle class and we are going to continue to drive that vision. It is here that our union represents 65,000 workers statewide. We are here to make sure we make our presence noted. We’re committed to send 3,500 workers. It’s symbolic; it’s important; it is crucial for the survival of the labor movement.”

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan was worried the destruction and undermining of public-school education across the country was trending to the Philadelphia public schools. “Education budgets have been slashed by so-called education reformers,” he raged. “All the while asking for more taxpayer-funded privatization schemes. It’s no coincidence the groups shouting the loudest are the same groups that stand to profit from privatization.  We will be out there to sign the workers bill of rights and to make sure that our seat will be there at the table to ensure of children’s education, to hold our elected officials accountable and to make sure that our schools are equipped to educate our nation’s poorest children to offset poverties’ obstacles to learning.”

Councilman Bobby Henon, who has the dual role of being a 25-year member of Local 98 and an elected official, sees the benefit of his position. “I’ve been part of the labor movement for this region for the past decade. It is a privilege for us to sign this Bill of Rights. We live and breathe it and raise our families off it. It’s time to let elected officials know. I’m an elected official because of the middle class. The fat cats are destroying the middleclass and it’s time to man up. I encourage the elected officials to come join me, the labor movement, the workers of this country, the middle class, and start the future now.  Our future depends on it.”

Pete Matthews, President of AFSCME District Council 33, the largest Municipal Workers Union in the City of Philadelphia, let his displeasure show. “When the middle class was created, it was created by you. And we are all under attack. All workers are under attack. We are going through a situation in the city with the most anti-union mayor in the history of Philadelphia. We are the city workers who went out for main brakes, who are picking up the trash. We have not received a wage increase in five years. But we continue to do the work out there. It’s both private and public sector workers that have to come together.  We built this country and we have to let these politicians know that we are not going to be taken for granted.”

Third-generation steel-worker and Secretary-Treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Frank Snyder felt privileged to become part of history on Saturday. “When the first bill of rights was signed it sent a message that we would be going on a new course charted in democracy and independence. I’m here to proclaim on behalf of the 800,000 hard-working women and men under the leadership of our President Richard Bloomingdale that we’re going to sign that bill of rights. We want good jobs, safe jobs, secure jobs, a living wage with a retirement pension and security. We want equality schools and reinvesting in public education. This is relevant to everyone regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or orientation. And everyone is going to have an opportunity to vote. We want you to be part of a rally and a movement.”

Pat Gillespie, president of the Building Trades Council, gave everyone reasons. “The reason for Saturday, I believe is that everyone who works for wages has got to understand that in that work that they do, whatever it is, there is dignity in that work. We have forgotten how important that is. We’re around tea baggers, Republican manipulators, they just try to put us in some kind of category where we don’t count and in order for our society to function in the most effective way is that we have to counted. We need to respect ourselves and the dignity of work   After Saturday, it won’t be over because we will always have the Wall Streeters trying to kick our behinds. The reason they haven’t been success in Philadelphia is that Philadelphia is a good union town  because of organized labor.”

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