'We are one' with Wisconsin workers is one of the main themes... More than 10,000 march and rally in Chicago for union and workers' rights

More than 10,000 people, most of them union members and their families, filled the Daley Plaza in Chicago and adjacent sidewalks and open spaces by 1:00 on April 9, 2011, for a major workers' rights march and rally. The massive event culminated a week of national actions organized by unions and others in commemoration of the death of Marin Luther King Jr. (which was April 4, 1968) and in protest against the all-out assault by Republicans (and in some cases their Democratic allies) in states across the country on unions generally, and on public worker unions in particular.

The focus of the main Chicago event — and most of its speakers — was on the frontal assault on public employee unions and public worker pensions in almost a dozen states. For most of the crowd on April 9, the assault was personified by the legislation proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in February and passed by the Republican Wisconsin House and Senate while Democratic Wisconsin legislators left the state and stayed in Illinois for three weeks to deprive their home state of a quorum to pass the legislation.

The main reason union workers are suspicious of the Democrats as well as the Republicans currently leading the attack on the unions is that Barack Obama has broken every promise he made to the unions who elected him once he was in the White House. One of the reasons, union leaders suspect, is that Hyatt Board of Directors member Penny Pritzker (above center) was Obama's chief fundraiser during the 2008 campaign, and used her White House clout to get Obama to break his promise to the unions that he would support "card check" for union organizing. Despite the many Pritzker charities that the family uses to try and divert attention from its attacks on working people and unions, the Pritzkers have usually lined up on the union-busting side of the Democratic Party, while many of them also donate large amounts of their billions to Republicans. But a strong undercurrent of the April 2011 protests was noting, despite the words of the speakers and most of the signs in the crowd, that politicians led by President Barack Obama and many Democrats, including California Governor Jerry Brown and New York Governor Mario Cuomo, were also attacking public worker unions and public worker pensions. Observers were noting that many Democrats and their allies were using the same dishonest talking points that were being used by right-wing talk radio host like Rush Limbaugh and TV (especially Fox News pundits like Bill O'Reilly) and right-wing Republican politicians and presidential candidates.

The huge rally in Daley Plaza too place in a space that by 1:00 was so tightly packed that people could barely move in the half-block-sized plaza in the shadow of Chicago's City Hall. The crowd surrounded the famous Picasso sculpture that had been placed in the Plaza during the mayoralty of Richard J. Daley, the father of the present mayor, Richard M. Daley. The rally officially was organized as a response to the attacks on unions in many American states, most notably in Wisconsin but including Florida, Ohio, Indiana, and Idaho (all of which have seen legislation introduced or passed into law that is almost identical to the notorious Wisconsin legislation).

The Chicago speakers included Illinois and Chicago union leaders, community organizers backed by the unions, and Wisconsin politicians and union leaders. By the time the speakers had begun, the crowd had overflowed the cramped space in the Daley Plaza and was lining three sides of the street on Washington Street, Clark St. and Dearborn St. in Chicago. Chicago police had not closed any of the city's streets for the event.

Almost unnoticed when they arrived, the members of the Martin Luther King Jr. High School marching band, a union Chicago public schools, assembled on the north side of Wacker Drive and prepared to help lead the Hyatt contingent of teachers and other union leaders to the Daley Plaza later. King High School is the union public school in Chicago where last year Karen Lewis, now President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was a chemistry teacher and union delegate. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The rally was part of a week-long series of events that tied the struggles of organized labor and unionized working people to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights struggles of more than 40 years ago. Speaker after speaker noted that Dr. King was assassinated during work as part of a union organizing drive of Memphis sanitation workers. In addition to the reminders during the many speeches of the link between King's legacy and the unions, a brief video was shown on the massive overhead screen making the same point.

"The week of April 4 through 9 was chosen in honor of Dr. King, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while in Memphis to march with sanitation workers represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)," press materials distributed by the Chicago Federation of Labor noted. "King gave his life for the right of workers to bargain collectively for a better life and a pathway to the middle class — the same rights and freedoms that Republic Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and his counterparts in other states are trying to strip from teachers and other public- and private-sector workers."

Bricklayers and other trades unions deployed The Fat Cat, which is put up at scab work sites, at the Regency Hyatt in Chicago on April 9, 2011. The fat cat was labelled "Koch Brothers", after the billionaires who helped finance Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's attack on unions. His hand is strangling the "Middle Class" while a nearby poster reads "Capitalism is failing. Socialism is the alternative." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of the largest contingents in the march and rally consisted of Chicago and Illinois teachers. Earlier, the teachers had joined hotel workers organized by Unite HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union, in a massive picketing of the Regency Hyatt Hotel at Wacker Drive and Michigan Ave in Chicago.

One of the many ironies of the morning was the sign in front of the Hyatt Regency claiming that Chicago's Hyatt Regency has been named "one of Chicago's top 100 workplaces" by Crain's Chicago Business, a corporate weekly. The Hyatt workers and the union that represents the majority of them, Unite HERE, turned out by the hundreds to disagree with that claim. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The reasons why the Hyatt was the target of part of the organizing was that the Hyatt is owned by the Pritzker family, Chicago billionaires who have been financing some of the most obnoxious union-busting organizations across the USA. Like the billionaire Koch brothers (of Koch Industries), who have been subsidizing much of the same right-wing work, the billionaire Pritzkers are doing a lot of union busting themselves, either directly or by proxy (through supposed grass roots organizations like "Stand for Children").

Most recently, as reported in several Substance stories in print and on line, Penny Pritzker, a Hyatt director who owns more than ten percent of the stock in the corporation, helped a union-busting organization euphemistically named "Stand for Children" raise more than $3 million for its Political Action Committee (PAC) during the last four months of 2010. Penny Pritzker also served as Barack Obama's chief fundraiser during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The picket at the Regency Hyatt was coordinated to feed into the Daley Plaza rally, which was organized by the AFL-CIO and a large number of unions and other groups.

The crowd facing the main stage during the event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The Pritzkers — eleven of whom are among the twelve Chicagoans listed in the recent (March 2011) Forbes list of American billionaires — have also refused to negotiate seriously with the major union representing their workers, according to the union.

The protests were part of a national "We Are One" campaign organized by the AFL-CIO and other groups for the week beginning April 4 (the date of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.). In Chicago, the group that organized the event was the Chicago Federation of Labor, which has become more militant during the past few years.

Sam Schmidt, John Kugler Jr., and Josh Schmidt (behind Brown Bear Schmidt) arrive at the Hyatt for the picket agains the Pritzkers. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to materials published on the CFL website prior to the April 9 event:

"Thousands of Illinoisans will rally in the Chicago Loop on Saturday, April 9, to show solidarity with workers in Wisconsin and other states, renew the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King who gave his life 43 years ago in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, and stand up for the American middle class against political and corporate-funded attacks.

"The April 9 event will include a program of speeches and entertainment in Daley Plaza (50 W Washington) starting at 12:30 p.m..

The crowd as seen facing east from the riser that held media cameras and many reporters. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."The Chicago rally will be the largest of more than a dozen such “We Are One” events held throughout Illinois next week, including in Bloomington, Carbondale, Champaign, Collinsville, Decatur, Gurnee, Kankakee, Ottawa, Peoria, Rock Island, Rockford and Springfield. They are part of the national “We Are One” campaign by the AFL-CIO and allied groups.

"The week of April 4 through 9 was chosen in honor of Dr. King, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while in Memphis to march with sanitation workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). King gave his life for the right of workers to bargain collectively for a betterlife and a pathway to the middle class—the same rights and freedoms that Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and his counterparts in otherstates are trying to strip from teachers and other public- and private-sector workers."

Hyatt Hotel workers, some carrying their tools, led the march as it left the Hyatt to go to Daley Plaza for the main rally. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The rally began in Daley Plaza even as hundreds of people were still arriving in the plaza, especially the large group that had been picketing at the Regency Hyatt Hotel a half mile away. The people who protested at the Hyatt included Chicago and Illinois teachers and their families, hotel workers, other union members, and the marching band from Chicago's King High School (the school where one year ago Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was teaching until she was elected president of the CTU).

The chairman of the rally who introduced all of the speakers was Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor. The speakers alternated between Illinois and Chicago union and community leaders and union leaders from Wisconsin. The first speaker after Ramirez was Michael Carrigan, who is president of the AFL-CIO. Carrigan, former business manager and financial secretary for IBEW Local 146 in Decatur Illinois, has also been mayor of Decatur.

Students from King High School in Chicago helped lead the crowd as it began the march from the Hyatt to the Daley Plaza. The King HS marching band played along the way. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jenn Johnson, a teacher from Chicago's Lincoln Park High School and member of the Chicago Teachers Union's executive board, told how the conditions in Chicago's schools turned her from a new teacher into a militant union leaders since she began teaching eight years ago. [Readers can read her prepared speech below on this website].

Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Wisconsin Fire Fighters Union and a leader of the Madison protests during February 2011, told the crowd in Chicago how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled his legislation attacking the unions and tried to get the firefighters and police unions to break with the other unions by offering them a better deal than was being done to the teachers and other public workers. Mitchell told the crowd that Walker promised the leaders of the firefighters and police unions the deal provided that they did not support the other unions and did not publicly criticize the Republican attack on public sector collective bargaining.

Wisconsin state senator Chris Larson thanked Chicago for its hospitality during the days he spent outside Wisconsin following the realization, which came as a surprise to him and his fellow Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature, that the Republicans under Scott Walker were going to close tanks and ram through the legislation. William Lucy, the founder of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, gave one of the best speeches of the day when he reminded the crowd that Martin Luther King Jr. was marching for the rights of Memphis Tennessee sanitation workers when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Lucy brought a broad range of historical issues into the rally, and was followed by a dramatic video of linking the legacy of King and the Civil Rights movement with the movements today.

Many of the signs on the march and at the rally reminded people that the world's richest people, including Chicago's billionaire Pritzker family, are paying little of no taxes because of the loopholes they and their lawyers and lobbyists have put into the tax code at April 15 approaches for working people. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.A Wisconsin janitor, Heberto Figueroa from Milwaukee, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1, spoke to the crowd in Spanish, translated by SEIU member Manny Vellan.

Jim Garrity of SFSCME Council 40 in Wisconsin outlined the destruction of the rights of public workers under the Republican legislation.

A student from Peru Illinois, Nadia Valentine, spoke to the crowd about how she was carrying on the traditions of generations of unionists in her family. She was the winner of the 2008 Illinois Labor History award for a study of Mother Jones, a labor leader of the early 20th Century.

Even as late as 2:15 in the afternoon, the crowd had barely begun to thin out at Daley Plaza. The photo above was taking looking southwest from the riser. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.William McNary, Co-Director of Citizen Action Illinois gave a stirring speech about the alliances between unions and others working for the good of working people and the poor. Amisha Patel, who was an organizer for SEIU Local 73 during the big immigrant rights marches in Chicago in 2006, talked about the work of the Grassroots Collaborative, where she is now an organizer.

The final speaker was Steve Winz, a crane operator and member of Operating Engineers Local 150 in Chicago, told the crowd why he travelled several times to Madison Wisconsin in support of the workers there during February 2011 when the Wisconsin State Capitol building was occupied by thousands of people against the Republican attacks.


April 10, 2011 at 11:52 AM

By: kugler

Thousands Unite In Solidarity

I was proud to be out helping my brothers and sisters fight against oppression by the ruling class. There is no doubt about what is happening here and around the nation; it is more than just education it is the suppression of democracy and subjugation of the middle class. They, the rich through their agents (tea party, stand for children....) want to enslave our children and grandchildren, when they destroy unionized labor and collective bargaining.

Here is a cross-link with more news coverage and video of the event.

In Solidarity

John Kugler

Displaced CPS Carpentry Teacher

now working for the Chicago Teachers Union

April 10, 2011 at 12:20 PM

By: Jim Vail

CFL militant?

The We Are One rally was excellent - very exciting and empowering for people to come together, the only way to fight off big business attacks on the working class.

But I question the assertion that the Chicago Federation of Labor is more militant these days. For one, they endorsed Danny Solis for alderman even though he voted for a pay raise for himself and not for a living wage for the workers.

Plus Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor, helped run Mayor Daley's re-election campaign before heading the CFL. That fact hardly puts Ramirez and the CFL in the 'militant' camp.

April 10, 2011 at 4:30 PM

By: Jim Cavallero

The bricklayers inflatable. Rat or fat cat?

Is that a rat? I thought the bricklayers inflatable was a fat cat. Like a fat cat businessman putting the squeeze on a union worker.

April 14, 2011 at 7:21 AM

By: bob


Well its here go over to the Illinois legislature web site and check out\rSenate bill 7 But make sure you also open amendment no 1 . \r

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