ONE YEAR since unarmed American black man Eric Garner died at the hands of the police, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of New York last Saturday to demand justice.
The threat of rain didn’t dampen the passion for justice at the Brooklyn rally, the event drew hundreds, including scores of US workers in their unions. Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199 branch gathered with the rest of the crowd at Cadman Plaza in front of the US District Courthouse to demand justice and the federal prosecution of the New York police officers involved in Garner’s death on July 17, 2014.
‘It’s a beautiful thing to see all kinds of people here – every colour, race, creed and nationality standing up to say that Black Lives Matter,’ said Tasha Fowler, a mailroom clerk at Brooklyn’s Brookdale Hospital. But it has been one year and that cop hasn’t been indicted. He’s on desk duty. He’s still getting paid. That’s unacceptable.’
Speakers included New York City Council member Jumaane Williams, Assembly member Michael Blake, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Eric Garner’s family members also spoke and thanked the crowd for their continued support. His mother, Gwenn Carr stood with other mothers whose sons were killed by the police, including 1199SEIU member Constance Malcolm.
Malcolm is the mother of Bronx teenager Ramarley Graham who in 2013 was shot to death by NYPD officer Richard Haste in front of Graham’s younger brother and grandmother.
‘I don’t know what this country is coming to,’ said Malcolm. ‘When a cop can break into your home and kill your kid. Ramarley deserves justice and I deserve answers.’ Elaine Gibson, a home health aide with United Cerebral Palsy, said she came to the rally to fight the deterioration she sees in today’s society.
The same day, the Ku Klux Klan was holding a rally in Columbia, South Carolina. ‘We are going backwards with all of this hatred. There are things that cannot be tolerated. There are things that just cannot be done. We are going to let people know that we are not going to stand for that,’ she said. ‘You cannot murder people without consequences. The law applies to everyone.’
The event was sponsored by 1199SEIU, 32BJ, The New York State Nurses Association, The National Action Network, The Black Institute, NAACP, NYCLU, Doctor’s Council, TWU Local 100 as well as Working Families Party, NYC Communities for Change, Justice League of NYC, Make the Road NY, Communities United for Police Reform, Centre for Constitutional Rights and VOCAL NY.
• New Jersey cleaners have won a big victory! A federal National Labour Relations Board judge has ordered a cleaning services contractor to rehire sacked janitors. The contractor, Eastern Essential Services, must also give the cleaners back pay and benefits. And current employees who have been earning less than union standard wages must also receive back pay for the wages and benefits reduction per order of the judge.
The decision comes after a long fight which began last summer when 33 office cleaners lost their jobs when EES refused to hire them because of their union affiliation. The cleaners decided to fight for their rights and 32BJ stood with them. Over the past year the janitors marched, rallied and testified to try to get their jobs back. 32BJ filed charges with the National Labour Relations Board and waged a legal fight to try to right this wrong. And they won!
32BJ Vice President and NJ State Director Kevin Brown attributes this victory to the cleaners who stayed united and strong. ”When workers stand up for their rights they send a clear message to employers that they must respect them and treat them fairly,’ said Brown.
‘The judge’s decision should be a wakeup call to irresponsible building owners and contractors that we won’t sit back and allow them to come here and bust the union with illegal tactics that bring down wages and hurt working families.’
The decision orders Eastern Essential Services to offer employment to the former cleaners within 14 days and remove from its files any reference to the unlawful refusal to hire the employees. And within three days thereafter, notify them in writing that this has been done and that the refusal to hire them will not be used against them in any way. When we fight, we win!’ they said triumphantly.
• International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) young workers are supporting the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) global action day. The day of action is in support of US cabin crew members demanding a fair contract at United Airlines. At an ITF youth leaders meeting in Washington DC, last week, the young members showed their support.
Delegates at the ITF young transport workers global committee meeting unanimously decided to interrupt their meeting on 16 July to support the worldwide day of action. This is after hearing that negotiations between the AFA-CWA and United Airlines were at a standstill, with members deprived of their share of the airline’s huge profits.
The union is demanding that United reaches a unified labour contract with its 24,000 flight attendants as promised after the airline completed its merger with Continental Airlines in October 2010. AFA international president Sara Nelson said: ‘The bottom line problem is the company’s unwillingness to put the required economic resources into a Flight Attendant Contract. That is unacceptable and we are going to stand up to make it clear to the company that we expect much more, especially now as United’s profits are soaring.’
ITF general secretary Steve Cotton commented that cabin crew deserved a fair contract and urged United to enter into effective negotiations. He added that the ITF, including its young workers, were proud to support the AFA-CWA’s industry-wide day of action. The action day took place in all the airline’s 16 base locations, including London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Washington Dulles, where new CWA president Chris Shelton and the ITF young workers joined in. The committee meeting followed the ITF youth summer school, which 35 participants from 29 countries attended.
• The debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has just begun and workers in dozens of industries from every sector are rising up against it. The US trade unions are frightened that the TPP agreement will mean the mass export of US jobs overseas and the undermining of the American trade unions.
The AFL-CIO is the US equivalent of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Britain. Richard Trumka is president of AFL-CIO said: ‘2015 has proved that trade is a core economic issue for all Americans, especially those whose work creates the profits in the first place. When the trade debate started to break though the Washington bubble, Americans got what we were talking about right away.
‘The campaign was democracy at its finest. In just four months, among many other tactics, workers and their allies made more than 2.6 million phone calls and wrote more than 32,500 handwritten letters to the House and Senate. Congress may have reluctantly given the president the authority to negotiate the TPP, but workers have made clear he has the responsibility to do it the right way. Here’s how:
‘The final TPP must include rules against currency manipulation, as a bipartisan majority in Congress has demanded. For decades, currency manipulation has been used by US trading partners, including Japan, China, Malaysia and Singapore, to gain a competitive advantage that shutters factories, hurts workers and devastates communities. The Economic Policy Institute estimates the U.S. could add as many as 5.8 million jobs by eliminating currency manipulation.
‘The continued refusal to include enforceable currency rules in TPP would not only guarantee more US job loss, but undermine any remaining belief that US trade policy is designed to benefit anyone but powerful global corporations.
Foreign corporations held accountable to courts
‘The TPP must also ditch the rigged legal system called investor-state-dispute settlement, which lets foreign corporations opt out of the US court system and sue US taxpayers to recover lost profits by arguing that local, state, or federal laws or regulations violate their right to “fair and equitable treatment”.
‘This standard is so vague that the private tribunals that decide these cases have awarded huge sums on the basis of a legal argument as flimsy as “that’s not fair”. This system, by and for elites, is understandably unpopular. NAFTA was the first US trade deal to incorporate ISDS—a mistake that the president must fix if TPP is to gain support beyond the global companies who profit from the special privilege it gives them.
Strong rules of origin
‘The TPP must also include strong “rules of origin”. Weak rules will provide tariff benefits to goods largely made in China and other countries outside the TPP. Strong rules will ensure that the majority of the benefits of the TPP go to countries that have an obligation to follow the TPP rules. For automobiles in particular — a key US manufactured good — weak rules of origin will undermine US employment throughout the US automotive supply chain.
Labour and environmental rules
‘The labour and environmental rules of the TPP must not be merely enforceable, but also enforced.
‘In their workplaces, America’s workers have been living the race to the bottom for decades despite promises that each new trade deal will rectify the labour problems of the last. Threats to move work overseas and cut pay and benefits remain all too common.
‘As recently as November 2014, the Government Accountability Office reported that US enforcement of labour provisions in existing trade agreements is inadequate; we would call the enforcement efforts deplorable. Promises to “do better” may have been enough to secure fast track. They will not be enough to secure support for the TPP.’
He concludes: ‘The tide has shifted. The new consensus, the new assumption, is that the economy must work for people, not the other way around.’