20,000 March for the Middle Class in L.A.

Nearly 20,000 working people marched through downtown Los Angeles Saturday, making it clear they will fight any attempt to launch a Wisconsin-like attack on workers in cash-strapped California. The march stretched for several blocks and included nurses, telephone technicians, electricians, truckers, screenwriters, actors, longshoremen, teachers and others.

The Wisconsin bill eliminates the freedom of state employees to bargain for a  better life. Speaking at the Los Angeles rally, Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fiore Fighters of Wisconsin, said even though the bill exempts firefighters, his union still opposes the law. He said the law is a direct attack on all unions and the entire middle class.

Mitchell told the AFL-CIO Executive Council earlier this month that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is not listening to the people. He’s listening to the Big Bucks CEOs who contributed generously to the campaigns of the governors and state legislators.

But Mitchell added the working people will prevail because “we are on the right side of justice.”

Ruben Najara, who took part in the march, told the Los Angeles Times he has been working at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for more than two decades. He said his union job has given him a secure, middle-class life and the ability to comfortably raise three children.

He said he fears that on the heels of the Wisconsin law, union collective bargaining power will be steadily eroded throughout the country. “We are willing to make concessions,” he said. “But you have to have two sides at the table to bargain.”

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine played for the rally along with Grammy Award-winning Latin rock and hip-hop band, Ozomatli. Morello headlined a concert last month for the protesters in Wisconsin.

Other speakers included Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Teamsters President James Hoffa.

Meanwhile, just days before the rally, the city of Los Angeles showed that collective bargaining works, after city workers and local officials reached a tentative agreement to help solve that city’s budget crisis.

The employees agreed to pay more for their pensions and health care. They agreed to give up overtime temporarily. They also agreed to defer pay raises and take four unpaid holidays annually. In return, the city of Los Angeles will end furloughs effective today and will drop plans to  lay off 600 workers.

The agreement provides economic security for city workers through 2014 and saves the city $400 million.

by James Parks, Mar 28, 2011

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