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Issue #1605      August 7, 2013

Mass arrests spur coalition to remake America

WASHINGTON: In a jail cell in the nation’s capital, top leaders of 40 powerful labour and progressive groups found they had plenty of time (six hours) to talk and hash out plans for essentially remaking America.

Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen and Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford were among the 40 immigrant rights, labour, faith and community leaders arrested on August 1 for bringing traffic to a halt in the streets around Capitol Hill. Protesting what they say are unjust immigration policies, they told House Republicans that they intend to fight relentlessly for a comprehensive bill that benefits 11 million undocumented immigrants.

At a press conference Cohen and Radford announced that more than 80 organisations have now joined The Democracy Initiative – a coalition formed earlier this year by the CWA, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

The two said the 40 jailed activists agreed strongly that the coalition’s aims should be getting: big money out of politics; immigration rights; voting rights; and stopping Republican obstruction in Congress. Everyone in the holding cell, they said, was celebrating what they considered at least one victory already against Republican obstructionism – the Senate confirmation of all five of President Obama’s nominees to the National Labour Relations Board and nominees for other Cabinet positions including the Environmental Protection Administration.

Asked what immigration rights had to do with the environment, Greenpeace director Radford said, “Justice for workers and for immigrants, both of whom are marginalised, is important. They need to be included in the political process not just because they face environmental hazards daily on the job but also if we are to elect lawmakers who will take global warming seriously.”

“We’re not going to have a clean-energy economy if the same companies that are polluting our rivers and oceans are polluting our elections,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“It was exciting and frankly wonderful that we all had the chance to be locked up together like that with nothing more than our clothes, ID cards and bail money,” said Cohen. “I learned more about them [the environmentalists] in those six hours than I could have any other way. When you bring together so many groups, or at least the leaders of them, like that you are bound to get good results.”

For his part, Radford said, “Talking in that cell to Arlene Holt-Baker [AFL-CIO secretary treasurer] was absolutely amazing. No better way to learn about the voting rights and labour movements and see what connects us all.”

“For decades now,” Radford said “the conservatives have aimed to shrink government – local, state and federal, by introducing new laws and installing like-minded politicians and judges. It has been a 40-year strategy by the Exxons, the Coors and the Kochs of the world to take over the country.”

“The Democracy Initiative is a progressive answer to that,” said Cohen. “Our CWA members and leaders know that we can’t end the frustration of current collective bargaining without a real movement not just for bargaining and organising rights but for social and political change. That’s why we’re here. Working together is how we’ll win economic justice.”

The others thrown into the same jail cell represented a who’s-who of organisations including the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, the Farmworkers, the (umbrella trade union body) AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the Service Employees, Common Cause, Voto Latino, the Demos think tank, Piper Fund, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, People for the American Way, National People’s Action, the National Organisation for Women, the National Wildlife Federation, the Centre for American Progress, the United Auto Workers, the Steelworkers, and Colour of Change, to name only some.

People’s World  

Next article – Deputy PM: Let’s change laws like the Nazis did

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