We speak with Brenda Stokely, president of AFSCME District Council 1707 and an organizer of this weekend’s Million Worker March in Washington DC about the grassroots labor movement, the election, unions and much more. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to the candidates on labor and talk about how you’re organizing?
BRENDA STOKELY: Well, we are — this is definitely a rank and file grassroots organizing movement. It’s — I’m almost 60, and I haven’t seen anything like this since the 1960s in terms of the response. We’re having difficulty even responding to people. We were organizing the buses. We all got commitments for those who could provide buses to provide seats, but now we have to come up with whole buses. Danny Glover has been very instrumental in helping us do this, as well as other people, because we are responding to immigrant groups which have no money and we’re providing whole buses for them to get there. We were responding to shelters that have no money; these are displaced workers.
Unfortunately, none of the internationals with the exception of two international unions have come forward to support; as a matter of fact, they have done everything to undermine this particular effort. The only two international — now there’s three — has been N.E.A., and the postal workers, A.P.W.U., and now the building maintenance and railroad workers, that have recently endorsed.
I.L.W.U., Local 10 out of San Francisco which we fondly refer to as the anti-apartheid local because they’re the ones who shut down the whole West Coast and refused to unload cargo from South Africa during the anti-apartheid movement. This call came from them. It came from their local. Their own international is not supporting it. And what they’re trying to do is gear everybody and lock everybody’s hands to the Democratic Party and to Kerry and not independently provide a space for workers to express their own concern and their own agenda.
This is a beginning of a movement to mobilize people, as Howard Zinn was talking about, the kind of movement that’s needed. Well, this movement is being built right before our eyes. It raises — it poses a lot of questions, both within the anti-war movement and also within organized labor as to why they would actively not — not in terms of unconsciously but actively oppose such a movement of rank and file members.
Why they’re not — this movement includes people that are not in unions. As we all know, less than 12 percent of people are in unions. So we’re appealing to people that are unorganized as well as people that are organized. And the response is unbelievable. People — their view is, why hasn’t this happened before?
One person even said to me, an old-time retired fireman in Harlem — we were postering — he said, “You know, labor should have had something during the R.N.C.” I said, “Dear, labor did have something during the R.N.C. on September 1.” He said, “I didn’t know anything about it.” I said, “Because one, they excluded people that were not in unions. They excluded retirees. And they excluded the key issues that were relating to workers.”
So we think our demands are very important for national health care for all, for workers’ rights, because workers are being battered whether they’re in unions or not. And they talk about the increase of numbers of people in new jobs. Those jobs are mainly temporary jobs, part-time jobs, per diem jobs, fee for service jobs, have no benefits, no union representation. These are not the kind of jobs. We are talking about jobs with a living wage, not a minimum wage. We are talking about housing issues. All of the issues that face working communities every single day.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d also like to ask for Brenda, people who want to attend the Million Worker March, how can they contact the organizers and get more information?
BRENDA STOKELY: Well, in New York City they can call 212-219-0022, extension 5185. We have buses in every borough. And so we welcome people to come and get a seat and go down with us.
AMY GOODMAN: People around the country are coming?
BRENDA STOKELY: Yes, around the country. And also we’re going to have — an important aspect of the march is that they’re going to be organizing tents so that people will not just be rallying, but they will also leave with an agenda and a plan and connect to national activities, and campaigns. So, we invite everybody to come and participate.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Brenda Stokely, I want to thank you very much. We’ll have links on our website at democracynow.org. Brenda Stokely is president of AFSCME, District Council 1707 in New York City, one of the key organizers of the Million Worker March this weekend in Washington, D.C.