US: ‘Million Worker March’ in Washington DC

On Sunday, 17 October, thousands of workers converged on Washington DC to voice opposition to the policies of US big business.

Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative (US CWI)

Working people in the US have been under serious attack for the last few years. Under Clinton, we got NAFTA, welfare reform, and a doubling of the prison population. Under Bush, we’ve gotten massive cuts in social services, job losses, and the withering away of civil rights. During all this, billions have spent on wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

ILWU Local 10, representing longshoremen in Oakland, California, have seen vicious attempts to attack their union. This local became the driving force behind the Million Worker March. In the last two years, members of this local have been pounded with rubber bullets by Oakland police at a demonstration; they have also been locked out by their bosses, and the Bush Administration has threatened intervention by the National Guard to break picket lines and scab on the workers of the local.

These Oakland Longshoremen called for the Million Worker March to voice opposition to the occupation of Iraq and falling living standards. A leader of ILWU Local 10, Clearance Thomas, is known as a dynamic leftist union official who visited Iraq under the occupation to voice his solidarity with the Iraqi labor movement.

The potential for the Million Worker March was shown by the anti-war resolutions passed by the two largest unions in the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and SEIU. Socialist Alternative members played a key role in getting the anti-war resolution passed at the AFSCME convention.

The demands of the Million Worker March go far beyond just the war in Iraq. The march’s program called for free healthcare, free public education, a living wage, full employment, and the repealing of the Patriot Act. This is a very radical program that represents many of the key interests of US workers. The only significant hole in the program is that it does not call for the political independence of the working class, and it avoids the upcoming presidential elections, only vaguely saying that, "we cannot depend on rich politicians to fight for us."

Union leaders avoid "embarrassing" Kerry

The AFL-CIO leadership opposed the Million Worker March because they don’t want to "embarrass" John Kerry. The AFL-CIO has given more money to Kerry’s anti-worker presidential campaign than they have ever given to any other political campaign in history; they are using union dues to try to help elect a corporate politician with a record of attacking working people. This AFL-CIO strategy led the leadership to actively oppose a mobilization of workers to fight for their own interests.

Many unions defied the AFL-CIO by signing onto the march. The largest nation teachers’ union (the NEA), and the largest postal workers’ union, both endorsed the march. Other numerous union locals and labor councils endorsed the march, too.

Still, the turnout in DC was only 5,000 to 10,000, which was much less than expected. It was clear that many endorsing unions, like the NEA and the postal workers, put little to no effort into mobilizing the membership for this demonstration. Only a few local endorsing unions had big drives to mobilize. The ILWU Local 10 and Teamsters Local 808 (Queens, NY) showed up in big numbers.

There were reports of buses headed to the march being detained in the Southern states. Whether this is true or not, the turnout was disappointing. But still, the march indicates that a section of the US labor movement is willing to fight for a left program.

The march probably had more people of color than white workers attending. Also, people at this demonstration were more open to Socialist Alternative’s call for a vote for Nader and independent working class politics than at previous demonstrations. We did not encounter the type of abuse by the "anybody but Bush" that we endured at previous anti-war demonstrations.

Socialist Alternative had members attending the Million Worker March from New York, Oberlin (Ohio), Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis. We produced a pamphlet especially for the march called, ‘Toward a New Direction for the Labor Movement’.

The pamphlet outlines the seriousness of the problems faced by US workers and the strategies needed to fight back. The pamphlet calls for a campaign to organize the fast-growing low-paid service sector. It outlines the importance of the anti-war resolutions and the Million Worker March. It showed the need to continue to organize and fight for the demands of the march. The pamphlet also called for a vote for Nader, the establishment of a workers’ party, and the need for a socialist strategy and program to transform the US labor movement and struggle against the offensive of big business.

One member of Socialist Alternative, a shop steward in his union, played a central role in mobilizing a bus full of workers and youth from Long Island, New York. At the demonstration, we sold 90 copies of our newspaper, ‘Justice’, and 80 copies of our new pamphlet. People signed up to get more information about Socialist Alternative and we also collected fighting fund.

The speakers at the rally presented a variety of different strategies for fighting back, sometimes contradicting each other. Some said we must "get Bush out in November," giving backhanded support to John Kerry. Other speakers attacked the Democrats and AFL-CIO leadership head-on, calling for no vote to Kerry. Some speakers even talked about the need for workers’ power, revolution, and the overthrow of capitalism.

Interestingly, one leader of the ILWU Local 10 proclaimed that they are about to "drop a bomb" after the elections; there is speculation that this "bomb" is going to be an appeal for a new party in the US that represents working people. This may not be the most likely scenario, but it would be a huge step forward for the labor movement, and Socialist Alternative would welcome the development of independent working class politics.


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