From B.J. Smothers, RAFO Grievance Chair
These are far from the best of times for those who must work for income. I was there to represent teachers, responding to the summons of IEA employees that I knew as close acquaintances. When education has become more important than it has ever been for young people throughout the world, the U.S. is abdicating its responsibility in the name of private enterprise. From private vs. public schools to teachers’ unions, U.S. citizens are, quite frankly, under siege. It irks me, enough to alter my weekend activities to come out to a union rally in Daley Plaza. Once there, working my way up to the handmade podium, on 28 February 2018, a cold, overcast Chicago afternoon, I quickly became aware of a broader agenda.
All unions are under siege. But, these people were standing up for a just society through the right to unionize. This rally was a full workers’ program with representatives from many sectors, including teachers, nurses, and tradespeople. Strong unions help all citizens, but it takes a group together to get it done.
Closer to the podium, I could focus on Father Clete Kiley and Rev. Calvin Morris launching the program with Opening Blessings. Throughout the crowd that covered the plaza, signs imploring all to “Unite” and “Stand Together” were held high. A highly vocal response rose at the conclusion of the “blessings” and initiated a call-and-response pattern through subsequent speeches and exhortations from such workers as Springfield teacher Cysta Weitekamp (IEA) and Stephen Mittons, a child protective investigator with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
(I spotted Mother Jones in the form of a tall, full-figured balloon. Her “This Is No Pink Party” sign provided some history. The struggle to keep unions alive in the U.S. has a very long history.)
Some participants came together in small groups, seemingly to visit, as people do at large parties. While the speakers, Paul Pater representing the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), Jeffery Maher, a Galesburg firefighter (AFFI), “Fight for $15” McDonald’s employees Tyree Johnson and Adriana Alvarez, and so on, gave witness to their concerns about the future of their unions and their livelihoods.
As our democracy continues to be under siege (a friend recently sent me word about Trump’s attack on the Environmental Species Act—ESA), the battle appears daunting because the super wealthy have tasted greater chances to end all rules and regulations and will not be satisfied with mere tax reforms. Yet the energy of that rally is lasting. It reminds me that one has to break from one’s routines in these times of deep trouble. But, besides rallies, just what will it take, short of raising hell, as Mother Jones advocates?