By Cherrene Horazuk
President, AFSCME Local 3800, University of Minnesota
Ms. Cherrene Horazuk spokeon behalf of the US delegation to the WFTU 17th Congress in Durban, South Africa
On behalf of the US delegation, thank you to the WFTU for inviting us to observe this 17th congress. It is an honor to be among so many leaders and fighters for our class. Thank you also to COSATU and all of our South African hosts. Many people in the US of my generation became anti-imperialist activists during the struggle against apartheid, inspired by your liberation movement. Your struggle helped us to build our movement. Thank you.
In the US, we are working to put our unions on a class-struggle orientation and to transform them into weapons for our fight. Not enough of our unions are willing to stand up and fight back against capitalist barbarity, but there are several shining examples that point the way forward.
Nearly 5,000 nurses in Minnesota have been on strike for over a month against a corporation that made $1.3 billion last year but still demands concessions from its workers. The nurses bravely voted overwhelmingly on Monday to continue their strike indefinitely.
750 dining service workers started a strike yesterday against Harvard University, the richest University in the world. Harvard has $35 billion in savings, has 47 Nobel prize winners, and educated the world’s bourgeoisie, yet it’s workers live in poverty. But Harvard workers are rising up and saying no to concessions. They are rising up and demanding a guaranteed annual income that allows a dignified life.
28,000 teachers in Chicago just voted to go on strike once again. They plan to start this strike on October 11 and are fighting back against concessions and to defend the services their students need. They are striking against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a billionaire who was President Obama’s Chief of Staff. The Chicago teachers have inspired teachers and students around the country to resist the corporate takeover of education.
A small but growing number of unions are joining the struggle of the black liberation movement against police terror. In the last two years alone, more than 2,000 people have been killed by the police. Young black men are five times more likely to be killed than whites.
Working class men like Philando Castile, a union brother from my city who was gunned down by police in June in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter when he was pulled over for a broken taillight on his car. His murder was captured on video by his girlfriend and horrified the country. People are rising up against these racist atrocities and unions are finally joining in.
Some unions are also joining the struggle of indigenous people against expansion of oil pipelines through their sacred lands of Standing Rock. The AFL-CIO has taken the backwards position of supporting the pipeline because it creates a few hundred jobs. But our best unions have the joined the struggle against the pipeline and in solidarity with native peoples.
Our best union fighters have also joined the struggle for the release of political prisoners Oscar Lopez Rivera, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal and others.
I live near Chicago, the home of Haymarket, where the fight for the 8-hour day was born. In 1886, workers rose up to demand an 8-hour day and were brutally attacked by the police. The leaders were convicted and executed. Around the world, the working class honors these martyrs every May 1st – International Workers’ Day.
But not in the US, because conservative trade union leaders have buried the radical and communist history of our movement. However, May Day was reclaimed as a mass workers day in 2006 by immigrant workers, mainly from Mexico, and we now join the world in celebrating our heroes and struggles on May first.
For decades, a statue honoring the police stood on the Haymarket site. It was blown up several times and finally moved offsite. Now, a workers’ monument stands on Haymarket Square. The trade union movement in Chicago cares for the monument. Each year, they invite one international union to place a plaque on the monument.
This year, the invitation was given to the WFTU in recognition of the WFTU’s role in leading the global working class movement. Comrade Valentine Pacho was supposed to travel to Chicago for May Day to place the plaque, but was prevented by US imperialism from obtaining a visa. A statement from the WFTU was read by Kay Tillow, however, and was received enthusiastically.
The WFTU is honored with a plaque at Haymarket. The ITUC does not have a plaque. The WFTU had a plaque because it is the international embodiment of the spirit of Haymarket. One of class struggle, workers’ unity, and internationalism.
Long live the WFTU!
Long live the international working class!
Down with US imperialism!