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Million Worker March to Address Labor Issues Ignored By Both Major Candidates

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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]

  • Excerpt of third presidential debate at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.
  • Brenda Stokely, president of * AFSCME* District Council 1707 in New York City. She’s an organizer of the * Million Worker March* and a Co-Convener of New York Labor Against the War.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll turn now to a clip of the candidates in Tempe, Arizona, talking about labor and then immigration. Our guests will be labor activist, Brenda Stokely, one of those organizing the Million Worker March this weekend in Washington, D.C. Maria Hinojosa has a special this week called, “Immigrant Nation.” And we’ll talk about immigration.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Many experts say that a president really doesn’t have much control over jobs. For example, if someone invents a machine that does the work of five people, that’s progress. That’s not the president’s fault. So, I ask you, is it fair to blame the administration entirely for this loss of jobs?

JOHN KERRY: I don’t blame them entirely for it. I blame the president for the things that the president could do that has an impact on it. Outsourcing is going to happen. I have acknowledged that in union halls across the country. I have had shop stewards stand up and say, will you promise me, you’re going to stop all this outsourcing, and I have looked him in the eye and I have said no. I cannot do that. What I can promise you is that I will make the playing field as far as possible. That I will for instance make certain that with respect to the tax system, that you as a worker in America are not subsidizing the loss of your job. Today if you are an American business, actually get a benefit for going overseas. You get to defer your taxes. So if you are looking at a competitive world, you say to yourself, hey, I do better overseas than I do here in America. That’s not smart. I don’t want American workers subsidizing the loss of their own jobs. When I’m president, we’re going to shut that loophole in a nanosecond and use the money to lower corporate tax rates in America for all corporations, 5%, and we’re going to have a manufacturing jobs credit and job hiring credit so we help people be able to hire here. The second thing that we can do, is provide a fair trade playing field. This president didn’t stand up for Boeing when Airbus was violating international rules with subsidies. He discovered Boeing during the course of this campaign after he had been talking about it for months. The fact is that the president had an opportunity to stand up and take on China for currency manipulation. There are companies that wanted to petition the administration. They were told, don’t even bother. We’re not going to listen to it. The fact is there were markets shut to us that we have not stood up and fought for. I’m going to fight for a fair trade playing field for the American worker. I will fight for the American worker just as hard as I fight for my own job. That’s what the American worker wants. If we do that, we can have an impact. Plus we need fiscal discipline. Restore fiscal discipline and we’ll do better.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. President.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Whoo! Let me start with the Pell grants. In his last litany of misstatements, he said, we cut Pell grants. We have increased Pell grants by a million students. That’s a fact. You know, he talks to the workers. Let me talk to the workers. You got more money in your pocket as a result of the tax relief we passed, and he opposed. If you have a child, you got a $1,000 child credit. That’s money in your pocket. If you’re married, we reduced the marriage penalty. The code ought to encourage marriage, not discourage marriage. We created a 10% bracket to help lower-income Americans. A family of four making $40,000 received about $1,700 in tax relief. It’s your money. The way my opponent talks, he says we’re going to spend the government’s money. No, we’re spending your money. When you have more money in your pocket, you’re able to better afford things that you want. I believe the role of government is to stand side by side with our citizens to help them realize their dreams not tell citizens how to live their lives. My opponent talks about fiscal sanity. His record in the United States Senate does not match his rhetoric. He voted to increase taxes 98 times and bust the budget 277 times.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator Kerry.

JOHN KERRY: Bob, anybody can play with these votes. Everybody knows that. I have supported or voted for tax cuts over 600 times. I broke with my party in order to balance the budget. Ronald Reagan signed into law the tax cut that we voted for. I voted for IRA tax cuts. I voted for small business tax cuts. But you know why the Pell grants have gone up in numbers? Because more people qualify for them, because they don’t have money. They’re not getting the $5100 that the president promised them. They’re getting less money. More people who qualify. That’s not what we want.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Senator, no one is playing on your votes. You voted to increase taxes 98 times. When they voted — when they proposed reducing tax, you voted against it 126 times. You voted to violate the budget caps 277 times. You — you know, there’s a main stream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator in Massachusetts.

AMY GOODMAN: George Bush, John Kerry, facing off last night in Tempe, Arizona, at Arizona State University. They were at Arizona State University. Another great rivalry was taking place yesterday, the Yankees versus the Red Sox, perhaps the more watched of those contests. When we come back, we’ll be joined by labor activist Brenda Stokely, and by CNN’s Maria Hinojosa to talk about their views on immigration. This is democracy now! Back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Maria Hinojosa of CNN and Latino, U.S.A., and she’ll be talking about immigration, but first we wanted to turn to Brenda Stokely, who is one of the key organizers of this weekend’s Million Worker March in Washington, D.C. 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 people 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.

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