Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Help is on the way

Today, there was press conference at the Strike Sanctuary and a rally that started at Freedom Village and marched down Ponce to the Convocation Center. We were treated to a line-up of incredibly inspiring speakers. Among them were Eliseo Medina, the Vice-President of the SEIU, now hunger striking at Freedom Village.

"[President Shalala] has the power [to end the strike], all that is lacking is the will... All that is needed... is more communication. To solve this conflict requires leaders, not neutrals" (Eliseo Medina)

James Hoffa, Jr., leader of the Teamsters, was also there (pictured with SEIU's Hiram Ruiz).

"Today I bring you greetings and support from 1.5 million Teamsters. We are with you... We hear your voices. But does Donna Shalala hear your voices?" (James Hoffa).

"We are ready for everything. What more is there to lose? Do they think we are going to lose our dignity?" (Striking worker Maritza Paz).

Two visitors were coming to the campus for the second time. One was Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

"If [the students] get arrested, I'm ready to go to jail too... I'm going to take my tie off and I'm ready to go to jail... We represent Dr. Martin Luther King. This [the Southern Christian Leadership Conference] is his organization. If Dr. King were here today, and I'm in his position, he'd say 'Keep marching, keep demonstrating and keep the faith alive'" (Charles Steele).

this is an audio post - click to play Charles Steele's speech at the rally

The other returning visitor was Senator John Edwards.

"None of you, no American, should be working full time and be living in poverty. That's what this struggle is about... Your struggle is my struggle... If a Republican can join the Republican Party by signing their name to a card, then any worker in America should be able to join a union by signing their name to a card" (John Edwards).

this is an audio post - click to play John Edwards' speech at the rally

this is an audio post - click to play cont'd


Anonymous said...

Hunger strike isn't a religious issue

I serve as the rabbi of the congregation across the street from the University of Miami. Every day I drive by the hunger strike sponsored by the Service Employees International Union. As the strike continues, more people ask me why, as a rabbi who strongly advocates social justice, I am not over there, showing my support. Or why, in the tradition of great social-justice rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel, I do not denounce the university from the pulpit.

I was hoping to keep silent on this issue for an important reason, but the continuation of the strike makes such silence a luxury. I wanted to keep silent because I believe that low-paid workers in this country deserve better pay and benefits. And I feared that speaking out against the SEIU tactics would be seen as a lack of compassion for the workers. Nevertheless, I can be silent no longer.

The hunger-strike tactic is wrong, and making this issue into a religious issue is wrong, too. SEIU has every right to facilitate union membership on UM's campus. But when you make it a religious issue -- even a matter of life and death -- then you are mixing up religion and politics irresponsibly.

If you told me that the hunger strike across the street was for raising awareness of the slaughter in Darfur, then you could count me in. If you tell me it is for immigration rights in this country, then lead the way. But to use such dramatic tactics over what is a union procedural issue, then I must say that I resent such an approach.

And I resent it for a specific reason: The religious, social-justice community here is being patronized by the SEIU. It is as if it is saying that we are too nave to figure out the difference between social justice and union politics.

Well, maybe some of us are. But not me. I know the difference between working with a community and working the media. And I know that the long-term social-justice needs of our community are not served well by the cynical employment of hunger-strike tactics by the union. I also think the launching of the strike after UM had reached a deal with the workers is not good for the long-term cause of worker justice.

The bottom line: The custodians at UM and anywhere deserve decent pay and benefits. They -- and we -- don't deserve the irresponsible and cynical manipulation of people's emotions in the spectacle across the street.

RABBI EDWIN GOLDBERG, Temple Judea, Coral Gables

Anonymous said...

Re the April 23 Speakup letter Hunger strike isn't a religious issue: As one of Rabbi Edwin Goldberg's congregants and a member of the University of Miami faculty, I am puzzled by his letter. I applaud his support of a living wage for the janitors at UM. But Goldberg also holds that the hunger strike over unionization is a cynical tactic, one that does not serve worker justice.

I have watched worker wages at UM hold steady at about $7 an hour for more than 10 years. That is a stain on a proud university's record. Goldberg writes that this is only a procedural issue. But the National Labor Relations Board is investigating Unicco for harassment of pro-union workers.

We recently celebrated Passover, which reminds Jews and others that some issues demand action. Goldberg leads the way in many calls for social justice. We all have an obligation to hear this call, especially when it sounds from our own back yard.