"In Times Square, the revolution starts now." By Liza Frenette, NYSUT United, April 9, 2011.
Chants of "We are ONE!" rang down a tunnel of New York City skyscrapers as unionists rallied five thick blocks around Times Square Saturday to stand strong for workers' rights. Crowds teemed with teachers, teamsters, actors, auto workers, artists, sheet metal workers, plumbers, transportation workers, stage hands, professors, child care workers and more.
Starting with beleaguered Wisconsin, they called out the name of every state where the middle class is being muddied.
Speakers blasted "The Revolution Starts Now" and Springsteen's "No retreat, baby, no surrender" as crowds cheered, sang and stomped, visiting tourists stood on double-decker buses to snap photos of the throngs, and firefighters held pro-union signs from the windows of ladder trucks dashing down Broadway.
The rally was organized by the New York State AFL-CIO, whose president Denis Hughes pledged to his union brothers and sisters: "We will not be pushed around! We will fight back. We will stand up and fight for the middle class. We are the labor movement and we are one!"
Led by NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and his newly re-elected team of officers, thousands of NYSUT members marched to the rally after the closing session of the union's Representative Assembly, shouting "THIS is what democracy looks like."
Unionists were seeing red and they were wearing red: t-shirts, ties, armbands, headbands, hats, sweaters, feathers and even dog vests. They hung banners over barricades proudly claiming their union affiliations: Cortland United Teachers, United Teachers of Northport, Commack TA, Massapequa Federation of Teachers, Wappingers Congress of Teachers and of course, the United Federation of Teachers and the Professional Staff Congress, who call the city home. NYSUT members on Long Island chartered an entire train that brought hundreds in for the midtown Manhattan rally. Some came in groups with their locals, others arrived as a party of one.
Iannuzzi was one of the first union leaders to address the crowd, which stretched from the dais near 42nd Street as far as the eye could see. "What we're facing is an attack on working conditions, whether it be overcrowded classrooms or overcrowded docks," Iannuzzi said to a canyon bedecked with waving signs and banners. "We hear this garbage about how it has to do with deficits, but it's an attack on collective bargaining."
"This is the Square where workers and worker families speak truth to power!" shouted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "We are telling the demonizers and the dehumanizers we are one and will not let them stifle our voice."
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, pointed out that the very same people who caused the economic melt-down asked for and are receiving tax cuts. "What kind of crazy world is this?" he asked.
Of the threats against labor, "There are times in life that are do-or-die moments," Van Roekel said. "This is one of those moments."
Referencing his roots as a teacher, UFT President Michael Mulgrew prophesized that 20 years from now, teachers will be teaching how 1 percent of the country that already owned just about everything tried to steal more from the rest of the country, "but the workers rose up and stopped them."
"You will be in that story!" he told the crowd.
PSC President Barbara Bowen also invoked her profession as a teacher, quoting poet William Blake, who said: "Pity would be no more, if we did not make someone poor." That is what's happening now, Bowen said: Society chooses to make some of its members poor. "Stop the war on workers!" she demanded.
The "sleeping giant" has been awakened as the labor movement roared its support for a program that interspersed public and private sector leaders, all speaking to one theme: "We Are One!"
"If you want to test our resolve, then you bring on that fight!" said Gary LaBarbera of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
"We're not ever going to give up on the American worker and American products!" promised Julie Kushner, director, UAW Region 9A.