Partnership for the 99%??

Protesters take to the streets, Tuesday May, 29, 2012, during a rally by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is holding its convention in Denver. (The Denver Post | RJ Sangosti)

The Service Employees International Union meets in an International Convention every four years, and has invited 350 strategic community partners to join with them in strategizing a vision for union-community partnerships for a more just society. I am pleased to be in Denver as one of a dozen Maryland partners engaged for change.

A boistrous rally of 2,000 or more took to the streets today, walking several routes throughout downtown Denver and converging at the steps of the Wells-Fargo bank. Speakers shared their outrage that Wells-Fargo–and dozens of other US corporations–have gotten away with paying little or no income taxes in recent years, while working people have seen their incomes, but not their taxes, drop. The crowd was determined, vocal, passionate and proud.

After I completed registeration this morning, I spent a few minutes looking at a labor history exhibit that had been arranged in the lobby–the story of the burning of the tent colony in Ludlow, Colorado. Back in the day, the Rockefeller family ran a powerful mining operation where all workers were paid in company scrip, so they lived in compnay housing, bought at the company store, even pledged at the company church. When the miners in Colorado went on strike (1913-14), they were evicted from their (company) homes, and pitched a tent colony to make it through the winter. As the strike went on, the vitriol between owners and workers increased. A fight broke out between the workers and the Colorado National Guard on April 19. The fight lasted all day, and on April 20, the National Guard burned the tent colony to the ground. Accounts vary of between 19 and 25 deaths, but one set of numbers is agreed upon by all eports. Eleven children and two women were asphyxiated and burned to death in a single tent.

“Back in the day” when I helped to lead Little Flags Theater, we told the stories of people in the struggle for social change. One of our plays had Mother Jones recounting the story of Ludlow, evidence for her that the system that put the protection of capital over the protection of people was in its every fiber an unjust system. The voices of Ludlow, and the voices of all those killed in the name of American progress, still spoke to Mother Jones.

Today we live in a time when corporations have been given the status of people, given legal protections as persons which allow them to have an enormous influence in the direction of all our lives. SEIU joins the Occupy Wall Street movement in saying that there must be a better way, a way where the interests of everyday people are at least as important as the interests of the super-rich. This better way will only be found with far greater cooperation among “the 99%” to place demands on all of us that guarantee the dream of progress and prosperity for all willing to work will not be lost.

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