Support the Million Worker March

This article originally appeared as an editorial in Labor Notes

For many union members the presidential election season is known mostly for a few painfully predictable things: glossy magazine covers from the International featuring the candidate of choice; appeals for COPE money by local officers; repeat calls to come down to the union hall and pick up yard signs; speeches at whistle stops; and countless other familiar activities.

It’s not known for putting thousands of people out in the streets to support a labor agenda, but that’s exactly what organizers of the Million Worker March are aiming for on October 17 in Washington, D.C.

Evolving from a call put out in spring 2004 by members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in San Francisco, the march intends to draw attention to positions on a number of issues near and dear to labor activists: promoting universal health care; pushing a national living wage; guaranteeing pensions; canceling free trade agreements; repealing the Taft-Hartley Act; and opposing the war in Iraq—all positions that neither major presidential candidate supports.

According to MWM spokespeople, “The Million Worker March is organizing working people to put forth our needs and our agenda independently of politicians and parties. We say that only by acting in our name can we build a movement that advances our needs.” March backers claim that no politicians of any stripe will speak from the stage.




Give $10 a month or more and get our "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt.

This independent spirit may be what has motivated the AFL-CIO to oppose the march. The AFL-CIO’s Director of Field Mobilization, Marilyn Sneiderman, circulated a memo June 23 stating, “We encourage our state federations, area councils, and central labor councils not to sponsor or devote resources to the demonstrations in Washington, D.C. but instead to remain focused on the election…”

MWM organizers questioned this decision in an open letter to Sneiderman: “Why would the leadership of the AFL-CIO feel threatened by a labor mobilization that confronts the crisis facing working people in America?” In the meantime, they are busy trying to expand what was originally a West Coast effort into a full national mobilization.

Certainly, endorsements for the march are piling up. The National Education Association, American Postal Workers Union, South Carolina AFL-CIO, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, ILWU’s Longshore Division, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Teamsters National Black Caucus, SEIU 1199 Joint Delegates Assembly, AFSCME District Councils 37 and 92, and a number of other central labor councils, locals, and community organizations have signed on.

As with the antiwar resolutions passed by many unions over the past two years, it’s not clear to what degree these endorsements will translate into mobilization for the event, but reports of buses and local committees being organized are starting to surface from many major cities.

Demonstrations like the Million Worker March are just one part of the struggle that goes on every day in the workplace (see Charley Richardson’s article) and in the community—the tough fights over work conditions, against discrimination, for democratic control of the union.

But marches like the MWM have the potential to bring together workers from different unions, regions, and industries in a show of strength and solidarity. These experiences can keep union members energized for the hard, long-haul fights. Labor Notes supports the marchers in this effort.