April 16th, 2011 | by NATHAN GILLES News | Posted In: Activism, Politics, Environment

Oregon Unions Put Their Fists in the Air

Oregon unions protest budget cuts

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Raising their fists and chanting, “Good jobs for all, ” about 2,500 Oregon union members and their supporters packed Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square today to protest stagnant job growth and government budget cuts.

Organized by Portland Jobs with Justice, the “Jobs, Not Cuts” rally is part of a larger campaign by local and national unions demanding wealthier Americans start paying their fair share of taxes, while simultaneously demanding programs for poor people not get slashed.

Among the speakers at Saturday's rally in Portland was Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. Mitchell rose to national attention earlier this year when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stripped most of his state’s public sector unions of the right to collectively bargain, which in turn touched off huge protests there.

“It’s not your teachers or firefighters that are the problem,” Mitchell said. “The root of the matter is the deregulation of banks and our housing crisis; Wall Street is the real problem.”

The Jobs, No Cuts rally comes less than 24 hours after the tax-hating Oregon tea party also rallied in Pioneer Courthouse Square. While the tea party called for cuts, cuts, and more cuts, the union crowd urged more spending to stimulate the economy.


Going back to organized labor’s heyday in the 1930s, Jobs with Justice is calling for a new jobs program similar to FDR’s Works Progress Administration. Now in the midst of the current Great Recession, union members are calling for something similar, this time with a green twist.

“What we want is an improvement and expansion of public transportation,” said organizer Greg Margolis. “We want retrofits of office buildings, and we want development of alternative energy sources.”

After being serenaded by a folk singer, the crowd heard a speech from Mitchell, in which the labor leader compared the union movement to the civil rights movement. He said both movements lost when they stopped taking their fights to the streets. The speech, and those by local labor leaders, seemed to energize the crowd, who marched for several blocks, eventually being accompanied by a group of about 50 from the Climate Justice Coalition, a group also calling for a green jobs program.

“If I were to give Governor Walker any credit,” Mitchell said, “it would be for galvanizing our base. We are ready to stand up for ourselves and stand up for the working class people of America, where as before, I think the union movement was a bit stagnant.”
 
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