portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary portland metro

labor

On the town hall crisis

The January 31st 'town hall' was an important perhaps historic mass meeting in response to the economic crisis.

Dozens of unions and other progressive organizations were able to attract over 800 people to hear an analysis of the crisis itself, proposed solutions, and a variety of workshops which included everything from labor rights, trade and immigration, and a "green economy." It is believed that this was the first such event in the country.
The meeting started off with a bang, as Marty Hart-Landsberg, a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College, gave a brief history of how the crisis formed, while giving statistics that illuminated the profound severity of the problem. He then noted how minuscule Obama's "recovery" plan was and advocated instead that people demand more thoroughgoing reforms.

The speaker made it known that Obama and the Democrats were incapable of solving the current crisis, and was thus rewarded by a thunderous applause on numerous occasions. When he noted that US taxpayers should control both Citibank and Bank of America since our tax money makes up more than a majority share, the crowd roared with approval. This was one of many instances where Hart-Landsberg suggested that working people, not private corporations, should be in control of the economy. The speech was by far the most radical of the day, and consequently received the loudest cheers.

Another speaker who made a big impression was author and labor activist David Bacon. Bacon spoke mainly about immigrant's rights, and made connections between the U.S. international economic policy and the phenomena of migration. His unequivocal support of "all workers" and the need for everybody to enjoy "equal rights" is typically controversial, but received an overwhelming positive response.

Tom Leedham, the principal officer of Teamsters Local 206 and one of the main voices for Teamsters for a Democratic Union, gave an inspiring speech about the '97 UPS strike. The lesson was obvious: if workers wage an aggressive, fight we can win. Now is the time to go on the offensive!

Other speakers gave passionate speeches, many of which drew parallels between the current crisis and the Great Depression. More than one noted, "We don't want to rebuild a system that didn't work in the first place!" to the great pleasure of the crowd.

Left out, however, was genuine crowd participation and concrete demands. It was promised that a similar event would be held on February 18th, where people could bring their specific suggestions on what to do next.

Ultimately, the event showcased the immense interest that new layers of people are having not only in politics, but the kind of grass roots politics which educates working people on the need to organize themselves independently of the two party system, itself dominated by Wall Street, the banks, and corporations.

The atmosphere at the meeting was electric! The town hall was over four hours long, and most of the people who came stayed for the entire program. It is hoped that this meeting was only the beginning towards building a nationwide, working-class solution to the crisis.

homepage: homepage: http://www.workerscompass.org