May 01, 2015

Unions mark May Day with rally of solidarity

Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

NYSUT members turned out hundreds strong Friday for a noontime rally in Buffalo's Niagara Square to commemorate labor's many successes and to outline the fights yet to be won — fair wages and full and fair funding for public education.

The International Worker's Day rally drew more than 1,000 people. A coalition of labor groups and community organizations organized the rally, and members of an estimated 100 unions were in the cheering crowd. NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, United University Professions President Fred Kowal and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore were among the many speakers, who included labor leaders and lawmakers.

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Kowal, Magee and Rumore. Photo by Dennis Stierer.

"Is labor in the house?" Magee called as she stepped up to the microphone. A resounding "Yes!" roared back from the crowd.

"Our message is clear and it's unwavering," Magee said. "Our message is that every working person should earn a living wage that supports them and their family with dignity. We're proud to be here in Buffalo with its deep roots in labor. A hurt to one, sisters and brothers, is a hurt to all, and don't forget it. Our strength is in our solidarity."

Rumore reminded the crowd that "we are at war."

"There's a movement right now to start taking over our public schools," he added. "To help our schools? No! To make some people rich? Yes."

Kowal received a strong round of applause when he modeled his black T-shirt emblazoned with the simple slogan: "Wrong" underneath the image of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The T-shirt is designed from a recent cover of UUP's membership magazine, The Voice. As Kowal turned so the crowd could see the T-shirt, a number of unionists shouted jibes about the governor.

"That's why we are here today, to tell the world, to tell the governor and his wealthy friends that he is wrong," Kowal said. "He must love being so wrong because he's so damned good at it. And not only will Andrew Cuomo be wrong, he will be gone."

The crowd picked up the chant: "Wrong and gone! Wrong and gone!"

People throughout the crowd carried red signs declaring, "International Workers Day: Demand Labor Respect!" Many others carried homemade signs, including one that read, "Cuomo — I rate you Ineffective" — a reference to the governor's unfair and vindictive stance on teacher evaluations.

Linda Steckmann-Dugan, a NYSUT delegate from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said the rally's message of union solidarity and activism truly matters at a time when so many workers are struggling for fair pay.

"People who already have 98 percent of the wealth still want more," she said.

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Photo by Andrew Watson.