October 2, 2008

Local Workers Rally Against Bailout Plan

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Shoppers at the Ithaca Commons were greeted by picket signs and worker solidarity chants yesterday evening, as the Tompkins County Workers’ Center held a rally against the embattled $700 billion bailout plan, which the Senate endorsed last night.
The rally comes in the face of one of the worst economic fallouts in the nation’s history, with several major banks merging and stock markets dropping precipitously by the day. The economic bailout package hopes to abate the damage of the crisis, but many at the rally were skeptical of the package’s true effects.
A roster of speakers appealed to the cheering crowd in Bernie Milton Pavilion, including representatives from TCWC and Kathy Russell, chair of the philosophy department at State University of New York at Cortland.
“We’re fired up, we won’t take it no more,” chanted Pete Meyers, co-founder of TCWC. He roused the crowd in between speakers, cheering, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ‘cuz the power of the people don’t stop.”
Russell emphasized the importance of higher education for the working class and the lack of opportunity for many to continue an academic career.
“Public education provides a chance for working people not just to get a job, but to learn. That’s the human value of an education,” Russell said. [img_assist|nid=32269|title=Fighting for the right|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
State education cutbacks and financial mincing have affected Russell’s position at the state funded SUNY Cortland, which Russell says is no longer able to afford food for faculty functions. Russell concluded her speech by leading a chant, “You say cutback, we say fight back.”
TCWC was founded in 1995 as the Living Wage Coalition, with the principle goal of ensuring that all workers get fair pay. However, the center has expanded greatly since then, and now incorporates over 50 organizations representing a range of social justice issues. TCWC is a non-partisan, non-profit organization.
Meyers expressed the center’s goal “to organize workers on a larger and larger level, to realize that we can fight the power.”
“It’s not going to happen without a struggle,” he added.
Other social justice groups not affiliated with TCWC were present at the rally. Among them was the International Socialist Organization, represented by Alan Ra.
“This is a nascent expression of sentiment,” said Ra of the rally. “It’s to inspire confidence that people are standing up.”
“[The bailout plan is] an easy let off for the people who caused the problem in the first place,” Ra added.
Attendees agreed with the sentiment of the rally.
“Just in a few days, the government can make a decision about taking $700 billion of our dollars to go to the people who have created the problem,” said Beth Harris, a rally attendee and worker at Ithaca College. “I don’t really trust the way the issue is being dealt with by the federal government.”
The mobilization and aid TCWC provides to workers creates devoted acolytes, including Carol Czimbac.
Czimbac, a former worker at Good Hope Youth Home, said that TCWC gave her advice and aid in her efforts to receive retirement money from the home. She now volunteers with TCWC, and said her goals are both personal and communal.
“I’ve found that the organizations and the things that are supposed to work for people don’t actually work,” Czimbic said. “Essentially, I want to get everybody to be treated fairly, and to get public services to work for people.”
A recurring theme throughout the rally was the lack of federal aid for the working class. Signs observed at the rally included, “My Family Needs a Bailout,” “Healthcare, Not Warfare,” and “Regulation, Restitution, Respect.”
“I’m really concerned with the fact that Wall Street wants a bailout … but the small businesses, they’re not going to come and bail them out,” said G. Latischa Peterson, who also spoke to the rally, emphasizing the disparity in support for the working class and the “capitalist” class.
“For $700 billion, we could have a lot of kids reading,” said Tom Sieling, a TWCW steering committee member and president of the Mid-State Central Labor Coalition. Sieling, a professional musician whose songs are children-oriented, hopes that his tax dollars could be put toward a cause closer to his heart than a financial bailout.
“I’d like to see libraries funded better and schools funded better,” Sieling said. “There are tons of kids falling through the cracks.”