Progressive labor leader says America 'out of balance'

politics | May 14, 2015 | By Martin Barillas

Meeting on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC, politicians joined leaders of labor unions and progressive movements to sign onto a proposed Progressive Agenda. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City was the emcee of event, which was sparsely attended by ordinary citizens. Speaking at the event was de Blasio, along with progressives such as Al Sharpton, and U.S. Representatives Rosa De Lauro (D-CT) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
 
Among the items on the progressive agenda announced on May 12 are: a universal minimum wage of $15 per hour; universal free pre-kindergarten childcare; and universal paid sick- and family-leave.
 
Among those who spoke was Larry Cohen, the current president of the Communications Workers of America: a labor union affiliated with the AFL-CIO . Cohen said that the signing of the agenda by the various individuals and groups is “a common story, not just a coalition. It’s a story about democracy, opportunity, and a fair economy. It’s about cutting the $1 trillion student debt that is choking our families.” He called for a raise in the minimum wage while also denouncing the current trade policy of the Obama administration. Saying that “It’s about the economy, stupid”, Cohen said “Our cities can't survive or thrive with just headquarters skyscraper jobs for the fortunate few, while the rest of us clean up for the one percenters or drive them around.” CWA was a protagonist in the Occupy movement of 2011.
 
“Our nation is badly out of balance,” said Cohen, who also cited “Big money politics, the lowest percentage of citizens able to vote of any democracy in the world,” the highest prison population in the world, and high salaries for corporation executives as among the gravest problems facing the United States. He, like the other speakers at the event, touched on the debate in Congress over renewing President Barack Obama's so-called "fast-track" powers he says he needs to conclude trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership: a 12 nation trade agreement with far-reaching impact on labor, law, and economic policy. It has been widely condemned by Democrats in Congress, human rights advocates, and organized labor.
 
Also speaking was Lily Eskelsen García, who presides over the National Education Association. The labor leader started her speech by speaking in accented Spanish. She translated her remarks to say that she was proud to be with “so many fighters for justice.” A native of the United States, Eskelsen Garcia’s mother was born in Panama. Saying that she is an elementary school teacher, she said that she knows “what poverty means to kids.” When asked what it is that would make children successful at school she answered “Make sure that their families can put food on the table…Make sure they have access to pre-school and end up on the end of that school pipe line with the ability to afford college, instead of having college debt.”
 
Eskelsen García claimed that 51% of public school children qualify for free or reduced lunches. These children come from families that are struggling financially, she said, and who “Don’t even have the right to guarantee that they’ll have a roof over their heads.” Pointing over her shoulder to the Capitol Building, Eskelsen García said that it is there that “The people that do have the power to give them that right work in this beautiful building over here. They're the ones that have access to all the things my kids need." Referring to Congress, she said "We have the right to demand, from the people who work for us, to make sure that our kids have what they need to succeed.” Ending her remarks in Spanish, she said "Mil gracias, mis amigos."

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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